Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Japanese Maples

Much of what I know about Japanese Maples comes from simple observation. 

They are relatively slow growing. The little green leafed one I bought five years ago is practically the same size it was when I bought it!

 My own little Japanese Maple

Japanese Maples turn the most fantastic colors each fall. Add in a little sunlight and 
you have pure magic!

Looking over the fence to my neighbour's Japanese Maple.

Chen's garden in Milton, ON

It doesn't take much keen observation to note that Japanese Maples have a 
dramatic presence in any garden.

Chen's garden

Tell me that this area of Chen's garden in Milton, ON would as pleasing if it weren't for the
 large red Japanese Maple you see in the foreground!

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

And it's not just the color of their leaves. The branches of a Japanese Maple sweep 
upward, outward or cascade downward with such grace.

Private garden in Dartmouth, N.S.

Even in winter, there is a certain beauty in their bare limbs.

Private Garden, Mississauga, ON

Their overall shape can be quite elegant...

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

or gnarly and sculptural.

Private garden in Toronto, ON

It seems that less is more when it comes to Japanese Maples. Just one is often enough. 

Private garden, Toronto, ON. In the foreground is Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'

There are also pretty versatile. They are small sized trees that that can work in almost sized garden; even a modest one. (The majority of Japanese Maples grow to 6-15 feet in height, with some reaching as high as 30 feet. True dwarf Japanese Maples can grow as little as 3ft.) 

Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'

Japanese Maples do however, have a few drawbacks. They can be really pricy. 

Demand seems to have brought the price down on a few common cultivars (Locally you pick up a small Japanese Maple for as little as $25 at Loblaws Garden Centres each spring).  

But anything more unusual is likely to cost you are pretty penny.

Acer campestre 'Carnival' in a private garden in Toronto, ON

And more interesting options like this Acer campestre 'Carnival' (above) are not always readily available. Often you need to track them down at speciality nurseries.

Acer campestre 'Carnival': The foliage of  'Carnival' emerges with pink and cream and gradually becomes green with white margins. 'Carnival' has a spreading habit and is slow growing (8 feet in 10 yrs) It needs a sheltered spot and is best suited to shade. 'Carnival' likes evenly moist, well-drained soil. USDA Zones 4a-8b.

Acer palmatum 'Koto No Ito' in Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

Possibly the best way to find a particular Japanese Maple is to search for it online.

Acer palmatum 'Koto No Ito': 'Koto No Ito' means harp strings. This cultivar is also known as the Dancing Monkey Tree because of the way its leaves dance in the wind. 'Koto No Ito' turns a lovely yellow with a hint of orange in fall. Mature size:10 year size is 5 to 6 ft. Width is 3-5 ft. USDA Zones 6a-9b.

I happened upon these four Japanese Maples while poking around in a local nursery called Lost Horizons. Unfortunately for me, they are guaranteed hardy only to Zone 5. 

They are starting in the top left:

1. Acer palmatum 'Butterfly': A variegated cultivar with bluish-green leaves edged with white.
2. Acer palmatum dissectum 'Seiryu': Lacy green foiage that is red tipped.
3. Acer palmatum 'Grandma Ghost': Cream and pale green leaves with pink veins (this image shows its fall colors).
4. Acer palmatum 'Beni otake': A vigorous upright tree with a bamboo silhouette. It has large purple-red leaves and strap-like leaf lobes.

A Japanese Maple in the Lost Horizons Nursery Display Garden

Linking my last two points: Japanese Maples are an investment, so you will want to take note of the hardiness of the maple you are considering buying before you make your purchase. 

In northern climate zones like mine (6b), you will also want to make sure your maple is sited in a protected location. Even the more hardy varieties of Japanese Maples will often suffer winter damage here or perish mysteriously. I had one little red Japanese Maple for a number of years, and then one winter, it up and died.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Viridis'

Here are some general notes on growing Japanese Maples that I have gathered from a variety of sources:

Japanese Maples are categorized according to leaf type. There are two main groups of Japanese Maples. Probably the most familiar Japanese Maple is Acer palmatum, with its cascading branches of finally cut leaves in 5 to 9 parts. A second group is Acer Japonicum, with leaves that have 7-11 fingerlike parts.  There is also a third group of trees: Acer shirasawanum.

Toronto Botanical Gardens, Toronto, ON

Site selection: It's hard to imagine, but try to consider a Japanese Maples's mature size when you site them. Select a sheltered spot where your tree will not be buffeted by strong winds.

Sandy loam with some organic matter is ideal, but Japanese Maples will tolerate a wide range of soils. A soil with too much organic matter however, can actually affect the desired coloration of the leaves. 

