One of the most graceful and beautiful additions you can make to your landscape is a Japanese maple. With its commonly purple or crimson leaves, the pop of color adds incredible dimension regardless of the surrounding backdrop.
Once a Japanese maple is well established in its location, it tends to be fairly maintenance-free, leaving you to enjoy the beauty without having to do a lot of work to keep it up.
However, you will need to take care when planting and be mindful of a few items as the tree grows. So, pay attention to the info below and you should be able to enjoy your Japanese maple for years to come.
How to Choose your Japanese Maple
You may or may not be aware that there are actually dozens of varieties of Japanese maples. So, having a little bit of knowledge before you head to the nursery will help make your selection process easier.
Keep in mind that most nurseries will only have an up-to-a-handful of varieties, so you might want to have a list of several that would work in your outdoor space.
Select a Japanese Maple that Thrives in your Zone
If you’ve done any of your own gardening, hopefully you are aware of the zone you live in.
An interactive map is available online through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), enabling you to click on the state you live in to see a detailed view of the state’s zones.
According to the USDA, “The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.”
Most Japanese maples will thrive in zones 5 through 8. However, there are a couple that will still be ok in the colder temperatures of zone 4 and a few that can withstand the warmer temperatures of zone 9.
Determine the Size and Shape of your Japanese Maple
You can find a dwarf Japanese maple that will only grow to about 2 feet tall, or you can find another species that will grow to 30 feet tall. So, it’s very important to pay attention to how tall your Japanese maple will grow.
If you plan to grow your Japanese maple in a container on your back patio, you certainly don’t want to accidentally pick a species that will grow to 30 feet tall!
In addition to height, you can choose from a few different forms or shapes that the trees will grow into. According to Monrovia, the six shapes of Japanese maples are the following:
Choosing the Leaf Qualities of your Japanese Maple
This is an area where it’s more about your own personal preference than it is about your climate and space. Japanese Maples come with different leaf colors and shapes to choose from.
Some Japanese maples have leaves that are red or purple throughout the seasons, while others have leaves that change colors from spring to summer to fall.
In addition to different colors, Japanese maple leaves also have two basic shapes. One style is shaped similar to a palm and the other is more delicate and lacey.
Best Japanese Maples for Specific Purposes
Monrovia, a well-known supplier of plants, trees, and flowers, has put together a few recommendations based on what you plan to do with your Japanese maple.
Small Spaces and Containers
- Shaina Japanese Maple
- Kagiri Nishiki Japanese Maple
- Red Dragon Japanese Maple
Grouping or Statement
- Shishigashira Japanese Maple
- Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple
- Fireglow Japanese Maple
- Ryusen Weeping Japanese Maple
- Bloodgood Japanese Maple
- Osakazuki Japanese Maple
The species above are just a small representation of the dozens of Japanese maple species available. If you would like to see a detailed list of Japanese maples and their basic characteristics, JapaneseMaplesOnline has a comprehensive list of options.
Planting your Japanese Maple
Planting your Japanese maple is a little more complicated than just digging a hole and sticking it in there. You’ll want to follow these instructions to ensure your tree isn’t stressed by the experience.
Picking the Location for your Japanese Maple
You may have already had a spot in mind before you brought your Japanese maple home from the nursery or garden supply store. But, you’ll want to double-check to ensure you have the proper sun exposure, drainage, and soil before planting.
Japanese maples tend to thrive in partly shady locations. Too much sun can cause the leaves to burn, especially the lacy leaves. But, they need enough sun to keep the leaves that signature red color.
Many Japanese maples will do ok regardless of the soil type, especially with proper fertilization.
However, JapaneseMaplesOnline recommends the following mixture as the ideal soil composition: “40% fine silt or sand (usually your native soil), 20% peat moss and 40% organic compost. This mix will provide good drainage combined with good water and nutrient holding capacity.”
Japanese maples do best in well-draining soil. And, if you have that, once the tree is established, it should need minimal watering. But, if you’re in an arid or drought-ridden area, be sure to water your tree often.
Preparing the Soil for your Japanese Maple
You should plan to mix a good amount of organic matter into your soil prior to planting. This will serve as food for your Japanese maple, as fertilizing isn’t recommended until the tree is entering its second season of growing, according to Mendocino Maples Nursery.
In well-drained soil, dig a hole as deep as the root ball and 2-5 times as wide. The more loose soil you prepare, the better able the roots will be to grow and get established.
Once you have planted your Japanese maple, it’s a good idea to spread plenty of mulch. Mulch will keep moisture in and weeds out. And over time it will decompose and feed the soil as well.
Caring for your Japanese Maple Long Term
Your relationship with your Japanese maple should last for many years. They are fairly low-maintenance plants, once established. So, just a little bit of care will go a long way.
Watering your Japanese Maple
In the first growing season, be sure your tree gets a decent watering once or twice a week. If you live in a very hot and dry climate, you may want to consider watering more frequently.
If you live in a mild climate, once you get past the second growing season, the natural rainfall should be sufficient for your Japanese maple. Again, you may need to do more watering if you live in a hot or dry climate.
Fertilizing your Japanese Maple
As stated earlier, you should really stay away from fertilizer during the first growing season and only start to consider it the second or third year.
Mendocino Maples Nursery advises applying a “small amount of organic fertilizer in the spring.” And, they also recommend that if you use an inorganic fertilizer, you only use half the recommended amount.
In the case of Japanese maples and fertilizer, less is definitely more!
Pruning your Japanese Maple
Here are a few basic pointers about pruning your Japanese maple.
- Do your primary pruning during the winter, while the tree is dormant.
- You should consider a second, minor pruning in the spring after the new growth has started.
- As with all trees, prune away any dead or unsightly branches first.
- It is also recommended that you prune the center branch of any new growth.
If you want more detailed information, you can find exact pruning instructions at JapaneseMaplesOnline.com.
Enjoying your Japanese Maple for Years to Come
Whether you have chosen a small Japanese maple that will be just a bright spot of color in your yard, or several large trees to form a grove of Japanese maples, these trees will be an enjoyable addition to your landscape.
The sight of the sun shining on crimson leaves will make you smile when you sit on your patio enjoying a summer afternoon.
If there’s a slight breeze, those lacy leaves blowing in the wind will contribute to a sense of peace and tranquility.
We invite you to enjoy your very own Japanese maple tree.