phone 770-954-9862 
Wilson Bros Nursery is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC 7 DAYS A WEEK!

About Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples (acer palmatums) are a widely cultivated family of plants useful as small trees, large shrubs, container plants, and bonsai. There are many exciting cultivars that look good in many different situations.



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 United States.

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 these conditions.

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 are indicated.

There are several groups of Japanese maples to choose from. The ones we stock at the nursery fall into either of these two categories:

Palmate 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'.


Dissectum 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.


Note: 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 plant faster.

Where 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 is well-drained.

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 Gardens.


Planting a Japanese Maple

  1. 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 topsoil.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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 water again.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 gets established.
  6. Mulch with 2-3" of hardwood, pine bark, or pine needles. Keep the mulch off of the trunk.
  7. After the second year, eliminate the watering berm.


  Planting 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 Planting in Containers.

Maintaining a Japanese Maple

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 high.

Watering - 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.

Fertilization - 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.

Pruning - 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.


Other 'All About' Pages

Free Garden Designs

Gardening 'How To'

Plant Files

Tips for the Month
Topics of Interest

D-I-Y Projects
FREE Designs
Map to Nursery
Receive periodic tips and reminders, new product reviews, valuable coupons and more! Sign Up
Other All About Pages
Annual Flowers
Birds & Wildlife
Butterfly Gardens
Container Gardens
Container Water Gardens
Cottage Gardens
Crape Myrtles
Landscape Edging/Borders
Fall Blooming Plants
Lawns / Lawn Grasses
Grasses - Ornamental
Groundcover Plants
Hedge & Screen Plants
Japanese Gardens
Landscaping Terms
Organic Gardening
Perennial Plants
Rock Gardens
Shade Gardens
Spring Bulbs
Summer Bulbs
Water Gardens / Ponds
Japanese Maples