Known for their exceptional fall color, Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) paint the autumn landscape with shades of brilliant red, orange, or gold. Some cultivars such as ‘Bloodgood’ have purple-red leaves all summer, and others open dark red or pink in spring, then change to green in summer before turning gold, red, or orange in fall. Japanese maples have palmate leaves 2 to 5 inches across, and many cultivars have deeply toothed lobes that give the foliage a lacy look. Their winged fruits (samara) turn an interesting shade of red in late summer. Japanese maples vary in size from low-growing shrubs that grow 4 to 6 feet tall to trees that grow 25 feet tall.
Common name: Japanese maple
Botanical name: Acer palmatum
Plant type: Deciduous tree
Height: 4 to 25 feet, depending on cultivar
Zones: 5 to 8, depending on cultivar
- Sun: Sun to part shade
- Soil: Well-drained soil, rich in organic matter
- Moisture: Moderate
- Mulch: Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around plants to conserve moisture, reduce weeds, and protect bark from lawn mowers or string trimmers. Leave a 4-inch gap between mulch and plant stems.
- Fertilizer: If needed, apply a general-purpose fertilizer before new growth appears in spring.
- Pruning: Remove dead or crossing branches from late fall to midwinter.
- ‘Bloodgood’ (pictured) has blackish-red bark and burgundy-red foliage in summer. Foliage turns rich red in fall. Prefers filtered light. Grows 15 to 20 feet tall. Zones 5 to 8.
- ‘Butterfly’ has green leaves with pink margins that gradually change to green with cream variegation. In fall, leaves turn red. Grows 7 to 15 feet tall. Zones 6 to 8.
- ‘Corallinum’ has small leaves that open pink in spring and turn light green. Grows 4 feet tall. Zones 6 to 8.
- ‘Osakazuki’ Green leaves turn crimson in fall. Grows 15 to 20 feet tall with a spreading habit. Zones 6 to 8.
- ‘Sango-kaku’ has yellow-orange leaves in summer that turn light yellow in fall. Grows 20 feet tall. Zones 6 to 8.
- Place in courtyards and entryways where you can observe interesting foliage.
- Use in a woodland garden where the Japanese maple’s airy foliage provides dappled shade to ground covers.
- Late spring frost sometimes damages emerging foliage.
- Water regularly during dry weather.
- Hot sun and temperature may scorch leaves.
- Generally, no significant diseases or insect problems, but occasionally stem cankers, verticillium wilt, and aphids occur.
- Graft in late winter.
- Bud in late spring.
All in the family
The Aceraceae family includes paperbark maple (Acer griseum), box elder (A. negundo), Norway maple (A. platanoides), red maple (A. rubrum), silver or soft maple (A. saccharinum), sugar or hard maple (A. saccharum) Shantung maple (A. truncatum). All maples produce pairs of winged fruits (kids call them helicopters). Large maples grow 40 to 80 feet tall and are excellent lawn and boulevard trees, while shorter maples are attractive in small urban landscapes and large containers.
Text by Mary Pestel, photo courtesy of Monrovia Growers, www.monrovia.com.