Japanese Maples: A Tree for All Seasons

Here at Cravens, we have over 200 varieties of Japanese Maples!  Walking through our pathways and looking at the many colors and shapes can be overwhelming when you visit the nursery.  At almost any time of the year it’s a virtual rainbow of colors; from green to red to burgundy, with most of the trees having seasonal changes from spring to summer to fall.

For those of you who love the look of the Japanese Maple, but may not know the best variety or type for your landscape we offer a quick tutorial:

The Japanese Maple, or Acer palmate and Acer japonicum, is part of the Family Aceraceae. One general characteristic of this tree is the deeply lobed leaves  with 5-9 lance-like lobes, 2-6″ wide.  Leaf color varies by cultivar. Japanese Maples have inconspicuous spring flowers that bloom red or purple in May to June and small fruits develop afterward, though they are not known for either.  The bark of the trunk and main limbs are usually gray, while twigs are either green or yellow/red.  The distinctive shape of the barren tree branches in the winter is another of the tree’s prized aesthetic value.  Native to Korea, China and Japan, these trees were introduced to the United States in 1820 and are still found only in cultivation.

Japanese Maples are grown as dwarf, upright, mounding, rounded, weeping, spreading and bonsai.  Grafting is by far the most popular method used to propagate hybrid varieties of the trees.

Types of Japanese Maples:

Upright:  These can grow up to 25 feet and spread to 15 feet.  Most of the uprights have larger palmate leaves and come in a variety of colors.  Although these Maples can be used as shade trees, they do need to be protected from scorching, especially the first year they are planted.  One popular upright is ‘Bloodgood’ which holds its color well in the summer.  ‘Fireglow’ is another similar selection but with lighter red new growth.  ‘Sango Kaku’ or ‘Coral Bark’  has year-round appeal, highlighted in winter when the stems and branches turn fluorescent coral in color.  The new-growth leaf color is bright green and the fall color is a yellow-gold tinged with red.

Mounding:  Most mounding forms of Japanese Maples have thinly dissected lacey foliage.  ‘Crimson Queen’ is the most popular of all the red lace leaf varieties, with foliage that retains its red color well during the summer.  ‘Red Dragon’ is another fine selection known for its smaller size and good color retention. ‘Tamukeyama’ is also known for holding its color and has a more open, cascading habit.  Some other excellent  specimens are the green-lace ‘Viridis’ and the ‘Seiryu’ which is also considered a green lace leaf mounding type, but with an upright vase form.

Dwarf:  These are slow growing or compact trees which mature at about six to eight feet depending upon the cultivar.  In general, dwarfs have small leaves and profuse branching close together.  Dwarf Japanese Maples are often used for bonsai and rock gardens and are great for containers.  Some popular dwarf varieties that Cravens offers are ‘Hupp’s Red Willow’, ‘G. Kotohime’ and ‘Shishio Hime.’

Bonsai:  Also called miniature Japanese Maples, these trees have the same characteristics as full-sized varieties, but are smaller in size.  These trees do not naturally exist, but their growth and development are artificially stunted by constant pruning, wiring and clipping, and they are usually potted.  Cravens has both bonsai and ‘pre-bonsai’ (those that have not yet been potted in bonsai pots and need further cutting to form their final shape) in both laceleaf and palmate leaf varieties.

Care of Japanese Maples:  Normally grown as understory trees, Japanese Maples prefer partial shade and should be kept moist and out of drying winds.  They will do fine in the sun, but color of the same variety can be different depending upon whether it is planted in sun or part shade.  These trees thrive in well-drained soil but also do well as container plants.  Leaf burn or scorching can sometimes be caused by too much or too little watering, so mulch your trees with 2-1/2″ – 3″ shredded bark mulch, preferably hardwood, to insulate the the roots and prevent water from evaporating around the tree.  Watering should be done deeply twice a week; more often if it’s a newly planted or container grown tree.  Mulching is also a good idea for fall to insulate roots.

For more guidance on selecting the perfect Japanese Maple for your landscape, or questions on tree care, our experts at Cravens Nursery are ready to help you during your next visit to the nursery – or contact us via our website or Facebook page.





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