Japanese Maple Tree – Care and Growing Tips
Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum) are colorful maple trees that are typically grown in-ground or pots for Bonsai. This tree is renowned for its stunning foliage, with leaves in red or green color throughout spring to early fall before turning into shades of purple, orange or red. The textures of this maple tree’s leaves are wide and varied, with some having wide lobes, while others being lacy in appearance. Some varieties of Japanese maple produce small red or purple blossoms before turning into a dry-winged fruit called samara.
If you want to grow Japanese maple as a Bonsai indoor or in your garden, we have all the relevant growing and caring instructions for this beautiful tree right here.
Japanese Maple Overview
|Botanical name||Acer palmatum|
|Leaf color||purple or red|
|Max growth||25 feet|
|Light||full sun or part shade|
|Temperature||tolerates most climates|
moist, well-drained and slightly acidic
aphids, Japanese beetles, scale, borers, mites
Common Japanese Maple Tree Varieties
Butterfly Variegated Japanese maple
This dwarf maple grows upright and boasts vibrant variegated foliage. The compact width of Butterfly maple means you can grow the tree in the smallest spaces. At maturity, it will reach around 10 feet tall and up to 6 feet wide.
Another excellent dwarf maple variety that can be grown in a container is called Coonara Pygmy. This dwarf tree flaunts pink leaves in spring before they turn reddish-orange in the fall.
This petite Japanese maple variety features unique colored bark and can be grown in most climates. Coral Bark is ideal as a focal point tree in small yards that need a pop of color. It can reach as tall as 25 feet!
Inaba Shidare Lace Leaf
The amazing red to purple color of Inaba Shidare will mesmerize you. This Japanese maple can only reach up to 10 feet in height, thus making it the perfect size for small yards or containers.
With its red lacy foliage, the dwarf Red Dragon is a stunning Japanese maple that’s mostly grown in containers. It grows to about 7 feet tall at maturity.
The green foliage of the dwarf Weeping Viridis comprises red and purple colors that look simply beautiful in containers. The maturity size of this Japanese maple variety is about 6-8 feet tall.
Japanese Maple Care Guide
Japanese maple needs full sun or partial shade to grow. When growing this tree in direct sun, however, it may result in scorched leaf margins while the tree is young. If you live in a hot climate, it’s best to plant the maple in partial shade until it gets established. The leaves will become stronger as the tree ages and bright sunlight will intensify their color.
The green-leaf maple requires dry and hot climates to thrive. But most Japanese maple tree varieties can tolerate temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. The roots can survive temperatures as low as 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to protect your maple from strong winds and frost.
Most Japanese maple varieties don’t like clay or poorly drained soils as these types of soils will leave their roots prone to disease. As with most trees that need to breathe through their roots, clay soils tend to suffocate the roots by providing very little oxygen to the tree.
In case your soil is heavy clay, make sure the planting hole is around 3 inches shallower than the root ball. In such poorly drained soils, the tree should be planted higher than its original depth (by about 5 inches higher than the surrounding soil).
Water your maple deeply during the dry, hot months. Water the roots slowly so that the soil can absorb as much of the water as possible. In the fall, reduce the amount of watering to help the tree intensify its foliage color.
To help the soil retain moisture and prevent weed growth, add a 3-inch layer of mulch. Spread the mulch a few inches away from the trunk in order to prevent root rot.
Everyone wants thriving and healthy trees, but it’s very easy to overfeed your tree and cause it damage when you want to quicken its growth. Most Japanese maples don’t require any fertilizing, but if your tree is showing signs of dying stems or disease, you can consider applying a small amount of organic slow-release fertilizer once the tree is into its second year of growth as this will give the tree plenty of time to adjust to its new conditions. The best time to feed your maple is in spring.
The best times to shape and prune your Japanese maple are fall and winter. Give your newly planted maple minimal pruning so as to avoid damage to its branches. Japanese maples don’t need heavy or regular trimming, but if you want to prune your tree for aesthetic reasons, do it in fall or winter. Having said that, if you notice heavy sap flow from the branches, hold off the pruning until mid summer. Heavy sap flow can lead to pest or disease invasion, thus weakening the tree. The preferred time to trim maples is between mid-July and August. To prune the maple, simply remove the overgrown shoots from the plant’s base.
Be sure to inspect your tree annually and remove any crossed branches or any other unsightly feature. If your tree has grown quite densely, you may want to trim it quite heavily in order to let more air and light in the center.
Planting Japanese Maple in the Ground
Planting your Japanese maple correctly will result in fast and healthy growth as well as prolong the tree’s lifespan. The two most common causes of plant failure are the wrong soil type and improper planting so be sure to pay attention to your planting technique. Build up the surrounding soil around the root ball, without exposing the roots and never place more soil on top of the root ball as this will suffocate the plant.