In terms of light requirements, a general rule is to choose a sunny spot with afternoon shade. Leaf color can also serve as a useful guide to help you determine just how much sun is appropriate for your Japanese Maple. (Note: The amount of light will affect your maple's leaf color.) Red and variegated leaves need a respite from the hot afternoon sun. Green varieties tolerate sun best, but still can be scorched by too much sun. Golden leaves need a bit of sun to keep their color from turning green.

Japanese Maple in Chen's garden near Milton, ON

Planting: The best time to plant a Japanese Maple is in early spring and in the fall, when the tree's roots have to best chance to get established. (Note to self: Avoid clearance sales mid-summer, when any new tree will have to struggle with heat and possible drought. It's a case of false economy!)

To plant your new maple, dig a hole bigger than the root ball and back fill with 1 part peat moss to 3 parts soil. Water it well and mulch the area to keep the roots cool and ensure water retention. Use only moderate amounts of fertilizer such as a transplanter with a ratio of 5-15-5.

Care: Japanese Maples like moderate moisture and good drainage. Extreme drought can affect foliage color of red maples in particular. Once established, it is a good idea to apply a light fertilizer in early spring (4-12-8 fertilizer or 15-30-15 water soluable mixture both work). 

Japanese Maple in Chen's garden near Milton, ON

Pruning: Any major pruning should be done before the leaves unfurl and the tree is dormantNever prune in spring when the sap is rising. Lighter pruning can be done in June afer the first major flush of growth takes place. Ensure your pruners are razor sharp for a good clean cut. Begin by pruning away any dead ot diseased branches. It is also a good idea to cut away any scrubby growth or twigs that cross. After that, it comes down to aesthetics. Stand back from your tree and consider every cut carefully. Never use wound dressings or black sealing paint, as they lock disease in rather than keeping it out.

Diseases: Aphids, leaf-cutters and rollers may appear as pests in spring. If that happens, seek an organic control at your local nursery. Mildew can be a problem where there is high humidity.

Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON

Winter protection: Japanese Maples do best in USDA zones 6-8. They love the moderate climate of pacific northwest. In hotter areas, they will require aftternoon shade and frequent water. It is interesting to note that the Korean Maple, Acer pseudosieboldianum is a full zone more cold hardy than the most common Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum.
 It is recommended that you wrap any new Japanese Maple in burlap for the first three years in a garden. Keeping it watered before the first frost will help guard against water loss in winter. An extra heavy layer of mulch will also help portect the root system during the cold winter months.

Please share your own experience with growing Japanese Maples.


  1. I absolutely love J Maples but have had no luck growing them here in my new garden or my old garden.

  2. When I planted mine, I was told to place it for protection, out of winter wind and summer's mid day heat. Here in Nova Scotia it was a challenge finding a place out of wnter's wind ;-) Great Piece Jennifer and fantastic photos.

  3. So much valuable information here on how to grow these beauties!! I have always admired them for the reasons you gave and am always blown away when I see them light the sky on fire!! I would like one but am still looking for that perfect location...maybe as my garden matures a spot will present itself!! Happy day to you Jennifer!!! Nicole xo

  4. They're lovely trees. I had a huge one in my garden in Vancouver. I love how delicate the leaves are.

  5. I have a pretty good sized one in my front yard. I bought this property a little over a year ago and have baby J Maples coming up all over in random places that I dont think it was the previous owners doing. I am in Southern Maryland.

  6. I've admired Japanese maples for years, but never purchased one. Reading through your tips on location and planting have me thinking where I could put one in my garden. I've noticed the prices have gone down quite a lot over the years too. My son has suggested getting one to put beside his pond so that the branches overhang his pond. I think it would make a really nice setting. I'll keep this post in mind next spring when we can look for one. Thanks for all the info Jennifer :) Wendy x

  7. Oh how I enjoyed this. I am such a fan, they are truly delightful trees. I have endless problems trying to grow them.... I don't know why!

  8. This is a wonderfully informative post Jennifer. I've always admired these trees and until a few years ago they wouldn't grow here (zone 4) but now nurseries are filled with them in spring. Last year I scooped up three beauties at a close out sale. Reg price for the three was $200 but drove home spending less then $60! Tended them, yes even babied them and they took well. This spring I realized that they provide rather nourishing meals for bunnies over the winter. ~sigh~ but the critters needed the food because of the ice and snow. An expensive meal but I couldn't blame them. I'd nosh too at the buffet. I'll be on the lookout for a few of your highlights. Well done!

