Japanese Maples: 10 Things You May Be Surprised To Know About Growing Japanese Maples
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
Japanese Maple Fertilizer. via amazon.com*
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.
CORAL BARK JAPANESE MAPLE Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’, via amazon.com*
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.
I was gifted a Japanese maple, which had long been potted and rootbound. I took it home and planted it in my garden.
Will it ever recover, or will it be a bonsai for the rest of its existence? If it is bonsai’d, I’ll need to move it to a more spectacular location. 🙂
Hi Jeremy…The Japanese maple should recover eventually, especially if you loosened up the roots before you put it in the ground. They do grow pretty slowly so it may take a couple of years before you start to see some progress.
For some odd reason the top 18” of my Japanese Maple died off. I have pampered the rest with screen-like materials to keep the leaves out of the soil. It is at least 5 years old now and approximately 3 ft tall. The deer were munching on it the first year so I moved it to a safer location. Any advice you may give would be very helpful . Thank you so much fir your wisdom and experience.
Hi Dotti…I’m not sure why the top of Japanese Maples dies off sometimes (I’ve had that happen before, too). Unfortunately, when that happens, they don’t get much taller because the main stem never comes back. I moved mine to a location where the small size works and got a new one to use in the original spot.
Hi Wanda, great article!! You seem very educated on the subject. Do you have a “green” education, or have you just learned throughout the years? (Here is a personal question– how did you get into blogging and how/do you get paid?) I have a green background as well, and I would like to do what you do. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!–Lisa
Hi Lisa…I learned my gardening skills from experience, although I have done a lot of reading and going to seminars over the years so I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that way.
I originally started the blog as a creative outlet, but now it’s my full-time job. I make money from ads and affiliate sales. You can read more about it here: How I Make Money Blogging and How To Grow Blog Traffic. Gardening blogs do very well, especially during the growing season, so I think it’s definitely worth trying!
My daughter have a Japanese maple and only half have leaves. The half with no leaves the wood is green and at the bottom there’s a small shoot. Why there’s no leaves on one half? There were leaves on that half last year.
Hi Esther…I’m actually not sure what the problem would be. I have had branches on Japanese maples die off and not get any leaves. But if it is still alive, then I think I would leave it for a while and see if the leaves come back.
Hi I have had 4 maples over the last 4 years and every 1 of them has died on me. I have just bought one palmatum atropurpureum and the leaves are curling up and burnt so I have put it in a shadey area. I cant plant in ground as i get alot of sun in front and back. What can I do to keep this one without dying on me. Please help. I dont want to fail this one.
Hi Vio…I have Japanese Maples growing successfully in pots so it should be fine. It needs to be a large container (at least 2 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep). They do best in part shade (ideally with morning sun and afternoon shade) and need to be watered well until they are established.
We live in TN and r blessed with hard clay soil. Will the Japanese Maple trees do well here? Thx
Hi Christine…You should be able to grow them. I live in SC and also have clay soil. I usually mix some potting soil in with the clay when I’m planting Japanese Maples to help with drainage. But after they get going, they seem to do fine.
Can you start a Japanese Maple from cuttings?
Hi Dorothy…I haven’t tried to do that, but according to this article you can. Since they usually grow pretty slowly, it may take quite a while to get a good sized tree 🙂
Why does my red japanese maple always turn almost black in the summer.It is an older tree & does get afternoon sun.Teresa
Hi Teresa…I have not run into that problem with Japanese Maples, so I’m not really sure. There are a number of diseases that cause the bark to turn black, but they shouldn’t just appear in the summer. I have seen something like this on Rhododendrons where it was actually aphids causing the problem. They leave behind a sticky substance that can get mold growing on it (which is black). If you can scrape the black stuff off, that may be what it is. If this is the case you just need to get rid of the aphids – insecticidal soap should work.
I live in NC and just purchased my 1st red Japanese maple. It will get only early morning sun and late afternoon sun, is that too much sun?
Hi Retta…Morning and late afternoon sun should be fine. As long as it is out of the sun during the hot mid-day hours, your Japanese Maple will be quite happy 🙂
What kind of bug spray can I use on my maple. I have those Japanese beetle. And this is the year of the locust to. What can I use?
