Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples are easily one of the most elegant and stunning specimen plants you can add to your garden. There are varieties that can be grown in containers, and few of them ever reach over 25 feet tall, making them adaptable to any space. The fall colors on Japanese Maples is stunning, and because of their smaller size, easy to appreciate in a small garden than a larger tree or shrub. Many varieties even look amazing all winter long with attractive bark and branch formation. They leaf out early with fresh green leaves, some of which change to reds or oranges as the season progresses. They are available in both red and green varieties, and some varieties have reached collector status.

Japanese Maples also have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but while they have needs that need to be attended to for best growth and color, they are a tough and adaptable plant.

Here are the steps on how to grow Japanese Maples, and our top fav varieties!

Sun vs. Shade

Japanese Maples are shade lovers, but they do need some sun in order to get to their best color. It’s best to provide morning sun and afternoon shade, or dappled shade at most. The farther south you are, the more afternoon shade should be provided. Below is an example of leaf scorch that some maples are prone to with too much afternoon sun.

Leaf scorch maple

Soil

They are eager feeders, especially when young, so lots of compost or organic matter should be worked into the planting hole. One note: These plants do not do well with salt in the soil. They can handle a wider variety of soil issues, but that is deadly to them.

Water

Evenly moist, not soggy and not dry when young. Believe it or not, at maturity Japanese Maples can be somewhat drought resistant.

Wind

Obviously you can’t protect any outdoor plant from all wind, but if you can choose a more protected spot, your maple will appreciate it. Winds can dry out and brown the leaves if they are constant.

Cold/Heat

Most Japanese Maples are hardy down to zone 5, but they dislike overly hot environments. However, I grow my Coral Bark Maple in an inland northwest desert, in full afternoon sun… I just keep it well watered every day in well drained soil… However, towards the end of summer I do get some brown curling on the leaves.

Special Tips

Reduce your watering in the fall for the best color. Japanese Maples grow fairly slowly, so if after a season or two you find the spot you chose isn’t working, you can dig it up and move it, they are pretty tough. Just dig a nice sized root ball and transplant it in the fall. Water it well… even if you see some stress related leaf drop, chances are it will be just fine come spring.

Favorite Varieties

Green

Coral Bark – This variety has lovely red bark that shows well in the winter months. Leaves are green with a sight reddish edge, then turn golden in the fall. To 20 feet.

Coral bark maple

 

Gold

The Golden Full Moon Maple has gorgeous gold leaves, that turn more red from the tips down in the fall.  To 20 feet.

jp-golden-full-moom

 

Red

Dissectum Atropurpureum – This is the common red variety that you see with fine foliage and a dwarf form.

Red Japanese maple

 

Best for Southern or Warmer Climates

Beni schichihenge – This variety is a variegated leaf with cream, green and pink, and turns to an orange golden in the fall. To 8 feet, and tolerates hot temperatures better than most.

jp-Beni-schichihenge

Image Credits: Terre Verte, Royal Horicultural, Frontier, BHG, European Nuresery


32 Comments

  1. Tamyka May 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    I purchased 3 Japanese Maples of which 1 has seemingly died. However, the trunk/stem is still green. Is there a way to revive it?

    Reply
    1. Susan March 10, 2015 at 5:55 am

      I had the same problem after trying to relocate my small maple tree and accidentally cut the stem into half. I tried to revive it by putting the bottom half stem (with roots of course) in a rich soiled pot. Keep the soil damp. I watered mine everyday in summer month and every other day if it’s raining. I also added a fish solution to help the roots to stabilise. I was about to give up after about 2 months, but luckily with a bit of effort and patience it paid off. I was really thrilled to see in one afternoon, exactly 2 medium sized leaves shooting out of the bottom of the stem. It’s ALIVE!!!!!!!

      Reply
      1. adele geris April 29, 2015 at 2:55 pm

        What is the name of the fish solution you applied to the tree ?

        Reply
        1. Kathy Woodard May 21, 2015 at 2:18 pm

          Any fish emulsion would work!

          Reply
  2. phyllis June 1, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    I planted a couple of Japanese maples this spring and now they have white spots on the leaves. What am I doing wrong?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard June 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Hi Phyllis, We have never had that problem in our climate, but I did some research and found this link for you…

      Reply
  3. Connie June 26, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I have the red dwarf version of the japanese maple that has “weeping” branches. The branches have “weeped” onto the ground around the trunk. The tree is approx. 3.5 -4 feet tall. Is there anything wrong with trimming them so they don’t touch the ground?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard June 26, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      Shoulnd’t be a problem, but here is a link to good guide on pruning Japanese maples!

