JAPANESE MAPLES: AMAZING FALL COLOR


A Primer on Growing, Care, Pruning and Winter Protection
A Japanese Maple in my garden
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!
Japanese Maples turn the most fantastic colors each fall. Add in a little sunlight and you have pure magic!
Private garden in Milton, ON
It doesn't take much keen observation to note that Japanese Maples have a
dramatic presence in any 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!
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, Mississauga, ON
Their overall shape can be quite elegant...
Marion Jarvie's garden in Thornhill, ON
or gnarly and sculptural.
Private garden, Toronto, ON.
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.)
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.
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.
A Japanese Maple at Lost Horizons Nursery
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.
Private garden, 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.
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).
Toronto Botanical Gardens, Toronto, ON
Pruning: Any major pruning should be done before the leaves unfurl and the tree is dormant. Never 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.
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.

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4 of 7 comments
  • Leslii
    on Feb 7, 2015

    Thank you, I'm re-planting in the spring and creating some new gardening areas. I'll find the right spot for my new Japanese Maple!

  • Bonnie
    on Mar 15, 2017

    Love your pictures and the advice. I live in zone 9 and because of shade in my garden, I have been able to successfully plant and grow these beauties for several years. They are lovely gems in my 2 acre garden and my husbands very favorite. Last count, we were up to 70 as we add 2 or 3 every year. Every color and variety is just amazing. Garvan gardens in Hot Springs Arkansas has an absolutely stunning display of these beauties as well. Well worth the visit!
    • Three Dogs in a Garden
      on Mar 16, 2017

      Your garden sounds amazing. If you lived closer, I would beg to take photos. It must be magical especially in the fall.

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