  9. I don't have a Japanese maple but wish I did. They are just so beautiful.

  10. A very informative post, Jennifer--great round-up of tips for anyone wanting to add these beauties to their garden. I have only one Japanese maple, picked up as a real bargain several years ago, but it's not especially colorful--no wonder it was so cheap:) Besides the beautiful color, I love the foliage, especially the ones with finely cut leaves. I would love to add another one here, but besides the price, location is a problem. Most of my garden is out in the open where the winds sweep across the fields--not a good site for a tree that needs some protection.

  11. Jennifer girl (I have not been on top of visiting blogs, blush, sorry.. your posts are always so beautiful and informative, I miss that when I am "slow")
    This is one of my most favorite posts this year because I am a JM addict ! haha
    Having 5 different kinds has not stopped me from wanting MORE ! and I am so in the market for Full Moon or Carnival .. maybe next year ?
    My experience .. I have never wrapped them .. probably have neglected the watering rule quite a bit ... and in spite of all of that, they have survived me and shone ! This year has been exceptional with the colour cascade from Inaba Shidare to Crimson Queen to my little one (name escapes me) against the back fence. They have "turned on" all in succession and amazed me with their intense scarlet colour.
    Mean while Bloodgood in the front garden has soldiered on with few complaints other than some dried leaves .. I think I will transplant it next year for more of a show case affect. It deserves to shine as well. I love dissectum because of those fine leaves .. so beautiful!
    Site can make or break these gorgeous trees .. you are so right .. not only for the aesthetics but for health of the tree over all ... so far so good with mine so I have been lucky indeed.
    Yes ! you have to be patient with the slow growth and getting a better price with the smaller trees but they are so worth it .. sometimes you do stumble on a bargain like I did with Inaba Shidare .. so for those looking for a good price for a great tree ? just keep your eyes peeled ! You never know !
    Great post girl ! Thank you !
    Joy : )

  12. Are you going to the Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling? The registration is in Nov.

    1. I was hoping to attend. Apparently it sells out quickly, but I would like to see if I can get on the list.

  13. I just love these trees! We have 2 Japanese Lace Leaf maples. I've never seen their leaves as vibrant as they are now. Just beautiful.

    Wishing you a wonderful weekend, Jennifer!

  14. Acers are one of my favourite smaller trees. We have three here and I would love to add more sometime. Your have found so many beautiful ones to photograph, they are stunning!

  15. Simply gorgeous. I've always loved Japanese Maples, The bright red or the orange in the fall is just amazingly beautiful. This was such a lovely post.

  16. I love J maples as well Jennifer, especially of Marion Jarvie's garden, the yellow one with nice shaped trunk. I grow the Green Globe J maple and every autumn I try to cover it with special cloth to protect of frost. Thank you for information!

  17. I have Japanese maple envy. We really can't grow them here reliably; after last winter when we were so cold, even hardy trees perished, but I love their form, texture, color, everything about them. The gnarlier the better and especially sited near rocks; they make my heart sing. I have had luck with Korean maples and an Ed Hasselkus introduction called 'Northern Glow' which is a cross between the Korean and Japanese. Still, I envy those who can grow the beauties in your post.

  18. Jennifer, These are simply stunning pictures of Japanese Acers. The Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' is gorgeous and although Acer campestre 'Carnival may not be to everyone's taste, I really do like it.

  19. Stunning photos Jennifer!!! Every one is gorgeous. I could look at other people's gardens forever.
    It would be wonderful to be able to grow Japanese Maple here but my garden is zoned 3/4 and sometimes it means it!!! :-) Every time try to push the zone a little, I always lose things so I have to stick with the tried and true. My mother grew JM on the Oregon coast and I loved them ever since.

  20. My heart went thump, thump, thump as I admired the Japanese maples in your post. You gave an excellent overview. I love Japanese maples. Only one? I lost that battle long ago and am now up to close to twenty! They are such wonderful trees through all seasons, and their fall color is often spectacular. Some of my trees were named cultivars with price tags to match their pedigrees, but my most spectacular Japanese maples were unnamed seedlings barely a foot tall and cost me $8 each, back in 1990. Now they have all grown to exquisite specimens, and they are all different. I had no idea what an important part of my garden they would eventually become. I usually grow smaller specimens in pots for several years. Smaller trees looks great in pots, and this allows them to grow larger before transplanting into the garden.

  21. I do love the scarlet coloured ones and bought both an expensive one from a nursery and a cheaper one from Loblaws. Unfortunately they didn't last more than 2-3 years, so disappointing. For now i'll admire them in great posts like this :)

  22. Wonderful post Jennifer. There is nothing like a Japanese Maple. They really are beautiful specimen trees. I have one tiny one & now you make me want more!!! Foliage cannot be beat.
    One of my neighbors has one on the south side of her house ~ in full sun pretty much! Amazingly it is doing well. I guess you never know about the conditions until you try?


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