Hi Wanda…Japanese beetles are tough. You can try spraying them with Neem oil which is probably the most effective insecticide for Japanese beetles, but can be harmful to fish so don’t use it if you live near water. However, I usually just pick them off and drop them in a jug filled with water and dish detergent. If you’re going to do this, try to get out there in the morning since the beetles are less mobile then.
I have 4 Japanese maples. They are gorgeous and showstoppers. We had a hard winter and as of May 26 we have no leaves. Actually a few around the bottom of 1 tree. 2leaves yo be exact. Greenhouses have told me to still wait cause of the difficult winter. What’s your thoughts. Wisconsin winters😩
Hi Loretta…it isn’t sounding too promising for your Japanese Maples, but I would give them a few more weeks just in case they decide to make a comeback. I hope they do! It would be a shame to lose so many of them at one time.
Can you move a established Japanese Maple If so when is the best time.
Hi Flo…yes, I have moved Japanese Maples before and they seem to do fine. I usually do it in the spring before the leaves start to come out.
My rare japanese maple leaves became brown suddenly, noticed shiny small bugs. Used pesticides for it and now there is no one single leave on the branches. Repotted plant from the garden into the container.. is there any chances???
Hi Jurgita…I haven’t had that problem before, but it’s not sounding too hopeful. I would keep it well watered in the container and hopefully it will come back.
Thank you Wanda for all your very helpful information, I would love to live in a warm climate, where plants would flourish,
I love my garden, but the weather here in Southern Ireland gets a lot of rain and wind hence it makes it difficult to to grow some amazing plants.
Having said that I love reading all your articles, your knowledge is amazing,
Thank you Wanda.
Thanks, Breeda! I’m glad you find it helpful, even if it’s hard to put into practice where you live.
I was forced to cut my red laceleaf maple down this past spring. I did not remove the 2′ stump and lost track of time to clear the stump out. About two weeks ago I noticed red sprouts coming thru the bark around the stump. Will this little fellow come back as a dwarf? I cut it out of my garden due to its large size. It was growing up as a tree would. What should I expect And should I feed it. Should I prune it? The planting area has excellent soil and auto water daily. Zone 7.
Hi Bettye…it’s hard to say how it will come up. If the original tree wasn’t grafted, then it should be the same as the original. If it was grafted, it will be whatever the root stock was. It shouldn’t need much fertilizing if it’s growing in good soil, and pruning it might help to keep it smaller.
I have a Japanese Maple in my back yard, in the past two years I have had wilting, curling leaves on half the tree. What could be the problem. Thanks Jules
Hi Jules…it could be too much water (Japanese Maples don’t like to sit in wet soil), too little water, or that it’s getting too much sun. It could also be some kind of fungus (which you can read about here: https://homeguides.sfgate.com/verticillium-wilt-japanese-maples-68040.html).
Thanks for the response. I will check back with you in about 10 years with results. lol
I have always wanted a Japanese Maple, but since I live in the frozen tundra of the north I knew that wasn’t possible. Then we relandscaped our front yard and I found a nursery out of Oregon was making Japanese/Korean cross varieties that would grow in my zone and decided to take a chance. A local nursery carried them and I found one I loved. This spring I waited with baited breath hoping it survived our winter. When the leaves budded out I did a happy dance. It’s more beautiful this summer than last. One of the lower branches has put on a lot growth and is now touching the mulch. Should I leave it, or prune it back? I told my husband he is not allowed to touch it for a few years, but I was concerned about that lower branch. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
That’s great that you were able to find a Japanese Maple variety that will survive in your area! It’s really up to you whether you cut the branch back. It won’t hurt the tree to have it touching the mulch (I have quite a few weeping maples that do that). But if you don’t like the look of it, you can prune it back a bit.
I have a two year old Japanese Maple in a pot under a patio cover. The problem is the leaves tips are turning brown. Is it to much water or not enough? Fertilizer, to much or wrong kind?
