How to Grow: Japanese Maple

Acer palmatumJapanese Maple, Acer Japonicum, Do Bergs Fan-Maple


Other Name

Smooth Japanese maple


Sun Requirements

Full sun, part sun, part shade


Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

Grow mostly for its attractive shape and colorful leaves that can turn red in autumn


Mature Height x Spread

6 to 20 feet x 6 to 15 feet


Added Benefits

Fall leaf color, deer resistant


While bigger maples are quite bold in their stature and fall leaf color, Japanese maples are more elegant and delicate in their appearance. These small-sized trees grow slowly and can be pricey, but they have many delicate features that give them year round interest. The leaves can be purple, red or green and sometimes are deeply serrated giving the tree a mysterious look. The seeds can also have a reddish color that combines well with the colorful fall foliage color. The bark has a shiny, gray appearance that contrasts well with winter snow. Find the right spot for your Japanese maple away from winter winds and a bit protected in colder areas, and it will provide pleasures for you for many years.


When, Where and How to Plant

Japanese maples are generally hardy to zone 5, some only to zone 6, so choose your tree depending on your location. Purchase trees from a local nursery and plant from spring to summer in a protected location in full to part shade. Leaf color is often more vibrant in part sun. Plant trees in well-drained, humus-rich, slightly acidic soils. Space trees 10 to 20 feet apart.


Growing Tips

Water young trees well. Deeply water in subsequent years especially during droughts. Provide a layer of wood chips, pine needles, or bark mulch under the trees to keep the soil evenly moist and reduce competition from weeds. Create a mulch ring when grown in lawns to protect the trunk from damage due to lawn mowers and string trimmers. Fertilize in spring with tree plant food.


Regional Advice and Care

Japanese maples have the reputation for being fussy, but as long as the soil is well drained and moist and they are protected from winter’s cold winds, they are relatively maintenance free. They require little pruning other than removing dead, diseased or broken branches. In exposed areas they might have more twig and small branches dying in winter. Late spring frosts may damage young leaves.


Companion Planting and Design

Plant larger Japanese maples as a specimen tree in the yard and smaller selections in a mixed shrub border or perennial flower garden near a house or garage. Ideally, plant on the east side of buildings to protect them from winter winds. Plant dwarf trees in rock gardens, or use them as bonsai plants in containers.


Try These

‘Bloodgood’ is one of the hardiest and most popular Japanese maple varieties for our climate. It has red leaves that turn more burgundy in fall, with a good upright growth habit. ‘Tamukeyama’ is a dwarf tree (4 feet tall) with finely dissected, crimson leaves that turn scarlet in fall. ‘Crimson Queen’ features a 12-foot wide weeping tree that reaches 8 feet tall with dissected red leaves. ‘Flying Cloud’ features unusual green and white variegated leaves on a 6-foot tall tree.

Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.

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