Tips for Growing Japanese Maples
Copyright © 2010 by McGroarty Enterprises
Japanese maple trees are one of the most sought-after
ornamental trees for many gardeners. These beautiful trees come in a
variety of sizes suitable for any garden and the assortment of leaf
textures and colors are sure to please even the most particular
gardener. The best part is, despite their delicate appearance, growing
Japanese maples is quite easy.
As the name implies, Japanese
maples are native to Japan where they grow in abundance in the forests
of this island country. Wild Japanese maples are medium-sized trees that
put on a colorful autumn display of bright crimson and yellow leaves. In
the United States, gardeners can enjoy growing Japanese maples in their
own gardens mainly in growing zones 5-9.
maples range in size from large trees up to thirty feet tall, down to
dwarf trees that never grow more than three feet tall. The smaller trees
are ideal for displaying as the center of attention in a patio garden
and they can even be grown in pots.
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Any Japanese maple can be grown in a pot, but growing
Japanese maples of the smaller varieties in pots is easiest for those new
to caring for trees in containers. The smaller varieties have naturally
smaller root systems and will reside more happily in a container. Larger
varieties, such as Bloodgood, will quickly outgrow a pot and would need to
be transplanted often to larger and larger containers.
If you want
to begin growing Japanese maples in pots, look for dwarf varieties such as
Butterfly, Hoshi kuzu, Red Dragon, Pixie or Waterfall. There are many more
dwarf varieties available also.
Next, choose an appropriate pot for
growing your Japanese maple. It should be large enough for the rootball to
fit comfortably inside and the pot should also provide good drainage.
Plastic pots work well as they are lightweight and will not crack in
freezing winter conditions. Avoid ceramic or terra cotta pots as these
will crack when frozen.
Use a well draining potting soil for
growing Japanese maples in pots. Japanese maples will grow well in
slightly acidic soils that are rich in organic matter, and the soil
absolutely must drain well. Whether you are growing Japanese maples in
pots or in the ground, these plants do not like to have wet feet. They
would rather be a bit on the dry side instead of too wet.
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Hereís a good recipe for potting soil:
http://freeplants.com/ingredients-for-potting-soil.htm Plant your
Japanese maple at the same depth it was at in the nursery pot. Avoid the
temptation to plant it too deeply, and avoid piling mulch up closely
around the trunk. Doing so will keep too much moisture around the trunk
which can lead to significant damage to the tree.
Japanese maples in containers, they may be fertilized weekly throughout
the spring and into mid-summer with a half-strength liquid fertilizer.
After the end of July, stop fertilizing the plant. At this time it will
begin preparing itself for winter, and you donít want to encourage new
growth at this time. Tender new growth is too easily damaged by cold
When growing Japanese maples in the ground, the
rules for fertilizing will change. An in-ground Japanese maple should be
fertilized only in the spring, using a fertilizer that is fairly low in
As mentioned earlier, Japanese maples donít like to grow
in soggy soil. Nothing short of an errant lawnmower will kill a Japanese
maple more quickly than overwatering. Do your best to not baby the tree
and kill it with kindness! If you are growing Japanese maples in your
landscape, they should not be watered on a daily basis. In general,
rainfall is enough for the tree, but if rainfall is scant or nonexistent
in the summer, go ahead and give the tree a drink weekly. Always water the
tree at the roots, avoiding sprinkling water on the leaves. If water
droplets are on the leaves and the sun shines on those droplets, the
sunlight will be magnified by the droplets. This will result in unsightly
scorched marks on the leaves.
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If the tree is in a container, allow the soil to dry out
between watering, and before watering, always test the level of soil
moisture in the pot by sticking a finger down into the soil at least two
inches deep. If the soil feels wet, put away the watering can. If the soil
feels dry or just slightly moist and cool, go ahead and give the plant some
No matter in what part of the country you are growing
Japanese maples, location is one of the keys to keeping them happy. Avoid
planting a Japanese maple too close to a building or a sidewalk, so you
wonít have to end up moving it a few years down the road when it will have
outgrown that space. Also avoid planting a Japanese maple in full sun,
especially in warmer climates. Hot sun tends to cause the leaves to scorch
and a tree grown in full sun will look shabby by late summer.
