Last Updated on April 11, 2022 by Grow with Bovees
Your naturally beautiful Maple tree, with leaves that turn vibrant colors in the fall, will definitely reward you for everything that you invest in it, in terms of care & attention, through all phases of its life.
Trimming maple trees is beneficial at all stages in the life of a tree, so long as you do it in the correct way at the correct time.
One of the most important and effective ways of ensuring a handsome & healthy maple tree is to start pruning it when it is a relatively young tree (but not too young!) so that it can develop a sturdy, single, principal trunk column supporting strong, nicely-spaced branches.
Getting your Maple tree off to a good start, with the correct pruning in the early years, sets up the health and shape of the tree for the rest of its life.
It is far preferable to prevent detrimental growth trends and avert potential health problems during the formative years, than to try and correct them later on.
Another incentive for ensuring the correct pruning early on is that Maple trees can grow up to 150 feet tall, so rather get it as right as you can while you can still reach the top yourself, to save paying an arborist for a tree service later!
- Best Time to Prune
- How to Prune Maple Trees
- Pruning Young Maple Trees Between 3 and 10 Years Old
- Pruning a Mature Large Maple Tree Older Than 10 Years
Best Time to Prune
THE vital element to consider when determining the best time for shape pruning maple trees is Maple sap.
Sap is, in short, the life blood of a tree, as it transports minerals & nutrients to where they are needed most, at any given time. It stands to reason then that losing too much maple sap when pruned can be detrimental to the overall health of your maple tree.
Compared to most other trees, e.g. oak trees and apple trees, most maples, including Manitoba maple trees, can lose particularly large amounts of sap when they are pruned.
Sap levels are at their lowest during the late spring and summer months, so, unlike most trees which should generally be pruned at other times, i.e. during the late autumn and winter, it is recommended that the best time to trim maple trees is actually during the late spring or summer.
Even late winter or early spring is a bit of a risky time to prune maples.
Avoid pruning maple trees during fall.
Another important consideration though, is the age of the tree.
Maple trees less than three years old are still considered soft saplings. This means that the sapling is relatively weak and therefore less able to endure trimming, even in the later spring or summer, because it would likely lose too much sap when pruned, and possibly die.
For this reason, we only recommend starting to prune maple trees once they have reached at least 3 years old, before that is definitely not the best time to prune a maple.
Pruning Maple Trees in Spring or Summer
As we’ve already said, pruning branches of maple trees in early summer or the latter part of spring as opposed to early spring or winter, means significantly less detrimental sap loss for the tree and therefore a happier, healthier tree.
Not only does proper trimming during the later part of spring or summer months (even through to late summer), mean less sap loss, but also, the wounds inflicted by trimming trees and thinning branches are quicker to heal, so there is less chance of any fungal infections creeping into the wound during the wound healing process, which would eventually lead to diseased and damaged branches.
The only downside to spring and summer trimming is the dense growth and the veil of foliage that you need to contend with as this can hinder the decisions over where to place your cuts.
Funnily enough, I read the other day that there are pruners who prune their maples during this time, not just for the health of the tree but also so that they do not have to deal with excessive amounts of sap!
Yup, we’re talking about a potentially very sticky, messy scenario here!
Trimming Maple Trees in Fall and Winter
Obviously, if you have a mature tree that is well established and healthy, then you might opt to take your chances and choose to make pruning cuts at other times.
For instance during late fall, early winter, late winter or early spring, when the tree is dormant.
There are definitely some advantages to ‘winter pruning’.
To start with, during the winter months in the dormant phases of the tree’s life, there is no tender new bud growth on the trees, which means that you can reach offshoots that you may otherwise not be able to reach when the foliage is full as it is in spring and summer.
Secondly, the absence of foliage means that you can more easily select exactly where to make your cuts both in terms of removing damaged and diseased branches & dead branches and also in terms of aesthetics and specific tree shape.
If you aim for early spring then you also have the advantage of being able to see which limbs are budding and showing signs of new growth.
As we’ve said, the downside to shaping in late fall and winter is the sap and the later you wait in winter, the more the root pressure builds up in the tree, reaching peak sap pressure during late winter, which is why gardeners limit pruning during this time.
If you leave it until late winter then the sap will easily flow from any cut you make in the tree, even the smallest ones.
How to Prune Maple Trees
Tools for Pruning Maple Trees
To prune maple trees, you will need the following;
A sharp pair of pruners, preferably by-pass pruners that cut in the same manner as scissors, as they give a nice clean cut without crushing the tissue at the end of the cut which is preferable for. These can be used for cutting smaller branches of 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter and the lowest branches.
A pair of by-pass lopping shears, these again give a nice clean cut but they have longer handles than hand pruners, for more leverage, so are suitable for branches from 3/4 inch up to about 1 3/4 inches in diameter.
A hand pruning saw, this can be used instead of by-pass lopping shears or as a complement to them because you can cut branches thicker than 1 3/4 inches.
A pole saw for branches that are out of reach. This is particularly useful for those who don’t like climbing ladders or are a bit unsteady on their feet.
A small electric chainsaw can be handy if you need to remove whole limbs or an entire branch and your biceps aren’t as strong as they used to be for wielding a hand saw.
There are various common forms of wound dressing sealant products or ‘tree paint’ on the market which some people like to use on the branch stubs, although there are a lot of opinions that would advise against this as there is a danger that you will actually seal disease inside the cut.
If you do decide to go that route then be sure to follow the manufacturer’s pruning instructions carefully, most especially with regards to the preparation before applying the sealer.
