10 Things You May Be Surprised To Know About Growing Japanese Maples

|

If you’re looking for ideas on how to grow beautiful Japanese Maples, these tips will give you a great head start. You may be surprised by some of them!

10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples

Scientific name: Acer palmatum
Zone: 4 to 9 (depending on the variety)
Exposure: Part shade
Height: 2′ to 25′ (depending on the variety)
Width: 4′ to 25′ (depending on the variety)

I love Japanese maples!

With their delicate leaves, beautiful foliage colors and graceful form, they make a statement in any garden.

Because they look so graceful and elegant, a lot of people also think they’re hard to grow.

But nothing could be further from the truth if you know what to do to keep them happy.

Keep reading to find my top tips for growing beautiful Japanese Maples.

1 | Young Japanese Maples should not be pruned

This post may contain affiliate links. We make a small commission if you buy the products from these links (at no extra cost to you). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. But we only recommend products we would use ourselves. For more information, click here to see our disclosures.

Acer Palmatum 'Viridis' as a young plant

Pruning young Japanese Maples can lead to poor root development.

Even if you plan to remove some of the lower branches at some point, leave them in place for the first couple of years until the plant is stronger.

There is one exception: If you see suckers growing from the root stalk (they will have different shaped leaves than the rest of the plant), you do want to remove those. Many Japanese Maples are grafted. If you let the suckers grow, they will end up taking over the whole plant.

2 | Prune established plants In The Summer

Acer Palmatum 'Viridis' in the garde, 7 years after planting

When your Japanese Maple gets old enough to need some shaping, it shouldn’t be pruned in the early spring.  

Maple sap runs in the winter, so pruning at that time can cause the wound to ooze sap, which weakens the tree.

The best time to prune them is in July and August.

3 | They Like A Lot Of Mulch

Japanese Maple branch above a bed of mulch

Japanese Maples have a shallow root system, so it gets overheated easily.  

And too much sun puts the whole plant under stress and weakens it.

A 6″ thick layer of mulch makes sure this doesn’t happen.

Just keep it away from the trunk of the tree to prevent it from rotting.

4 | Japanese Maples Don’t Need Too Much Fertilizer

When you first plant a Japanese Maple, resist the urge to add fertilizer.  

Too much can actually weaken the plant, cause the stems to die back and invite disease.

Once it has become established, you can add some Japanese Maple fertilizer if you are so inclined.  

However, mine do really well without any fertilizer at all. The thick layer of mulch decomposes into the soil and provides enough organic material to keep the plants healthy.

5 | They like shade more than sun

Red-leaved Japanese Maple in the garden

The ideal condition for Japanese Maples is morning sun and afternoon shade.

But if you can’t give them that, they will generally do better with more shade than more sun (especially if you have really hot summers like we do in South Carolina).

Too much sun will cause the leaves to burn and can cause the roots to get too hot.

6 | However, the leaf color is better in some sun

Acer Palmatum 'Scarlet Princess' with red leaves on top and green ones underneath

Having just said that Japanese Maples prefer the shade, this sounds a bit odd.

But if you have a Japanese Maple that has red, purple or variegated leaf colors, you will see more of that color if the tree has a little more sun.

You can see this easily in established trees (like the one in the picture), where the leaves on the top (that are exposed to more sun) are red, while the ones underneath are green.

7 | Japanese Maples grow well in small containers

Acer Palmatum 'Toyama Nishiki' growing in a container

Because they are slow growing, a lot of Japanese Maples do quite well in containers.

And they actually seem to flourish in smaller containers better than larger ones.

A Japanese maple tree with red leaves growing in a container

For the best success, try to use a planter that is no more than twice the width of the rootball.

Tips

If you live in a colder climate and plan to keep the container outside all year, you may need to insulate it to protect the roots. Lining the inside with styrofoam works quite well.

Also, don’t use ceramic containers for this as they will crack if they freeze.

8 | The plants provided all season interest

Acer Palmatum 'Oridono Nishiki' with pink leaves in the spring

It’s actually pretty amazing how many different colors you can find in Japanese Maple leaves. Pretty much all of them except blue.

Like the pink and white variegated leaves of Acer Palmatum ‘Oridono Nishiki’ (above).

Acer Palamtum 'Toyama Nishiki' with white, red and green leaves

Even better? They can add interest all year long.

In the spring, the leaves often come out in a different color than the mature leaves.  

The variety in the picture above (Acer Palamtum ‘Toyama Nishiki’) starts out with white leaves that turn to pink and then red before going green.

Red Japanese Maples in the garden border

In the summer, the shape of the leaves and the gracefulness of the tree is a focal point in the garden.

