Japanese Maples Add Elegance to the Landscape
Beyond their grace, beauty, and shape, Japanese maples are valued for their adaptability. Japanese maples can be upright or weeping. Leaf colors range from green through chartreuse, yellow, pink, red, and burgundy with a lot of interplay between those shades as the leaves blush radiant in the spring, go more subdued in summer, and then rage again in autumn. Leaf shapes go from skeleton leaf to lacy to rounder full-moon types. Beneath it all, the bark is often equally showy.
Although Japanese maples cannot tolerate brutally cold or hot climates (Zones 5–9 is their typical range), they have legendary longevity: They can live to be more than 100 years old. They can be grown in the ground for decades without harming adjacent stonework, and most Japanese maples are sufficiently slow-growing for container use.
PLANT AT A GLANCE: JAPANESE MAPLES
LATIN NAMES: Although many maples are grown in Japan, the species usually associated with Japanese maples are Acer japonicum, Acer palmatum, and Acer shirasawanum.
HARDINESS: USDA Zones 5–9
PLANTING: The ideal time to transplant is spring, while the tree is still dormant. However, these trees can be transplanted any time the tree is not in leaf. Plant at soil level or with a slightly raised root flare; don’t bury a Japanese maple too deeply. When growing in containers, line the bottom of the pot with gravel for drainage.
EXPOSURE: Japanese maples thrive with morning sun and afternoon shade.
CONDITIONS: They prefer well-drained fertile soil, ideally with a 6.0 pH. Basically, Japanese maples thrive in the same conditions that pine trees favor.
WATERING: Japanese maples do not like soggy or bone-dry soil. Use the “finger test” to find out if the soil is slightly dry to the touch before applying more water.
FERTILIZING: Because Japanese maples prefer to grow at a moderate pace, fertilizing is not necessary. Feeding should only occur before June, using a fertilizer with a nitrogen number of 15 or lower.
PRUNING: Sculpting leads to some beautiful forms in Japanese maples. Prune in mid- to late March.
FLOWERS: Although Japanese maples are not usually considered to be a showy flowering tree, some have interesting red tassels. More striking are the often-colorful samaras (winged seedpods) that follow.
COLORS: Spring is when most Japanese maples feature their boldest color, with colors including green, yellow, white, pinks, maroon, and orange with bicolor markings. Japanese maple leaves vary in color throughout the growing season.
HEIGHT: Although Japanese maples range from 3–25 feet in height, some shoot up more rapidly than others. Growers Matt and Tim Nichols of Nichols Nursery (MrMaple.com) prefer to consider how large a tree typically becomes in 15–20 years.
PROBLEMS: Planting too deeply causes problems, and string trimmers can wreak havoc. Aphids also can be an issue.
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