The idea is to allow adequate oxygen to reach the roots from the upper soil surface. Another important tip is not to disturb the soil under the tree’s root ball. If your soil is well-drained, the planting hole should be dug the same depth as the root ball and be at least three times wider than the root ball for best results. Tree roots will generally grow more quickly in loosened, well-drained soil, especially if you add a few layers of mulch over the soil surface.
Best Time to Plant
There is never a right time to plant your Japanese maple than now. But if you want to know the best season to plant your Japanese maple in the garden, then fall is recommended. By planting this tree in fall, it can develop better root growth during the dormant season. But while the upper parts of the maple go dormant and stop growing for winter, the roots of the tree continue growing throughout the dormant seasons as long as the temperatures don’t fall below freezing. Planting in fall allows the nutrients and carbs that are produced during summer to go directly towards root growth instead of the leaves or flowers.
If you miss the fall planting, you have another chance in spring. Just try to avoid disturbing the new buds during the planting process.
Best Planting Location
Determining the best location to plant your Japanese maple can make all the difference in ensuring your tree doesn’t struggle during its growing phase. The planting location in your yard or garden should receive adequate sunlight and be protected from high winds. Young trees must be protected from the elements until their roots establish.
For the best location to plant your maple in your landscape, morning sun and afternoon shade are highly recommended. This ensures your tree receives full sun and part shade without stressing or burning its leaves. If the tree gets too hot, its roots become stressed and sun-baked. This is where you see yellowing leaves. The bark of Japanese maples is thin and can easily be scalded by the sun during its first and second years of growth.
Planting in Containers
A great way of starting your Japanese maple tree is by planting it in a container. These maples prefer to be somewhat snug in a pot, so refrain from adding too much soil around the root ball. Otherwise the soil will become too saturated with water and cause root rot. This is particularly true for dwarf maple varieties in containers. It is, therefore, best not to use a pot that’s too large for your tree. The container should be no larger than twice the root ball’s diameter and half as deep. In simpler words, avoid going more than double the root ball volume. As the tree gets bigger, you can plant it in a wine barrel or similar container as a beautiful accent in your porch, patio or backyard.
To plant your maple tree in a container, use a mixture of half potting soil and bark. If you don’t have bark, use perlite as a substitute.
After two or three years, your potted tree will benefit from root pruning and fresh soil. You can cut off the outer layer of the roots using a sharp knife or saw. The tangled roots around the pot’s edge are not only unattractive, but they may also inhibit the plant’s growth. Since it is only the tips of the root that take in nutrients and water, you should prune the outer layer from time to time.
Once you’ve pruned the overgrown roots, you may return the plant to the same pot. Add some soil around the tree’s perimeter without disturbing the center of the root ball.
Common Pests and Diseases
Japanese maple trees most commonly get invaded by the Japanese beetles. These destructive leaf feeding pests can destroy the look of the tree within a matter of weeks. Other common pests include mealybugs, mites and scale. These pests attack the tree at any time throughout its age, but are mostly found in young Japanese maples. The typical signs of infestation are very small bumps or dots on the leaves and twigs of the tree. These pests often leave a honeydew that attracts sooty mold.
If you notice curled or wilting leaves on your Japanese maple, this is a sign of aphids infestation. These pests suck sap from the tree and in severe cases cause stunt growth.
Borers are another common Japanese maple pests. The tiny sawdust clumps of borers are the result of the drilling into the bark and creating tunnels in the branches and trunk of the tree. In worse cases, borers can cause the death of branches or even the tree itself.
To treat any of the mentioned pest problems, apply a strong spray of water with either organic or chemical pesticide to wash away the pests from your maple tree’s branches or bark.
The most common diseases that can cripple Japanese maple are caused by fungal infection. Canker is one such disease that attacks the bark and causes it significant damage. The sign of this disease is the sap oozing from the bark. If it’s a mild case, it will resolve itself, but in severely infected trees, the canker will kill the plant.
Another Japanese maple disease is verticillium wilt, which is a fungus living in the soil. The main symptoms of infection are yellowing leaves that fall prematurely. Sometimes, only one side of the tree can get affected, with the rest of it looking healthy.
To prevent these diseases, prune your Japanese maple annually and clear up all the fallen twigs and leaves. It also helps to replace the mulch every year to avoid the spread of infection.
While Japanese maple trees are slow-growing plants, one of the reasons they are so popular is that they don’t require a great deal of care. Follow our simple growing instructions and you’ll soon enjoy a colorful and mesmerizing tree for many years to come!