Red Japanese Maple in autumn

In the fall, the bright red leaves are a show stopper.

A 'Coral Bark' Japanese maple tree with red branches covered in snow.
©Danita Delimont – stock.adobe.com

And in the winter, the interesting shape of the trunk will provide some structure.

9 | They will get bigger than you think

Large Japanese Maple in the middle of a garden
©Irina – stock.adobe.com

Japanese Maples are very slow growing trees.

Which is why they are usually quite expensive if you want to buy one that is a decent size.

So if you’re like me, you buy them when they’re small, plant them in your garden and then fill up the space around them because it looks too bare.

Just know that some day, you’ll be moving all those other plants out of the way.

Most Japanese Maples will grow to be at least 8 feet tall and wide (and some as tall as 25 feet depending on the variety).

10 | They look really good with landscape lighting

A vibrant red japanese maple tree stands with landscape lighting under it
©Delphotostock – stock.adobe.com

Because Japanese Maples often have interesting trunk structures and lacy leaves, they make really good focal points at night with some landscape lighting.

Point an uplight along the stem and into the canopy, and you are pretty much guaranteed to have a stunning lighting effect.

Where to find Japanese Maples

Here are a few of my favorite online nurseries for buying Japanese Maples:

  • Fast Growing Trees* – As the name suggests, this nursery specializes in trees. They carry many of the most popular Japanese Maples and have good quality plants that are well packed for shipping.
  • Planting Tree* – Another good quality online-only nursery that ships all kinds of plants, including many of the most popular Japanese Maples.
  • Mendocino Maples Nursery – This nursery specializes only in Japanese Maples, so they carry many varieties that you can’t find anywhere else.

Other gardening ideas you might like

Have questions or suggestions on growing Japanese Maples? Tell us in the section below.


Pin It So You Don't Forget It!

10 tips for growing gorgeous Japanese Maples

This post was originally published on April 11, 2017 but was updated with new content on December 30, 2023.


Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

73 Comments

  1. I was gifted a Japanese maple, which had long been potted and rootbound. I took it home and planted it in my garden.

    Will it ever recover, or will it be a bonsai for the rest of its existence? If it is bonsai’d, I’ll need to move it to a more spectacular location. 🙂

    1. Hi Jeremy…The Japanese maple should recover eventually, especially if you loosened up the roots before you put it in the ground. They do grow pretty slowly so it may take a couple of years before you start to see some progress.

      1. Dotti Hamann says:

        For some odd reason the top 18” of my Japanese Maple died off. I have pampered the rest with screen-like materials to keep the leaves out of the soil. It is at least 5 years old now and approximately 3 ft tall. The deer were munching on it the first year so I moved it to a safer location. Any advice you may give would be very helpful . Thank you so much fir your wisdom and experience.

        1. Wanda Simone says:

          Hi Dotti…I’m not sure why the top of Japanese Maples dies off sometimes (I’ve had that happen before, too). Unfortunately, when that happens, they don’t get much taller because the main stem never comes back. I moved mine to a location where the small size works and got a new one to use in the original spot.

  2. Hi Wanda, great article!! You seem very educated on the subject. Do you have a “green” education, or have you just learned throughout the years? (Here is a personal question– how did you get into blogging and how/do you get paid?) I have a green background as well, and I would like to do what you do. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!–Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa…I learned my gardening skills from experience, although I have done a lot of reading and going to seminars over the years so I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that way.

      I originally started the blog as a creative outlet, but now it’s my full-time job. I make money from ads and affiliate sales. You can read more about it here: How I Make Money Blogging and How To Grow Blog Traffic. Gardening blogs do very well, especially during the growing season, so I think it’s definitely worth trying!

    2. Esther Dugan says:

      My daughter have a Japanese maple and only half have leaves. The half with no leaves the wood is green and at the bottom there’s a small shoot. Why there’s no leaves on one half? There were leaves on that half last year.

      1. Wanda Simone says:

        Hi Esther…I’m actually not sure what the problem would be. I have had branches on Japanese maples die off and not get any leaves. But if it is still alive, then I think I would leave it for a while and see if the leaves come back.

    3. Hi I have had 4 maples over the last 4 years and every 1 of them has died on me. I have just bought one palmatum atropurpureum and the leaves are curling up and burnt so I have put it in a shadey area. I cant plant in ground as i get alot of sun in front and back. What can I do to keep this one without dying on me. Please help. I dont want to fail this one.

      1. Wanda Simone says:

        Hi Vio…I have Japanese Maples growing successfully in pots so it should be fine. It needs to be a large container (at least 2 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep). They do best in part shade (ideally with morning sun and afternoon shade) and need to be watered well until they are established.

