Helpful Tips For Pruning Maple Trees

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Maple trees come in dramatically different variations. They range in size from bushes to 60-foot-tall behemoths that demand attention. You can even find evergreen versions; however, most in North America are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves each winter. Despite the breadth of maples available to add to your yard, the top pruning tips remain the same.

Here are six helpful tips to keep in mind when pruning maple trees.

1. Arm Yourself with the Proper Tools

Before you jump into your yard and start pruning down your maples, make sure you’re equipped with the right tools for the job. The most important items are gardening gloves, kneepads, eye protection, a handsaw, and pruning shears.

The main focus when it comes to pruning should always be your safety. If proper pruning requires a ladder, it’s best to reach out to a professional, such as Mr. Tree, to handle the task at hand. However, if you plan to tackle an easier job, then you’ll want to use the suggested items listed above to prevent injury.

You also want to use the right tools and follow the tips below to ensure the health of the tree. Pruning maple trees is a common practice, and when done properly and during the right season won’t cause damage to the tree. However, it can become more susceptible to disease when the right steps aren’t taken.

2. Prune at the Right Time

The best time to prune maple trees is late winter. This is before pests come out of hiding and can spread disease and, if aesthetics are important, before sap begins to flow.

If you trim a maple once the tree reaches above 32 degrees, it’s possible that sap will start to flow. While this isn’t known to be harmful to the tree, it can be unsightly, as it will ooze from the spot just like blood oozes from a wound. For this reason, some people choose to prune maples in the summer, once the sap is no longer running. However, if you wait, you won’t have a full view of the tree structure, as it will be occluded by leaves. More pests are also out in the summer, which will increase the possibility of disease.

3. Do Not Remove More Than 30%

When pruning maple trees, don’t just jump in with the saw and shears and start chipping away. Instead, assess your tree first and make a plan.

You don’t want to remove more than 30 percent of the tree’s foliage, as this will prevent the tree from being able to heal. A tree, like a person, has to expel energy to close up open wounds. If you make too many cuts, the tree won’t be able to recover from the intense pruning and could die. Additionally, the tree gains its energy from leaves, and if you remove more than 30 percent of the tree’s food source, it won’t be able to sustain life.

Next, you’ll want to remove any branches that are growing in the wrong direction, as well as ones that are crossing over each other or just too long. If you feel there’s a need to prune more than 30 percent, then you’ll need to hold off and let it go until next season.

4. Make Intentional Cuts

Once you have identified the branches you’ll remove, then you can get to work. But, again, don’t just jump in. You’ll want to make specific cuts to limit the damage to the tree and allow it the best chance to heal.

If pruning a large branch, take your handsaw and start with an undercut about six inches from the trunk of the tree. This cut shouldn’t go all the way through the branch but will ease some weight and prevent bark from tearing.

Then make another cut all the way through the branch on the top, about 12 inches away from the trunk. This will greatly reduce the weight of the branch on the tree. Finally, make your last through-cut after the branch collar. Not sure what this is? Just leave space between the branch and the trunk. That last cut shouldn’t be flush with the trunk.

5. Prune Smaller Branches Next

Once you’ve tackled the largest branches, you can switch to your pruning shears and focus on the smaller ones. You’ll want to make space in the center to allow in more air and light by removing crossing branches. Then you can shorten any branches that are getting too long. Always cut to a pair of buds (the small notches you’ll see along the branches).

6. Know When to Hand Over the Shears

If you have a smaller Japanese maple in your yard, then pruning may be a project you can easily accomplish. However, don’t hesitate to pass the shears to a professional.

In addition to knowing that your trees will be properly cared for, your arborist can inspect the tree for any problem areas. You may be able to prune your trees, but would you notice if your maple had low iron levels (which it is susceptible to) or was affected by an aphid infestation? These are just two conditions a trained eye will look out for.

Pruning maple trees is an important task to help them thrive year after year, but overall, this hearty tree will grow nicely in your Oregon yard, as it prefers a regular source of deep water. While the rain we receive is often enough, if you notice your tree is dehydrated, consider adding in a deep-water irrigation system.

Additionally, other moisture-loving plants won’t survive if placed near maples because the maple will steal its water, so only add more drought-tolerant species nearby.

Still looking for more tips on pruning your maple tree? Check out this detailed video by an OSU Master Gardener, which contains excellent visuals to get you going.