Japanese maples

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is a small, spreading tree much loved for its vibrant autumn leaf colour. This deciduous tree, which can grow 4.5-6m high and 3-4m wide, is native to Japan, Korea and China. The leave colours are of yellow, red and maroon in autumn and some varieties, including ‘Bloodgood’ also have colourful spring growth.

As well as upright multi-branched trees, there are also weeping Japanese maples and varieties with highly dissected leaves. Check with your hardware or garden centre for advice and varieties that suit your local conditions. Here are a few to consider.

  • Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ A popular deciduous tree ideal as a feature tree in a small garden. It has a compact habit and dainty leaves that start of rich crimson-red in spring, turning to bronze-green in summer, and then finally to rich crimson-red in autumn.
  • Acer palmatum ‘Bonfire’ As name suggests this tree is planted for its brilliant bright crimson foliage in spring gradually changing to mid-green, then scarlet in autumn. A small round habit tree which grows to around 3 metres.
  • Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki‘ An excellent vase shape maple growing to around 5 metres. Its foliage is considered as one of the best autumn-toned maples with its green foliage turning fiery red in autumn.
  • Acer palmatum ‘Oshio Beni’ A great tree to contrast against green foliage. It has brilliant red-orange foliage in spring, which darkens throughout summer and turns garnet-red in autumn. A fast growing deciduous tree to 5m with an arching habit.
  • Acer palmatum Dissectum ‘Green Globe’ A great tree for a pot or as a feature tree in a small garden. A decorative rounded maple, it has bright green lace-like foliage that changes to yellow in autumn.
  • Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Orangeola’ A small maple (2m x 2m) full of character with its dense mounding habit and cascading branching structure. It has finely dissected foliage in bright orange/red in spring, turning green/red in summer and a fierce orange/red in autumn.
  • Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum Inaba Shidare’ If you are looking for a dark foliage colouring this is it. It has deep purple foliage in spring and summer turning crimson/orange in autumn. A small robust maple known for its lacy, dissected leaves that make a stunning feature in any garden.

Japanese maples grow well in large containers and are well suited to growing in a pot in a sheltered courtyard. They team well with other Japanese plants including azaleas, hydrangeas and hostas.

Growing conditions

Aspect Japanese maples need a sunny to partially shaded location with shelter from hot afternoon summer sun. As the leaves are fine and easily damaged, they can be burnt in hot sun or by hot, gusty winds especially in spring and summer, select a sheltered location to keep the leaves in good condition.

Soil These trees grow in a wide range of soils, having shallow roots they need reliable moisture but good free-drainage soil. They prefer a slightly acidic soil. Before planting add home-made compost and organic matter and/or Seasol Super Compost. In a container use good quality premium potting mix such as Seasol Advanced Potting Mix. Use organic mulch over the root area to help keep the soil cool and moist.

Climate Temperate to cold zones. In warm temperate they can be grown if given a suitable microclimate.

All you need to know to growing Japenses maples
All you need to know to growing Japenses maples

General care

Watering Water when young and during dry spells especially when trees are re-leafing in spring. Maples have shallow roots and therefore do not reach moisture deep in the soil, so ensure your plant stays moist but do not water-logged it. Check plants in pots more often as they dry out quicker especially during periods of high heat. If you find the water pooling onto or running off the soil, applying a soil wetter such as Seasol Super Soil Wetter & Conditioner will help to overcome this.

Feeding and mulching Maples can be feed via your preferred method, either liquid or granular food or a combination of both, depending on your tree variety. Keep plants growing well with a granular fertiliser such as Seasol plus Nutrients All Purpose including Natives every 6 to 8 weeks during the growing season. Spread under the dripline of the tree (the area at the edge of the foliage canopy) as this is where the feeder roots are located. Remember to water it in thoroughly after application. If you prefer liquid feeding, apply PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season, around the drip line of the tree’s canopy.

Spread organic mulch such composted bark or inorganic mulch such as gravel under trees to deter weed competition and retain moisture. Mulches are a good option where grass or plants struggle to grow. Don’t build mulch up around the trunk as this can cause fungal problems for the tree.

Pruning Pruning is unnecessary except to remove damaged growth or to control height and spread. If pruning is required, prune in winter.

Watch out These trees may be attacked by possums, which are very partial to maples. Protect new growth by covering or using barriers to exclude possums. New growth may also be attacked by aphids. Check foliage for aphids and hose-off or spray with the appropriate product such as EarthCare Enviro Pest Oil insect spray or EarthCare Natural Pyrethrum insect spray. Remember to spray both sides of the foliage and repeat 14 days later if necessary.