  3. Christine says:

    We live in TN and r blessed with hard clay soil. Will the Japanese Maple trees do well here? Thx

    1. Hi Christine…You should be able to grow them. I live in SC and also have clay soil. I usually mix some potting soil in with the clay when I’m planting Japanese Maples to help with drainage. But after they get going, they seem to do fine.

  4. Dorothy Waters says:

    Can you start a Japanese Maple from cuttings?

    1. Hi Dorothy…I haven’t tried to do that, but according to this article you can. Since they usually grow pretty slowly, it may take quite a while to get a good sized tree 🙂

      1. Why does my red japanese maple always turn almost black in the summer.It is an older tree & does get afternoon sun.Teresa

        1. Wanda Simone says:

          Hi Teresa…I have not run into that problem with Japanese Maples, so I’m not really sure. There are a number of diseases that cause the bark to turn black, but they shouldn’t just appear in the summer. I have seen something like this on Rhododendrons where it was actually aphids causing the problem. They leave behind a sticky substance that can get mold growing on it (which is black). If you can scrape the black stuff off, that may be what it is. If this is the case you just need to get rid of the aphids – insecticidal soap should work.

    2. I live in NC and just purchased my 1st red Japanese maple. It will get only early morning sun and late afternoon sun, is that too much sun?

      1. Wanda Simone says:

        Hi Retta…Morning and late afternoon sun should be fine. As long as it is out of the sun during the hot mid-day hours, your Japanese Maple will be quite happy 🙂

        1. Wanda k Maness says:

          What kind of bug spray can I use on my maple. I have those Japanese beetle. And this is the year of the locust to. What can I use?

          1. Wanda Simone says:

            Hi Wanda…Japanese beetles are tough. You can try spraying them with Neem oil which is probably the most effective insecticide for Japanese beetles, but can be harmful to fish so don’t use it if you live near water. However, I usually just pick them off and drop them in a jug filled with water and dish detergent. If you’re going to do this, try to get out there in the morning since the beetles are less mobile then.

  5. Loretta Douma says:

    I have 4 Japanese maples. They are gorgeous and showstoppers. We had a hard winter and as of May 26 we have no leaves. Actually a few around the bottom of 1 tree. 2leaves yo be exact. Greenhouses have told me to still wait cause of the difficult winter. What’s your thoughts. Wisconsin winters😩

    1. Hi Loretta…it isn’t sounding too promising for your Japanese Maples, but I would give them a few more weeks just in case they decide to make a comeback. I hope they do! It would be a shame to lose so many of them at one time.

  6. Can you move a established Japanese Maple If so when is the best time.

    1. Hi Flo…yes, I have moved Japanese Maples before and they seem to do fine. I usually do it in the spring before the leaves start to come out.

  7. My rare japanese maple leaves became brown suddenly, noticed shiny small bugs. Used pesticides for it and now there is no one single leave on the branches. Repotted plant from the garden into the container.. is there any chances???

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Jurgita…I haven’t had that problem before, but it’s not sounding too hopeful. I would keep it well watered in the container and hopefully it will come back.

      1. Thank you Wanda for all your very helpful information, I would love to live in a warm climate, where plants would flourish,
        I love my garden, but the weather here in Southern Ireland gets a lot of rain and wind hence it makes it difficult to to grow some amazing plants.
        Having said that I love reading all your articles, your knowledge is amazing,
        Thank you Wanda.

        1. Wanda Simone says:

          Thanks, Breeda! I’m glad you find it helpful, even if it’s hard to put into practice where you live.

  8. Bettye Renfro says:

    I was forced to cut my red laceleaf maple down this past spring. I did not remove the 2′ stump and lost track of time to clear the stump out. About two weeks ago I noticed red sprouts coming thru the bark around the stump. Will this little fellow come back as a dwarf? I cut it out of my garden due to its large size. It was growing up as a tree would. What should I expect And should I feed it. Should I prune it? The planting area has excellent soil and auto water daily. Zone 7.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Bettye…it’s hard to say how it will come up. If the original tree wasn’t grafted, then it should be the same as the original. If it was grafted, it will be whatever the root stock was. It shouldn’t need much fertilizing if it’s growing in good soil, and pruning it might help to keep it smaller.

