Pruning sugar maple in backyard

(Question)

Is it okay to prune a sugar maple tree during its early years to try to prevent the canopy from becoming too dense as it grows?

(Answer)

It is recommended that tree pruning be part of a regular maintenance program for all trees so they grow correctly from the start and stay healthy into maturity.  Regular pruning is done to maintain the tree shape, improve air circulation, prevent disease, maintain a safe environment below the tree and depending on the size of your garden, keep the tree compact.  You do not state how long you’ve had this tree but generally, once a young tree is well established in its new location, the pruning regime can begin, see pointers below:

  1. Do a yearly inspection of the tree in order to determine if pruning is needed at all and if so, which branches need to go.  Some years you may need to do no pruning and other years, you may have to do quite a bit.
  2. Remove any dead, diseased, damaged or dangerous branches.
  3. Determine which branch is the main leader and prune keeping this one strong central trunk intact – do not let it split in two by leaving a secondary leader to grow.
  4. Remove any suckers or water sprouts that are growing from the base or trunk of the tree – sometimes previously pruned sites start to regrow so you should remove all these.
  5. Remove any low hanging branches or “limb up” the tree – this will depend on the size and age of your tree.
  6. Remove any downward growing branches.
  7. Remove any branches that are growing straight up/vertical.
  8. Remove any branches that cross over each other – decide which one to take out by standing back and looking at the overall shape of the tree.
  9. Do not remove any more than 25% of the tree in any one year.  This job is a multi year project so be patient and if you tend your tree, over time it will reward you.
  10. If the tree is growing in an inconvenient or dangerous direction, and you need to reduce the canopy, make reduction cuts as outlined in the link below:

http://hort.ufl.edu/woody/reducing.shtml

The ideal time for pruning a sugar maple is when it is actively growing in mid summer and if needs be, into very early fall.  This timing will give the tree cuts a chance to heal and seal over before the winter sets in.  Do not prune a maple in the spring as the tree will loose (bleed) sap from the cuts, which may be detrimental, cause stress, set tree growth back or if heavily pruned, can cause tree demise.

Below you will find a good publication on pruning trees put out by Agriculture Canada, if you are interested in further reading.

https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/agriculture-and-climate/agricultural-practices/agroforestry/growth-and-maintenance-of-trees/pruning-trees-and-shrubs/?id=1346179616865

You will need several tools in order to make your job easier, the cuts cleaner & neater and which will lessen the chance of insect infestations or microbial infections.  You will need secateurs, lopping shears and a good pruning saw – these should be sharpened and sterilized before you start the job.

If you are in doubt about your ability to do this job successfully, I would suggest you contact a certified arborist in your area and ask for advice or help.

Good luck.