Japanese maples add beauty and interest to the home landscape. They have smooth bark and weeping branches along with attractive foliage. The trees are quite versatile and can be grown in many settings such as a specimen or accent plant, a patio tree, in containers or in groupings. If planted and maintained properly, Japanese maples will thrive and be an attractive feature to any landscape.
There are hundreds of varieties of Japanese maples and they can range from being relatively inexpensive to more than $1,000 for some specimens. The shape of the trees varies from low growing and spreading to upright with a vase shape. There are many colors of foliage ranging from green to purple-red to orange. The many varieties can be classified as either dissected or non-dissected. The dissected types have leaves with deeply cut finely serrated lobes.
Most of these types have a low growing, compact shape with a twisted branching pattern. Their reddish-purple leaves turn a bright orange color in the fall. The non-dissected varieties have leaves that have lobes that are not as heavily serrated and are more upright in their growth habits. The foliage generally has a green to bronze color during the summer turning to a red to purple color in the fall.
Japanese maples are hardy trees that require minimal care once established. The soil should be kept evenly moist, high in organic matter and well drained. Since the trees can suffer from excessive wind, they should be planted in protected locations. Full sun can cause the leaves to become scorched in which the leaves turn brown on the edges and between the veins. The condition results from the excessive loss of leaf moisture caused by the hot sun and dry conditions.
The trees have shallow root systems that contribute to the problem. Apply supplemental water frequently, especially during prolonged hot dry spells. Part shade, especially in the afternoon, will help reduce the likelihood of this happening. The green leaf varieties can tolerate more sun than red or variegated leaf forms.
When planting, dig the hole at least one and one half to twice the size of the width of the root ball. Plant it as deep as the crown of the root ball, the point where the main trunk and roots connect. Planting any deeper can lead to root rot and other problems. Do not apply fertilizer to the individual planting holes. Wait until the plants become established before fertilizing. Water the plants in thoroughly with deep waterings once or twice a week keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. Apply two to three inches of organic mulch material, such as pine straw, pine bark or cypress mulch around the plants.
Japanese maples grow very slowly the first few years after being planted. However, their growth rate will increase in time as it becomes established. Most will reach maturity in 10 to 15 years depending on growing conditions and the variety. In the early years of its growth, it needs only minimal, if any, pruning.
Prune branches away from walkways and patios, and branches or trunks that are rubbing against each other. Remove long shoots that are growing out of the main tree by cutting just beyond a pair of buds on the twig or branch. Once established, pruning should be kept to a minimum to reduce unnecessary stress to the tree.
Japanese maples, if properly cared for, are definitely an asset to any landscape. Their grace and beauty will be aesthetically pleasing throughout the year. They are worth the investment.
Timothy Daly is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.