N.B. Do NOT use hedge shears on your tree…you’ll almost certainly break them… or your wrists!!
From here we’ll separate this section into two categories: pruning young maples between 3 and 10 years old and pruning mature maple trees older than 10 years old, as the methods for pruning differ according to the age of the tree.
Pruning Young Maple Trees Between 3 and 10 Years Old
When trimming maple trees between 3 and 10 years old, you will want to focus on three main goals; encouraging a good leader branch for the trunk, setting the tree up to grow into a good overall shape for aesthetic reasons and minimizing future health issues.
Step One : Identify and Encourage The Leader
Stand away from the tree and focus on the top analyzing its branch canopy growth, then scan downwards to identify possible contenders for the trunk.
If there look to be a couple of offshoots that might be suitable as a single leader, then select the straightest and strongest of them and either remove the other contenders completely or cut them back to 2/3 their current length.
If there are other lateral branches that are thicker than half the diameter of the chosen leader, then remove those too or cut them back to 2/3rds if you are a bit short on branches.
Don’t prune the chosen leader at all at this stage, you want the tree to focus on increasing the girth and sturdiness rather than stressing over open wounds.
Step Two : Prune for Tree Health
It is an absolute necessity to prune for tree health and prevent any maple tree diseases from getting a hold on your tree. Always be aware of an insect infestation as well.
Start by cutting off any dead parts or damaged branches. It is important to remove dead branches or weak ones not only to remove potential breeding conditions for fungal diseases but also because they are a potential hazard to anyone walking underneath if they snap off by themselves, plus they could take down or damage other healthy lower branches.
Do the same with any other lateral branches that are growing towards the center of the tree and any other branches that are growing down towards the ground, this is called corrective pruning.
Next, remove any branches that have a very narrow or weak crotch (the point from which the branch stems).
Narrow crotches can harbor a build up of dead matter, risking a breeding ground for a fungal disease and consequential long term disease damage.
A strong crotch is identified by a decent sized branch collar (the raised area where the branch joins the main trunk or another branch).
Weak crotches with little or no collar, won’t be capable of bearing the weight of the branch as it grows, thereby risking a break or tear which can also lead to fungal infection.
If there are any branches rubbing together then remove the smaller of the two. That way there is a reduction in the chances of mechanical damage and injury to the protective bark, caused by rubbing together in the wind. Open wounds caused by injury are another potential breeding ground for fungal infections
Following these steps should go a long way to protecting your tree from maple tree diseases and ensuring that your tree grows into a beautiful, strong and healthy specimen.
Step Three : Prune for Aesthetics
The natural tree shape and growth habit of each species of tree varies enormously, but it can be adapted to a fair degree with the appropriate pruning technique and sometimes just by quite simple pruning.
Prune away any suckers or terminal buds that have sprouted at the base of the tree. They detract from the beauty of the main trunk, plus you want all of the tree’s energy going up into the higher parts of the tree that form the overall shape.
You can do this light pruning at any time of year, as soon as you see suckers, water sprouts or any unsightly growth sprout. It is an ongoing process.
As the tree matures, you can remove any branches that sprout too closely to each other on the main trunk.
Maples make lovely shade trees so if that is your intention then gradually raise the crown by removing a few of the lower branches each year.
You can now stand back and finish by cutting off any remaining healthy branches of the tree that you think will enhance the overall shape as the tree matures.
Just remember that cutting too many healthy branches can cause the young tree to die, so you should aim not to remove more than 25 to 30% of the live leaves & branches per year.
This is especially the case with young maples. Older trees can withstand a slightly more brutal approach and won’t be too stressed even if they are larger branches.
Pruning a Mature Large Maple Tree Older Than 10 Years
A mature tree that is older than 10 years will not require as much pruning as younger trees, so long as you have pruned the tree correctly during its first 10 years of life.
For older trees that are over 10 years old, you should keep all healthy large limbs in place. This is not the time to try to reshape the tree. At this age, the tree is the shape it should stay if it is to live a long and happy life.
Instead, you should focus on damaged and dead branches that need to be removed. Removing dead offshoots will allow the tree to focus its energy on other areas and dead limbs are just an eyesore, especially if they are particularly large limbs.
A suitable tool for removing small to medium limbs is a small Makita electric chainsaw, while larger limbs or certain branches that are difficult to tackle, should probably be dealt with by a professional tree surgeon unless you are very experienced at maple tree pruning.
An occasional tidy up will help create new growth and keep the entire tree healthy. Remember that it is better when trimming trees, to do a little bit each year than shock it with a full on attack one year.
At all stages when you are attending to your tree, you should also try to keep a little bit of a check on maple gall mites. These are identified easily by the small raised red bumps that they leave on the leaves.
If you spot them, then have a look at our page on how to get rid of maple gall mites, many gardeners have found it useful for explaining what to do about them.
As we have indicated above, the time when to prune maple trees is when they are three years old, or older, when the gardener notices a problem and during the summer and late spring, even through to late summer.
A maple tree is one of the most beautiful deciduous trees. As long as you prune your maple tree in the right way and at the optimal time, it will thrive on the cuts you make and reward your efforts with a magnificent show of colors; from the lime greens of Spring, through the rich emeralds of Summer and on to the gorgeous reds, oranges and yellows of Autumn.
There are occasions when you inherit a tree that hasn’t been well cared for in the past, in which case you may want to call on a professional tree service company which you can find recommendations for on our Tree Service page.