Pictured: Coral Bark Maple Tree, winter and summer
Japanese maple trees are like garden sculpture: each one has its own particular personality. With hundreds of varieties to choose from, weeping to upright, there are trees for almost any location. They can be used as specimens and focal points, or dotted throughout the landscape in an understory garden, mixed with evergreens and conifers.
When pruning a Japanese maple, look for the “integrity” of the tree so that pruning reveals the structural essence of that tree. (This is what gives each tree a personality and sculptural form all its own.) Pruning can be done in both winter and mid-spring. When the tree is dormant, it is much easier to view the branch structure and plan the long-term shape for the tree. In spring, as the tree begins to leaf out, a light pruning can be performed to thin out extra branches and improve the overall appearance of the canopy. (Here in Zone 7B, I prefer not to prune Japanese maples in summer due to our extreme temperatures.)
When the tree is pruned properly, some branch structure should be visible in the growing season, allowing light and air to flow through the tree. (What you don’t want, is a tree that looks like a large overgrown shrub.)
I pruned these Japanese Maple trees in the middle of winter. They were completely overgrown when I tackled them, but now the true structure and the beautiful coral-red branches can be enjoyed throughout the winter.