If you’re looking for ideas on how to grow beautiful Japanese Maples, these tips will give you a great head start. You may be surprised by some of them!
Growing Japanese Maples
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A couple of months ago, I talked about the elements that go into making a Japanese Garden…with the idea that I would be creating one in my yard this summer.
And I have to admit one of the reasons why I want a Japanese garden is that I love Japanese maples! To tell the truth, I have quite a few of them in my garden already…the Japanese Garden will just give me an excuse to get a couple more.
Japanese Maples have a bit of a reputation for being finicky, but they’re actually really easy to grow and care for once you get the hang of it. There are just a few things you need to know to keep them happy.
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Keep reading to find my tips for growing beautiful Japanese Maples.
Young Japanese Maples Should Not Be Pruned
Pruning young Japanese Maples can lead to poor root development.
Even if you plan to remove some of the lower branches at some point, leave them in place for the first couple of years until the plant is stronger.
There is one exception: If you see suckers growing from the root stalk (they will have different shaped leaves than the rest of the plant), you do want to remove those. Most Japanese Maples are grafted. If you let the suckers grow, they will probably end up taking over the whole plant.
Prune Established Maples In The Summer
When your Japanese Maple gets old enough to need some shaping, it shouldn’t be pruned in the early spring. Maple sap runs in the winter, so pruning at that time can cause the wound to ooze sap, which weakens the tree.
The best time to prune them is in July and August.
They Like A Lot Of Mulch
Japanese Maples have a shallow root system, so it gets overheated easily. Too much sun puts the whole plant under stress and weakens it.
A 6″ thick layer of mulch makes sure this doesn’t happen. Just keep it away from the trunk of the tree to prevent it from rotting.
Japanese Maples Don’t Need Too Much Fertilizer
When you first plant a Japanese Maple, resist the urge to add fertilizer. Too much can actually weaken the plant, cause the stems to die back and invite disease.
Once it has become established, you can add some Japanese Maple fertilizer if you are so inclined. However, mine do really well without any fertilizer at all…the thick layer of mulch decomposes into the soil and provides enough organic material to keep the plants healthy.
They Like Shade More Than Sun
The ideal condition for Japanese Maples is morning sun and afternoon shade. But if you can’t give them that, they will generally do better with more shade than more sun (especially if you have really hot summers like we do in South Carolina).
Too much sun will cause the leaves to burn and can cause the roots to get too hot.
However, The Leaf Color Is Better In Some Sun
Having just said that Japanese Maples prefer the shade, this sounds a bit odd…but if you have a Japanese Maple that has red, purple or variegated leaf colors, you will see more of that color if the tree has a little more sun.
You can see this easily in established trees (like the one in the picture), where the leaves on the top (that are exposed to more sun) are red, while the ones underneath are green.
Japanese Maples Grow Well In Small Containers
Because they are slow growing, a lot of Japanese Maples do quite well in containers. And they actually seem to flourish in smaller containers better than larger ones.
For the best success, try to use a planter that is no more than twice the width of the rootball.
The Leaves Come In A Variety Of Colors
It’s actually pretty amazing how many different colors you can find in Japanese Maple leaves…pretty much all of them except blue.
Who needs flowers when you can have such interesting leaves?
They Can Provide All-Season Interest
Japanese Maples are a great addition to your garden because they can add interest all year long.
In the spring, the leaves come out…often in a different color than the mature leaves. The variety in the picture above starts out with white leaves that turn to pink and then red before going green.
In the summer, the shape of the leaves and the tree is a focal point in the garden.
In the fall, the bright red leaves are a show stopper.
And in the winter, the interesting shape of the trunk will provide some structure. Or if you happen to have a coral bark maple, the bright red stems will stand out against the winter backdrop.
They Look Really Good With Landscape Lighting
Because Japanese Maples often have interesting trunk structures and lacy leaves, they make really good focal points at night with some landscape lighting.
Point an uplight along the stem and into the canopy, and you are pretty much guaranteed to have a stunning lighting effect.
Hopefully, you have found some inspiration for planting your own Japanese Maples.
Have questions or suggestions on growing Japanese Maples? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on April 11, 2017 but was updated with new content on November 20, 2021.