Japanese Maple: Care and Maintenance

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Is your backyard looking a little dull?  Could your front yard use a bit of color?  Why not trying to grow a Japanese maple tree. It is both elegant and stunning with its red and green colors. It comes in all sizes, from bonsai and dwarf sizes to the much bigger Acer palmatum.

This woody plant delights everyone from hobby gardeners to professional landscape designers.

Its finely laced leaves come in various shades of green and turn brilliantly colorful as the seasons progress.  It provides shade when the weather is hot and doesn’t mind the winter frost.

Let’s jump straight into the guide!

Japanese maple require proper maintenance through a guide to grow well

General Information

The Japanese maple is a shade tree that features delicate, lacy, red-purple leaves that will turn bright shades of red, orange, or yellow in the fall.  Because of its striking appearance, it can easily become the defining focal point of an entire landscape.

There are two primary varieties: a shrub-like, compact version with branches that grow downward, which gives it an almost weepy appearance, and a tree-like version with branches that grow upwards.

Japanese maples can grow to a height of 15 feet to 25 feet and spreads out to around 20 feet once it has reached maturity.  The dwarf tree variety grows to about 4 to 5 feet tall.

Star-shaped japanese maple leaves

Growth Rate

Unlike many other trees, the Japanese maple is a slow-growing woody plant, with a moderate growth rate of 1 foot to 2 feet per year.  Saplings grow more quickly; once they have reached maturity, the growth rate will decrease.

Because of its slow growth rate, the species has earned a reputation of being a challenge to grow. This is not true, however. Although it has specific needs that need to be met for optimal health and beauty, overall, the Japanese maple is hardy and tough.

Where to Plant

Before purchasing a Japanese maple for your yard, keep in mind that they are cold hardy at temperatures around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, which means they will do well in hardiness zones 5 through 9.

It prefers a location in partial sun rather than full sunlight.  The shrub is tolerant of locations in full shade.

Mulch around japanese maple tree helps it flourish

How to Plant

Once you have selected a suitable location on your property, get ready to dig. The plant needs to get planted into a hole that is twice the size of the root ball and deep enough so that the root ball is flush with the top of the ground when you set it inside.

Water the tree thoroughly before you fill in the hole. As with any newly planted shrub, it is critical to water it regularly. Adding a layer of mulch around the base of the plant, without getting too close to the trunk, will go a long way in retaining much-needed moisture.



It is essential to prune all dead, diseased, and dying branches as you notice them.  If you are pruning for either structure or shape, this is best done from late fall into mid-winter.


Chances are good that you will never have to fertilize your Japanese maple. Because it grows slowly, it doesn’t require much plant food. In fact, too much nitrogen can do more harm than good.

However, if you notice your tree could use a little boost, it is best to choose a fertilizer that is specifically formulated for this species. Do not fertilize until all danger of frost has passed in your area.

Healthy japanese maple trees require proper sun and fertilization


As we have already explained, you must water regularly after planting. The first few years are the most vulnerable for the sapling.  Remain vigilant in not letting the bush dry out at any point during the first two years.

Aside from mulching around the tree base, water once a week from spring to fall. During hot spells, water at least twice a week.

If you live in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, or another desert biome, you may want to consider a different tree. While it is possible to grow Japanese maples in desert conditions, they will need extra care.


As a rule, this species does not need staking.  With that said, if you desire a cascading shape and want a taller tree, you can stake a few of the branches upright.  You will then leave them staked until they have grown firm enough to support themselves.

Japanese maple tree with orange leaves

Different Varieties

You can choose from several varieties that provide both shade and color to your landscape.

Acer Palmatum

Acer Palmatum is the scientific name for the common Japanese maple. It is native to Japan, Korea, China, and southeast Russia. This variety grows to be between 20 and 35 feet tall. At maturity, its width measures between 12 and 15 feet.

Like most Japanese maple varieties, Acer Palmatum prefers a shady location, but can tolerate full sun.  Its flowers are crimson, with purple sepals and five white petals.

Acer palmatum leaves

Coral Bark Japanese Maple

The Coral Bark Japanese maple, also known as Acer Palmatum sango-kaku, provides year-round color.  In the spring, it sports green leaves that grow darker as the seasons change.  In the fall, the leaves turn yellow and orange.

No matter what color, the leaves will contrast sharply with the red-pink bark this tree is sporting.  The more sun that Acer Palmatum sango-kaku receives, the darker the bark will appear. Gardeners who are looking for a splash of color in their yard usually prefer this variety.

When mature, this variety will be between 20 and 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide.

Coral bark is a type of japanese maple tree

Beni Otake

The Beni Otake variety is known for its upward growth.

Its leaves are red-purple or crimson, with a very long and thin shape.  The leaves look similar to bamboo leaves.  This is where this variety gets its name; Beni Otake means “red bamboo” in Japanese.

The advantage of Beni Otake is that it will maintain its vibrant color no matter where you decide to plant it. However, like other varieties, it prefers shade to full sun.

At maturity, this tree will be up to 15 feet tall and up to 20 feet wide.

It adds an undeniable exotic element to any landscape.

The Takeaway

You will never regret your decision to add a Japanese maple to your yard—as long as you do your research and are aware of the care and maintenance that is required.

With the right amount of sunlight, regular watering, and a few early years of pampering, your Japanese maple will reward you with the full glory of its beauty.

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About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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