Japanese maples are surprisingly easy
to grow and maintain. In our 22 years
exerience in the field we've never lost
a Japanese maple that we've planted. They
are generally winter hardy to about –20
degrees, and grow from Zones 5-9 in the
Japanese Maples can be grown in the ground
or in pots. Container culture can extend
their useful range. They are extremely
easy to grow in containers, a practice
taken to it’s most extreme form
in the art of bonsai.
Aside from their aestheticaly pleasing
appearance and ease in growing, one well-placed
Japanese maple can add hundreds or thousands
of dollars in value to your property.
Most any garden soil will grow Japanese
maples, but the soil must be well drained!
Wet soggy soil around the roots is the
killer. Good thing is they'll often let
you know if their feet are too wet when
the leaves brown on the tips. In this
case replant the tree lifting it up higher.
If proper planting techniques are followed
from the start when planting a Japanese
maple you shouldn't have this problem.
They grow in a wide range of soil pH
preferring a slightly acidic soil.
Japanese maples will grow in sun or shade.
In their natural habitat Japanese maples
are understory trees, growing in dappled
forest sunlight and at the edges of woodlands.
Ideally they prefer to be grown in similar
conditions. Bright sunlight and hot summers
do not kill trees, but in hot summer areas,
the newest leaves may burn and scald in
Plants should have a consistent supply
of water during the first 2 or 3 years
after planting. Do not over-water them
though. Just make sure they get enough
water during periods of drought. Established
trees can withstand considerable dry spells
and periods of drought with no problems
at all, but young trees may dry up and
die under the same circumstances. A lack
of water during the early years of establishment
is the number one killer of young trees.
Few pests or diseases afflict Japanese
maples, and no regular spraying or controls
There are several groups of Japanese
maples to choose from. The ones we stock
at the nursery fall into either of these
Group – Leaf
lobes are deeply divided 2/3 to
3/4 of the way to the leaf base.
These are usually upright and taller
growing varieties such as 'Bloodgood'.
Group – Leaf
lobes are very deeply divided and
deeply dissected into sublobes.
These are the 'lacey leaf' varieties
that have a weeping, cascading,
or mounded growth habit.
The cultivars are all grafted hybrids.
Normally they are grafted close to the
top of the soil line, but most laceleaf
varieties are grafted between 12"
to 24" high on the root stock to
create a small trunk for the weeping branches
to descend from. This reduces the need
for staking and creates a larger, fuller
to Plant a Japanese Maple?
Japanese maples are perhaps the best
plant to use as a focal point. Avoid planting
them too close to other trees or large
shrubs where they may become crowded out
and lost in the mix. Also avoid planting
too many Japanese Maples of the same variety
or color in your landscape.
In designing a landscape we will usually
keep it to one red leaf and one green
leaf variety in one setting or view, such
as the front or back yard. There are the
enthusiastic collectors though. We have
a friend that has over 30 varieties in
his back yard alone! He's got them spaced
properly and there is a good mix of other
plant material to keep things interesting.
Lace-leaf varieties (dissectums)
- We like to plant the lace-leaf dissectums
as a specimen in smaller beds to accentuate
an entry way, or in rock, patio, or water
garden setting as a the feature plant.
We usually underplant dissectum Japanese
maples with a matt-forming groundcover
such as Blue Star Creeper or Dwarf Mondo
grass. We don't plant shrubs too close.
Most lace-leaf varieties will grow between
5 and 10 feet wide - keep this in mind.
Note: Plant them in full
sun or shade. The lace-leaf varieties
will appreciate a little shade in the
afternoon though this is not absolutely
necessary. It's best too, of the site
Palmate varieties -
We like to plant these taller-growing
varieties as a specimen in beds or islands
that recive full sun or partial shade.
I their native habitat they're found growing
on the edges of woodlands. Give plenty
of thought to where you will place the
tree. It's best if the site is well-drained.
Consult with a professional
designer if you need some ideas. Underplant
with groundcover such as Ivy, Big Blue
liriope, Mondo grass, or low growing shrubs
such as Harbour Dwarf nandina, dwarf gardenia
or Soft Touch holly to name a few.
TIP: Scatter a few boulders
near your Japanese maple and watch how
much this brings the foliage and texture
out. The Japanese always include rock
in their design of Japanese
Planting a Japanese
- Dig a hole 2-3 times as wide as the
root ball or container that the maple
is growing in (wider is better). Dig
the hole no deeper than the root ball
or container when planting on sloped
ground. In heavy, poor draining clay
soils such as are found in our neck
of the woods, the hole should be just
deep enough that the top of the root
ball is 4-6" above the surrounding
grade - even higher if the site is poorly
drained and holds moisture for extended
periods of time after a rain. In some
cases, where soil at a site seems to
stay constantly moist, we've planted
the rootball on top of the ground and
built a mound around it with ammended
- When hole is dug mix 50% (by volume)
organic matter such as Claycutter or
mushroom compost into the native soil.
Do not add fertilizer at this time (although
a transplant solution with Vitamin B1
may be beneficial.)
- Place the tree in the hole and backfill
halfway, thoroughly soak the root ball
and backfilled soil then continue to
backfill. If planting higher than existing
grade (highly recommended) taper soil
mixture from the top edge of the rootball
and gradually slope it to the existng
grade. Keep soil mixture off top of
rootball. Refer to Planting
a Tree to view a diagram and detailed
instructions. Once completely backfilled
- Continue watering deeply at least
once a week unless there has been adequate
(1-2") rain until the ground freezes,
the following year gradually wean the
tree off of supplemental watering except
for during the hottest part of summer
or extended droughts.
- Form a small berm just outside the
drip line (tips of the branches) of
the tree to help the tree get enough
water for the first two years as it
- Mulch with 2-3" of hardwood,
pine bark, or pine needles. Keep the
mulch off of the trunk.
- After the second year, eliminate the
a Japanese Maple in a Pot/Container
When planting in a container
there are three things to think about:
size of container needed, where you will
place it, and soil.
Make sure to select a
well constructed good size container so
that you won't have to transplant later.
Spend some time thinking
about where you want to place the container.
You will be planting the tree in the container
where it will sit. The container could
be quite heavy after planting and difficult
to move. You can place your container
in full sun, however some afternoon shade
would be appreciated.
Use a lightweight professional
potting soil blended 50/50 with a heavier
grade potting or planting soil. Don't
use native soil.
Follow instruction in
Maintaining a Japanese
Japanese maples require
very little maintenance. They are not
prone to insect or disease problems with
the exception of the Japanse beetle. These
rarely do much damage. If you feel that
you must spray for Japanese beetles do
so using a light mix of Liquid Sevin spray.
Spray early in the morning to allow solution
to dry on leaves before the sun is too
- When watering your tree make sure not
to splash water on the leaves during the
heat of the day as this could cause unsightly
scalding and force the tree to use more
energy to replace damaged leaves. Be careful
not to over-water a Japanese maple.
- We usually fertilize Japanese maples
after new growth has emerged in spring.
We either use organic compost or a light
applictaion of 14-7-7 slow release Nursery
& Landscape fertilizer.
- Japanese maples may be pruned during
the winter months. We don't like to do
any major cutting on mature trees, just
a stray, unsightly branch here or there.
Remember, Japanese maples are meant to
look natural - avoid pruning them in a
formal shape. Consult with, or hire an
arborist if you have any reservations.
Major pruning is best accomplished when
the tree is young. We often limb up lace
leaf and palmate varities so that some
trunk will show. Any suckers that grow
up from the base or below the graft can
and should also be removed.