Japanese Maple Trees
WITH DIVERSITY OF FORM, COLOR AND SIZE, THERE’S A JAPANESE MAPLE TO FIT NEARLY EVERY LANDSCAPE.
Japanese maples are one of our top sellers at Watson’s, and for good reason: they have an ever-changing beauty. Bright new growth emerges in the spring in colors ranging from white to peach, rose, pink, bright green and bright red. Many have stunning fall color and brightly colored twigs in the winter. Left in their naturally graceful, shapely form, Japanese maples lend an elegant but somewhat informal look to a garden.
Depending on the variety you select, the tree may stay a foot or two tall or grow as large as 25 feet (but that’s big for a Japanese maple). You can choose a weeping variety, one that is stiffly upright or almost any shape in between. While some have tiny, thread-like leaves and others are quite bold, all are fascinating and beautiful.
Most people think of the weeping lace leaf cultivars when the term Japanese maple comes up, but these are only a small portion of the group. There are at least 250 cultivars, with the numbers increasing every year. Watson’s has many varieties in stock that are hard to find elsewhere.
Japanese maples are hardy enough for containers and excel as specimen plants but also work well with other plants in a mixed garden setting. They are especially beautiful with our native mountain hemlocks, vine maples, rhododendrons and azaleas.
Bring us your garden questions, our experts are always on hand to offer advice and help you make your selection.
Almost all are beautiful in spring because the new growth is so tender and usually bright, but here are a couple standouts.
Warm tones of peach, orange and pink in the spring turn a rich bright green for summer. Fall colors are also beautiful, with bright yellow and orange predominating.
Spring leaves are bright crimson for about a month, changing to bronze and then green for summer and back to flaming red again in the fall.
A weeping lace leaf cultivar known for its persistent of deep red. Fall colors tend to be bright.
An upright red Japanese maple that holds its color well through the hot months. A little afternoon shade is welcome to prevent sunburn. Fall color is bright crimson and there is an added summer bonus of bright red helicopter seeds.
In full sun, leaves are a lovely burnt orange; shaded leaves tend toward pale yellow green.
A full moon type, leaves come out in pastel oranges then turn bright golden yellow for summer. Tolerant of full sun and has best foliage color with at least 6 hours sun.
Acer palmatum ‘Taylor’ is a stunning Japanese maple with pink leaves in the spring. It will then age to green leaves with pink margins during the summer.
Displays its soft green leaves with pinkish red margins in the spring. In summer, the foliage turns to vivid green prior to putting on a dazzling autumn show of assorted bright orange hues.
Most Japanese maples have interesting and graceful forms that look quite lovely in the winter. The exception is a few that are very twiggy, usually the dwarf forms, which are most attractive when clothed in leaves. Weeping lace leaf forms are quite nice in winter because of the crooked appearance of the branches that are especially beautiful with snow on the branches.
Coral bark (Sango kaku)
Leaves are green in summer, with pinkish twigs, but as the weather gets colder, the smaller twigs get brighter and brighter red. Very striking in winter, especially with heavy frost or snow.
Also called the Lion’s Head maple, its bright green foliage is crinkled and stiff on short stubby twigs. Leaves are packed close together and the entire effect is crisp. Fall color is gold/rose.
Most grow well in full sun and will develop their best fall color with at least a six hours of direct sunlight per day. A few varieties, mostly the variegated ones and some of the golden forms, will burn in hot afternoon sun and do best with morning sun or as an understory tree with filtered light.
Our acidic Northwest soils suit these maples very well, but they are quite tolerant of a range of cultural conditions, including all but the most alkaline (lime or chalk) soils. They do not have a particularly aggressive root system so they will not damage sidewalks or foundation walls, and they also play well with other plants. Japanese maples do require well drained soil, for they will not tolerate constant wetness. Japanese maples are outstanding container plants, needing only minimal fertilizing, regular summer watering and infrequent root pruning or up-potting.
Japanese maples have average moisture requirements. The most important requirement is uniformity. If the plant is in a dry area it should not be flooded at irregular intervals and if grown in a wetter area it should not be allowed to dry out too much. The moisture supply should be constant and consistent.
Fertilize once a year, at most, with a balanced all-purpose organic fertilizer. A slow-release option like Osmocote® works well, too. Trees planted in the ground can get along with no fertilizing but those in containers do need a once a year application.
Annual pruning for shape and size control should start when the plant is young and small. It’s best to remove any dead or damaged twigs in the spring, just before the tree leafs out. Larger branches that must come off should be done in dry weather. Pruning for shape is best done in the summer, as some diseases are most apt to strike when open wounds coincide with cool and wet weather.
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