      Reply
      1. Patti Maher June 4, 2015 at 5:54 am

        We have a dwarf Japanese maple that we left uncovered through the winter for the first time. It’s 3 years old and I pruned it late last fall. The rabbits seem to have enjoyed eating most of the outer bark off through the winter months, amid the snow. I thought it was dead for sure, but some leaves have started to regrow. Have to wonder if it will grow fully or I’m best to replace? Could there me permanent damage done if just the bark is gone?

        Reply
        1. Kathy Woodard June 9, 2015 at 9:32 am

          The problem when the bark is gone is the tree is not protected from disease… If you don’t see a full tree of leaves by June, chances are the tree has been permanently damaged…

          Reply
  4. Heidi Mattson August 21, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Mine doesn’t grow? Hasn’t died but also hasn’t gotten any bigger in a year?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard August 29, 2014 at 10:23 am

      They are slow growers, as long as its not showing signs of stress, its likely fine!

      Reply
  5. nick August 29, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    My Japanese mayple tree used to turn red by fall; but for 2 years now it stopped.why & what can I do to help the tree change again. Thank You.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard October 31, 2014 at 6:54 am

      How old is the tree? Is it getting enough sun?

      Reply
  6. Kathy F November 10, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    We recently moved into a home with a young Japanese maple (3-4 feet tall and abt the same wide). It was planted too close to the house, and I would love to move it to a spot where it can thrive. My question is simply; can I move the tree with out damaging it?
    Any suggestions would be great!

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard November 19, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      Japanese maples are difficult to move, thought you may have some luck if you dig a root ball at least as large as the plant itself… It is a risky business though! Any of our readers had success moving a maple this large?

      Reply
      1. Christine February 15, 2015 at 11:35 am

        Oh yes – I have moved older shrubs from one house to another, 100 miles away, and to different locations around the yard. They might have a tough year following the move (water, water, water) but I have never lost one. Just make sure to get a good root ball when lifting, and a little trim after the move won’t hurt either.

        Reply
  7. Lisa January 1, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Can you tell me a good website that tells you how to grow Japanese maples from seed or seedlings? Do you know where you can purchase these seeds or seedlings?

    Reply
  8. Diana April 22, 2015 at 9:13 am

    In our new rental home there is a red Japanese maple that had a few leaves when we moved in 6 months ago. But it looks like it has died. No leaves, no green when I “scrape” at the trunk. Is there any way to revive it?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard May 21, 2015 at 6:42 pm

      If there is no green when you scrape the trunk, it’s likely to be dead…

      Reply
  9. Kathy June 19, 2015 at 7:51 am

    I was given 3 Japanese maples as retirement gifts in 2011. This spring the biggest one (about 7 feet tall) started to bud, then stopped. All I have now are bare dead looking branches, but at the base of the tree new leaves came out. What’s up with this tree? Will is come back next year?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard August 4, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      It sounds like it was damaged… when you scrape the upper braces with a fingernail, is the wood underneath green?

      Reply
  10. Susan Eggena June 19, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Above you stated “here’s a good link on pruning Japanese maples” but I never saw the link. Could you please restate that? Thanks

    Reply
  11. Christina August 30, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    We have a Japanese Maple (8-10 years old) that has been dying in sections. We started cutting away the dead branches and it seemed to be fine for a few months. Now a bigger section of the tree has died. We are going to remove because of losing most of the tree. Do you have any idea what could have caused this? (Disease, vitamin deficiency, gophers)??? And if we replant another Japanese Maple will it likely catch what this one had?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard October 28, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      I’m not an expert on Japanese Maples, but from the research Ive done, it sounds like you had a fungal disease and the overwhelming opinions seem to be that it remains in the soil… Therefore, if you plant another maple in that spot, it could happen again… You might want to consider something like a dogwood as apparently maples are really susceptible…

      Reply
  12. Heather September 13, 2015 at 7:15 am

    What variety of japenese maple is the large green japenese maple in the first picture ?

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard September 17, 2015 at 9:01 am

      I wish I knew for sure. That photo was taken by Terre Verte Design at the Portland Japanese Gardens. It’s honestly best to choose from a nursery in your area, they tend to do best because different varieties are tolerant of different conditions.

      Reply
  13. Mike May 19, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    What type of Japanese maple is the one in the first picture of this article?

    Reply
  14. Nancy August 15, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    I have two beautiful trees that I have had in the same pots for a good five to six years. Should I I transplant them or can they hang for another year or so in the same pot? I love them and they are very happy and hearty.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Woodard September 7, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      It depends on the size of the tree and the pot when you first planted them. If they seem healthy, they can probably go another year. Here is a list of signs your JM might need repotting…
      A slowing rate of growth over previous seasons.
      Difficulty wetting the trees soil.
      Reduced uptake of water in summer.
      Rapidly reducing leaf size.
      Early leaf drop in autumn.
      Slight yellowing of foliage colour.
      Reduced gloss on the foliage.
      Root ball gradually rising in the pot.

      Reply

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