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When to Prune Japanese Maples to Avoid Bleeding – ‘Best Advice’ for a Healthy Tree

Japanese maples are prone to developing long legs, especially when they are young, and can appear unattractive without proper care. While removing old leaves and branches is the main goal of clearing this attractive tree, horticulturists at Jackson Nursery share that timing is also “the key” to maintaining a healthy acer plant. He explained that if done correctly, winter pruning can “restore or enhance their natural beauty”.

While December is usually a quiet time for gardening, the Jackson Nursery team explained that it is an important time for Japanese maple trees.

He added: “Choosing the right time to prune is important – Japanese maples will bleed if pruned after the end of December.”

There are several reasons for this, one of which is to protect the delicate branch structure of the tree. Plant nursery experts said: “Pruning in winter after leaf drop makes it easier to assess branch structure and find the best places to cut.”

This rule applies to both Acer palmatum, an upright, low-facing tree, and Acer palmatum dissectum, a small tree with a “weeping habit”. All varieties must also be pruned at this point in autumn to avoid “bleeding”.

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Once the top layer of branches is clean, move on to the lower limbs. Prune away lateral branches that crowd nearby shrubs or overhang sidewalks.

For mature trees, you may want to prune further to create the “conservative form” of an acer.

The Jackson Nursery Team said: “To create this appearance, remove stray branches in the top or bottom layer.

“Examine your tree very carefully before starting layer pruning, including getting under it and looking up, which will help you identify what you want to prune.”

He warned against haste, saying: “If in doubt, don’t cut”.

For weeping Japanese maple trees, use a keyhole saw for a more precise cut. This is better for thin, brittle bark and is less likely to damage the tree.

Chunky limbs that don’t taper or branch along their length may be less attractive, so you may want to remove them for aesthetic reasons if they ruin the shape of your tree.

Horticulturists say you should avoid removing any branches that exceed half the diameter of the main stem.

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