Hi Fis…most of the time brown edges on Japanese Maple leaves mean it’s getting too much sun or not enough water. If you put enough fertilizer on them to burn the roots, that could probably cause the problem as well (I don’t fertilize my Japanese Maples at all so I don’t have first-hand experience with that). Some varieties are more prone to getting them than others.
I purchased a coral bark and Maple in April. I thought I was keeping it watered. I was trying to find the best place for it. I made sure the hole just as the directions read. I planted my tree in a mostly shade area that only gets filtered morning sun. In the top 8-10 inches the leaves turned brown. The leaves are the only part that turned brown. Do you think it will be ok?
Hi Charlene…if the branches are still alive, it should recover. Make sure that that the soil is well watered but not soaking wet (the roots will rot if they are too wet) and that it isn’t getting too much fertilizer (if it is planted close to the grass, it could be getting runoff from the lawn fertilizer).
I have a mature Japanese Maple which I inherited from the previous owner of the house. She is a Master gardener and has left me with a beautiful perennial garden, however, in my opinion, she has let the foliage of the Japanese maple get too thick.
You cannot see the trunk or the general shape of the tree at all. I have cut back some of the small lower branches to get them off the ground, but I would like to bring more light into the interior and be able to see the trunk. Having never done this before I feel a bit intimidated. How would you suggest I approach this project.
Hi Nancy…You can “limb up” your Japanese Maple by completely removing some of the lower branches. I would also try trimming some of the interior branches to help open it up a bit. When I’m pruning Japanese Maples, I usually go slow and take off little bits at a time to make sure I don’t go too far. The good news is that they are very resilient so pruning won’t hurt it (but they can be a little slow to grow back if you take off too much).
Had a tornado May 2019, japanese maple not really injured. It did leaf out next spring, really beautiful, nice red leaves all over. It is in the east side of the house, lots of morning sun, shade after 1:00 p.m. We water it once a week when dry. A heavy cold snap came late spring and hurt our 8 foot tree. Leaves shriveled up, fell.
some stayed on the tree toward the bottom. It has not really recovered . dried up leaves and half live looking ones here and there on the tree. Healthy leaves toward the bottom of the tree. It is now Sept. 11. Will our darling 15 year old tree recover to its once beauty? Help please. It is so pretty
Hi Carolann…It’s hard to tell if it will come back. I would wait until next spring to see what happens. If it doesn’t recover, you will probably need to prune off the dead branches to encourage new ones to grow.
Thank you for your quick reply. Will take your advice.
Can I grow japanese maples in Denver Colorado? Tell me what to do.
Hi Art…yes, Japanese Maples should grow well in Denver. The most important things are to pick the right spot to plant it (where it doesn’t get too much direct sun in the afternoon or too much wind) and to keep it well watered (especially during the first couple of years). I would suggest buying a potted plant (as opposed to bare root). They’re just easier. To plant: Dig a hole that is a little bigger than the pot it came in. Add some compost or triple mix into the dirt you dug out. Remove the plant from the pot and put it into the hole so that the top of the soil is slightly (about an inch) above the ground in your garden. Finally fill in the hole (with the dirt you dug out) so that it is level with the edge of the plant soil. Then have patience since most Japanese Maples grow quite slowly. Hope that helps!
I bought two almost identical Japanese Maples 6 years ago and planted them on opposite sides of a sidewalk…same soil conditions and same amount of sun. One grows beautifully and is twice the size it was when purchased. The other one has not grown a bit. It has no new branches or growth. It looks as healthy as the other one. Why doesn’t it grow? Thank you.
Hi Vicki…If all the growing conditions are the same, it’s hard to tell why one would do better than the other. It could be that the second plant didn’t have as much root growth so it can’t take in as many nutrients. Or it just might be a less vigorous plant (like 2 kids who start out at the same height won’t always end up at the same height when they’re older). Sorry I’m not much help with this issue.
Thank you, Wanda❣️❣️
Our Japanese Red Maple is 15 year old, growing on a northeast exposure in Southern Wisconsin. We have noticed in the last 3-4 years some of the branches just die of, the rest of the tree looks healthy. Wondering what the problem could be and how to solve this problem. Hate to lose the tree, its gorgeous.
