General gardening topics

Pruning Acer Trees and Shrubs – everything you need to know

Last updated on March 1st, 2022

Our site is reader supported, this means we may earn a small commission from Amazon and other affiliates when you buy through links on our site.

Pruning Acer trees is something that is usually not really needed. Japanese Acers should be left to grow naturally, however, branches below the canopy that cross or rub each other can be removed between October and January. You can also remove branches that ruin the shape of the tree if needed.

Japanese maples are beautiful trees regardless of the season. They bring to any garden the most delicate of leaves, beautiful autumn hues, and arguably some of the most attractive branch patterns in the world. The two most common varieties include the Japanese maples such as Acer palmatum and the tree type Acers, for example, the Acer platanoides ‘Drummondii’ tree. The Acer platanoides is a larger version while the palmatum is a smaller, often weeping tree that most gardens integrate as their centrepiece. The Acer palmatum varieties do well in sun and become more foliated, requiring very little pruning to help them maintain their form.

If you have Acers in pots you can learn about how and when to prune them by clicking here

acer tree pruning to control the shape and overall size

Acer Tree Pruning

If you have Acer trees less than 15 years old, you will probably see new growth that is very small, thin, with no side branches. Rest assured this is normal. In fact, many gardeners, anxious to encourage better form will prune these off but the problem with doing this is that doing so only encourages more of the small, whiplike branches. These are there for a reason and they need time to grow. As they age, they will get wider, cultivate those lateral branches and create scaffold limbs.

Many people think that pruning a Japanese Acer in winter can help restrict the height it reaches. That’s not the case either. The tree will grow faster and taller if you cut away the thin, whiplike branches too soon. Now, this is not to say that you cannot prune your Acer. You absolutely can and once it has established itself, you should make a habit of it.

In general, an Acer only really needs pruning to control the size and maybe the shape, but they often grow best when left unpruned to form their natural shape.

Pruning acer to remove disease and dead wood, need loppers for thicker branches

Other times you may need to prune your Acer is to remove crossing branches that are touching because these can become infected, or if the Acer is overgrown it can become very congested. If this is the case, remove some of the inside side branches back to the central trunk.

How and when to prune Acers

new acer that can be pruned to shape when young

Once your tree is mature, you can regularly prune it, as long as you do it selectively. That being said, we recommend only pruning when necessary, and any necessary pruning should be done when the tree is dormant and November to January is a good time to prune.

Wolf Garten RR5000 Professional Bypass Aluminum Secateurs
  • 2.5 cm cutting diameter
  • Suitable for left and right handed use
  • Ideal for delicate and precise pruning
  • Coated blades for non stick pruning and easy cleaning
  • Robust aluminium handle

Pruning your Acer in winter means the leaves are not in your way, so you can get a clear image of the branch structure and with that, make perfect clean cuts. The reason winter is the best time to prune is that they produce the least amount of bleeding sap when pruned, which can damage the tree. For this reason, it’s best to not prune Acers when they are actively growing.

If you want to prune the lowest branches, a process called “limbing up” you should remove one at a time. Then take a few days off and come back. If you remove too many of them at once it can harm the tree. The best thing for your Acer is to separate your branches so that they don’t touch one another but are still overlapping with the scaffold shape, radiating in a spiral manner.


  • Try to avoid pruning in summer to reduce bleeding sap.
  • Never prune a branch which is more than ½ the diameter of the parent stem.
  • Never remove more than ¼ of the foliage of any single branch at once, as this can starve the foliage of nutrients.
  • Never cut above another cut or opposite another limb that you will prune that year because it can encourage decay in the trunk.

Remember that all cuts you may wound your plant, so if your Acer is in bad health, minimise the cuts you make. And to be as kind as possible, only prune when your tree is at its lowest energy and when it is really needed.

Acers to buy

Acer Atropurpureum 10cm #1
See availability from the best retailers

Last update on 2024-04-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at


  1. Anonymous

    Thanks, very helpful information. Had I not read the article I would have pruned hard the new growth on my acer plant which is not required.

  2. Hi, I have a Acer not sure what the name is it’s beautiful and is very special to me, my sister brought it for me when I was sixty years old as a birthday present I’m seventy two now – it needs a good pruning but I’m afraid to do it in case I damage it in any way. I have read your article when to prune an Acer in Nov – Feb the Acer itself is very full the bottom of it is trailing on the floor I would like to encourage a tree shape by cutting all the lower foliage off, also the leaves get damage when I mower the lawn,I could send a picture to you if you wish, please advise.

    Kind Regards

    Diane Lewis

  3. John

    Hi Diane, I would just remove the low branches once it’s dormant. Just be careful not to ruin the shape. You shouldn’t have any issues with the plant health-wise, if your really keen you could buy some prune seal to treat where you cut the branches off but I worked on a nursery for 15 years and we never used it and never had any issues. and yes we regularly removed branches to maintain a good even shape. Hope this helps.

Write A Comment