Japanese Maple Bush and Tree Care and Maintenance

Learn everything you need to know about Japanese maple bushes and trees in our comprehensive guide.

When it comes to your landscape and adding a bright focal point to your home’s front yard curb appeal, the Japanese maple is the desired favorite. 

There are two primary forms of the Japanese maple—either a shrub-like, compact version with branches growing downward, giving it an almost weepy appearance, or a tree with branches in an upright formation.

The Japanese Maple

The Japanese maple tree is a shade tree that features delicate, lacy red-purple leaves that will turn bright shades of red, orange, or yellow.  Because of its inherent nature, the Japanese maple tree has the ability and power to take on the task of defining your entire landscape.

Japanese maple trees can grow to a height of anywhere from 15 feet tall to 25 feet tall and spread out to around 20 feet wide when it reaches maturity.  There is also a dwarf tree variation of the Japanese maple species that can grow from 4 feet to 5 feet tall.

The Japanese maple is perhaps best known for its beautiful year-round foliage color that then turn bright from season to season until it produces beautiful fall colors.

Reputation For Growth

The Japanese maple tree has a reputation that many deem it to be challenging to grow.  Although the plant does have specific needs that need to be met, for optimal health and beauty, it is, in fact, a tree that is both hardy and tough.

Unlike many other trees, the Japanese maple tree is known as a slow-growing tree, with the tree growing at a moderate rate of 1 foot to 2 feet per year.  You will notice that the trees grow faster in their young years, and as they reach maturity, the growth rate will then decline.

Where To Plant

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

The Japanese maple tree also prefers partial sun as opposed to the option of full sunlight.  If you need to plant in full shade, it will be very tolerant of the placement.(1)

How To Plant

Your Japanese maple tree’s lifespan and vibrancy all begin with the hole you dig for it.  The hole must be big enough—at least twice as wide as the bushes root ball–and deep enough to where the root ball is flush with the top of the ground.

As with any newly planted tree or shrub, the first few years are the most vulnerable for a Japanese maple tree.  Remain vigilant in not letting the bush dry out at any point during the first two years.

To aid in this, placing a good layer of mulch around the base but not too close to the trunk will go a long way in retaining much-needed moisture.

Maintenance

Pruning

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

Fertilizing

The chances are good that you will never have to fertilize your Japanese maple tree. This is because the plant is slow-growing and too much nitrogen can prove to do more harm than good.

However, if fertilization appears to be needed, the best choice is one specifically formulated for use on Japanese maples.

Lastly, as the plants are prone to severe frost damage, you mustn’t fertilize until after the last frost in your zone.

Watering

When initially planting your Japanese maple tree, make sure that there is plenty of water used during the process.  It is essential that you not plant into dry soil and then only sprinkle it with water afterward. 

Again, mulch can be a valuable ally during the planting process and should be placed on the entire area of the root after being planted.

For the first few years of your Japanese maple trees life, make sure to be vigilant about watering regularly—generally once a week during the spring to fall months and during hotter weather at least twice a week.

If you are planning to grow your Japanese Maple in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, or other desert biomes, you may want to consider other desert trees or even desert fruit trees. It is possible for Japanese Maple Trees to survive in desert conditions, but they will need extra care.

Staking

As a rule, Japanese maple trees do not need staking.  With that said, if you desire a cascading shape to your Japanese maple and want a taller tree, this can be achieved through the process of staking a few of the branches upright.   You will then leave them staked until they have grown firm enough to support themselves.

Varieties Of Japanese Maple

Several varieties of the Japanese maple tree are shade trees and also are attractive and colorful.

Acer Palmatum

Acer Palmatum is the scientific name for a common Japanese maple tree (2). It is native to Japan, Korea, China, and southeast Russia. The Acer Palmatum grow to be 20 feet to 35 feet tall and when they reach maturity, they are 12 feet wide to 15 feet wide.

Like many other varieties of the Japanese maples, the Acer Palmatum prefers to grow in an area of shade but tolerant of full sun.  The flowers of the Acer Palmatum are crimson in color with purple sepals and five white petals.

Coral Bark Japanese Maple

The Coral Bark Japanese maple tree variety, also known as the Acer Palmatum sango-kaku, is colorful during all four seasons.  In the spring, it sports green leaves, however, the green leaves turn a darker shade of green as the seasons change.

In the autumn months, the leaves turn with the fall color of yellow and orange.  The more sun that the Acer Palmatum sango-kaku receives, the darker the bark will appear.

When mature, the Coral Bark Japanese maple can reach heights of 20 feet tall to 25 feet tall with a width of 15 feet to 20 feet.

This variety of Japanese maple tree is favored more highly by those wanting a splash of color in their landscape, as the red-pink bark of the Coral Bark Japanese maple trees will contrast sharply with the deep green leaves of the other plants around them.

Beni Otake

The Beni Otake Japanese maple tree presents with a habit for upward growth.

The leaf tips and leaf color of the Beni Otake are a red-purple to crimson color.  The leaf forms in a very long and thin shape, which are similar to bamboo leaves.  That is where this variety of acer palmatum gets its name, as Beni Otake translates into “red bamboo” in Japanese.

This variety of Japanese maple tree will maintain its vibrant colors in full sun, but again, prefers areas of shade when at all possible.  The Beni Otake Japanese maple can reach up to 15 feet tall and adds an undeniable exotic element to any landscape.

The Takeaway

As long as you do your research and study up on the care and maintenance of the Japanese maple tree, you will never regret the decision to include it in your landscape.

You need to make sure that you set the plant in a viable location and provides the Japanese maple tree with all the needs it will require.  Although the plant prefers partial shade, the Japanese maples will also tolerate full sun if necessary.

After a few years of pampering and babying your Japanese maple, your reward will be the beauty that the Japanese maples are known to possess.

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Happy Planting!

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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