Hi Donna…The branches on Japanese Maples can die back if they don’t get enough water, or it could be a fungal disease (although if the tree looks healthy, it’s probably not the latter). Otherwise, it may just be that the tree is getting older (I have branches die off on my trees that have been around for a while). If you want to know for sure, you might want to get an arborist to take a look at it.
Hi, I am a new owner of a shania maple. It has been cut back and is a beautiful small tree. We get some hard winters with snow do I need to do anything to protect it in winter? As well any planting tips for how close to foundations?
Hi Christine…Generally, Japanese maples will do fine with lots of snow. It acts as insulation, and their branches are fairly flexible so they don’t break easily. If it gets really cold where you are, you might want to put a ring of chicken wire around it and fill it with pine straw to keep the plant insulated, at least for the first couple of years. I haven’t had any problems with Japanese maples wrecking foundations, but they can get pretty wide, so you probably want to plant it at least 4 or 5 feet out to give it lots of room to grow.
I have 3 well established Japanese maples. We want to move one of them to a new location to extend the porch. What is the best way to do this? It’s probably about 5ft high. It’s also produced several seedlings that I’ve left growing in the ground. Would these do well in a container?
Hi Sharon…Japanese Maples are pretty tough, so you should be able to move it. But for a 5 foot one, you’ll need to dig a pretty big hole. It should be almost as far around as the outside branches and go down two or three feet. You can do this by hand if you have some help to actually move it. Or hire a tree mover if you want to make sure it survives. Yes, the seedlings can be grown in containers. If you live somewhere with really cold winters, you may want to add some pine straw or extra mulch around them during the cold months to protect them.
I enjoy your info, very much!
First, I might suggest that if you have to move a Japanese Maple, start preparing it to be moved as far from the move date as possible. I started root pruning two years in advance and mine moved without a hitch! Just cut the roots 2′-3′ out from the trunk in a circle, with a shovel. I cut in the depth of the shovel the first year and removed a bit of soil outside the circle. This promotes new root growth within the circle. The second year, I cut deep with a ditch shovel and removed a bit more soil from outside the circle all around. When it was time to move the tree, The circle became the root ball and only a few deep roots remained to be cut.
Secondly, a question about this same tree. It was growing against the house for years and grew tall with few limbs. Now that it is moved and has room to spread, how can I encourage it to branch out and become fuller?
Thanks, Lisa M.
Thanks for the transplanting information, Lisa! In the spring, I would trim back the branches to encourage it to produce new shoots. If it’s happy in its new location, it should also start to branch out on its own. Since most Japanese Maples are slow growing, it may take a while to see improvement.
My Japanese Maple has small red leaves growing out of the trunk, even with the ground. The tree itself stands about 3 feet tall and the branches are bare. Will my tree survive and what can I do to help it?
Hi Tracy…are the branches living? (They shouldn’t be brittle, and if you make a small scrape in the bark, it should be green underneath). If so, then it should come back…it may just be a little slow to get going. If the branches are dead, then you have a decision to make. It sounds like the tree is still alive since it is growing from the base, but it will take a long time for it to grow back (most are pretty slow growing). So you would have to decide if you’re willing to wait for it, or want to replace it with a new one.
You don’t seem to know much about growing acers.
Hi…I’m speaking from personal experience. I have more than 10 acers in my garden right now, and have been planting and growing them successfully for more than 30 years. But if you have some additional knowledge you would like to share, I would be more than happy to hear it.
I was cleaning out a neighbor’s flower bed and I noticed Japanese Maple “runners” growing across the flower bed. He does have a Japanese Maple in this flowerbed but where I noticed the runners was probably 15-20′ from the tree. I’m 99% sure they are JP … red stems with lacy leaves. I worked this flowerbed last year and did not notice these runners. Have you ever heard of or seen this and if so can I dig them up and plant in a container?
Hi Georgia…I don’t have any personal experience with that, but I have read that Japanese Maples can spread so it’s possible. It wouldn’t hurt to try planting the roots in a container. But most Japanese Maples grow pretty slowly so you might have to wait a few years for it to get big enough to make a statement 🙂