Ideally, try growing Japanese maples where they will receive morning sun and
afternoon shade, or grow them where they will receive dappled sunlight all
day. Another option is to situate the tree where it will receive direct
sunlight in the late afternoon, so long as it is shaded from the hot midday
sun. Japanese maples that have red leaves will tend to show more color when
they receive more sunlight.
Whether you are growing Japanese maples
in Illinois or Alabama, keep in mind that these are deciduous trees, meaning
that they need to go dormant in the winter. Winter dormancy allows the plant
to get some rest, just like sleeping allows us to rest and rejuvenate. If
the plant is not allowed to go dormant, it will eventually weaken and die. A
Japanese maple should not be overwintered inside a warm house. Keep the
plant outdoors, but it can be given some winter protection.
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If you are growing Japanese maples in
pots, keep in mind that potted plants lose one zone of hardiness because
of the cold air circulating around the pot and the plantís roots. Keep
the potted Japanese maple outdoors, but in cold climates you can bury
larger pots in the ground over winter if possible, or keep them in an
area that is protected from cold, drying winds and cover the pot with
leaves to provide more protection. Snow cover is especially helpful in
preventing the rootball from becoming too cold. A tree that is in a pot
that holds less than five gallons of soil may also be kept inside an
unheated garage or shed, away from windows. A smaller pot will not
provide enough protection from the cold to survive outdoors, but it must
still be kept cold enough that the plant will go dormant and stay
dormant until Spring.
Japanese maples that are in the ground
should always be given a blanket of mulch over their roots. The mulch
will help maintain moisture levels in the soil and help prevent the
roots from becoming too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
Make sure the mulch isnít piled up around the trunk where it would keep
the bark too moist and encourage disease and insect problems. Keep the
mulch a few inches deep over the root zone, but no closer than four
inches from the trunk.
Because Japanese maples need to go
dormant, they will have a hard time surviving in climates where the
weather doesnít get cold enough for dormancy. They will also have
difficulty growing in areas where the temperature drops below 10 degrees
Fahrenheit for a length of time. However, some folks have had luck
growing Japanese maples outside of the suggested growing zones of 5-9.
If you live in a zone 4 climate but you have an area in your
yard that tends to stay a bit warmer than the rest of your property, you
might have luck growing Japanese maples in that spot. If the plants in
that corner of your yard tend to survive early frosts longer than plants
elsewhere in your yard, itís possible that a Japanese maple could
survive there too. Alternately, if you have an unheated garage or shed,
you could try growing Japanese maples in pots and bringing them indoors
to the unheated building once they go dormant. Do not allow the plant to
dry out completely over winter. Give it some water, but not too much,
about once a month to keep it from dessicating.
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One problem to be aware of if you are
growing Japanese maples is spring weather that arrives too early, followed
by an extended cold snap. If the weather turns warm too soon, causing the
trees to leaf out early, there is the danger of the tree being damaged or
even killed if freezing weather returns again. Warm spring weather causes
the sap to flow up from the roots into the tree, and if this sap becomes
frozen it can cause the treesí bark to split, resulting in the demise of
We canít do much to change the weather forecast, but if
your tree has leafed out early and an extended spell of freezing weather
is expected, you might try constructing a shelter around small Japanese
maples to protect them from the cold, drying wind. As added protection,
keep an incandescent light bulb burning inside the shelter to maintain a
higher temperature for the tree. This attempt to prevent damage to the
tree would be worth the extra effort.
Whether you are growing just
one Japanese maple as a specimen plant in your garden, or if you have a
Japanese maple collection, these delightful trees will surely become sort
of pets and will bring many years of satisfaction to their proud owners.