    2. I have a Japanese Maple in my back yard, in the past two years I have had wilting, curling leaves on half the tree. What could be the problem. Thanks Jules

  9. Bettye Renfro says:

    Thanks for the response. I will check back with you in about 10 years with results. lol

  10. I have always wanted a Japanese Maple, but since I live in the frozen tundra of the north I knew that wasn’t possible. Then we relandscaped our front yard and I found a nursery out of Oregon was making Japanese/Korean cross varieties that would grow in my zone and decided to take a chance. A local nursery carried them and I found one I loved. This spring I waited with baited breath hoping it survived our winter. When the leaves budded out I did a happy dance. It’s more beautiful this summer than last. One of the lower branches has put on a lot growth and is now touching the mulch. Should I leave it, or prune it back? I told my husband he is not allowed to touch it for a few years, but I was concerned about that lower branch. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      That’s great that you were able to find a Japanese Maple variety that will survive in your area! It’s really up to you whether you cut the branch back. It won’t hurt the tree to have it touching the mulch (I have quite a few weeping maples that do that). But if you don’t like the look of it, you can prune it back a bit.

  11. I have a two year old Japanese Maple in a pot under a patio cover. The problem is the leaves tips are turning brown. Is it to much water or not enough? Fertilizer, to much or wrong kind?
    Fis

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Fis…most of the time brown edges on Japanese Maple leaves mean it’s getting too much sun or not enough water. If you put enough fertilizer on them to burn the roots, that could probably cause the problem as well (I don’t fertilize my Japanese Maples at all so I don’t have first-hand experience with that). Some varieties are more prone to getting them than others.

  12. I purchased a coral bark and Maple in April. I thought I was keeping it watered. I was trying to find the best place for it. I made sure the hole just as the directions read. I planted my tree in a mostly shade area that only gets filtered morning sun. In the top 8-10 inches the leaves turned brown. The leaves are the only part that turned brown. Do you think it will be ok?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Charlene…if the branches are still alive, it should recover. Make sure that that the soil is well watered but not soaking wet (the roots will rot if they are too wet) and that it isn’t getting too much fertilizer (if it is planted close to the grass, it could be getting runoff from the lawn fertilizer).

  13. Nancy Stark says:

    I have a mature Japanese Maple which I inherited from the previous owner of the house. She is a Master gardener and has left me with a beautiful perennial garden, however, in my opinion, she has let the foliage of the Japanese maple get too thick.
    You cannot see the trunk or the general shape of the tree at all. I have cut back some of the small lower branches to get them off the ground, but I would like to bring more light into the interior and be able to see the trunk. Having never done this before I feel a bit intimidated. How would you suggest I approach this project.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Nancy…You can “limb up” your Japanese Maple by completely removing some of the lower branches. I would also try trimming some of the interior branches to help open it up a bit. When I’m pruning Japanese Maples, I usually go slow and take off little bits at a time to make sure I don’t go too far. The good news is that they are very resilient so pruning won’t hurt it (but they can be a little slow to grow back if you take off too much).

  14. Carolann Lucente says:

    Had a tornado May 2019, japanese maple not really injured. It did leaf out next spring, really beautiful, nice red leaves all over. It is in the east side of the house, lots of morning sun, shade after 1:00 p.m. We water it once a week when dry. A heavy cold snap came late spring and hurt our 8 foot tree. Leaves shriveled up, fell.
    some stayed on the tree toward the bottom. It has not really recovered . dried up leaves and half live looking ones here and there on the tree. Healthy leaves toward the bottom of the tree. It is now Sept. 11. Will our darling 15 year old tree recover to its once beauty? Help please. It is so pretty

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Carolann…It’s hard to tell if it will come back. I would wait until next spring to see what happens. If it doesn’t recover, you will probably need to prune off the dead branches to encourage new ones to grow.

  15. Carolann Lucente says:

    Thank you for your quick reply. Will take your advice.

  16. Can I grow japanese maples in Denver Colorado? Tell me what to do.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Art…yes, Japanese Maples should grow well in Denver. The most important things are to pick the right spot to plant it (where it doesn’t get too much direct sun in the afternoon or too much wind) and to keep it well watered (especially during the first couple of years). I would suggest buying a potted plant (as opposed to bare root). They’re just easier. To plant: Dig a hole that is a little bigger than the pot it came in. Add some compost or triple mix into the dirt you dug out. Remove the plant from the pot and put it into the hole so that the top of the soil is slightly (about an inch) above the ground in your garden. Finally fill in the hole (with the dirt you dug out) so that it is level with the edge of the plant soil. Then have patience since most Japanese Maples grow quite slowly. Hope that helps!

  17. Vicki Waits says:

    I bought two almost identical Japanese Maples 6 years ago and planted them on opposite sides of a sidewalk…same soil conditions and same amount of sun. One grows beautifully and is twice the size it was when purchased. The other one has not grown a bit. It has no new branches or growth. It looks as healthy as the other one. Why doesn’t it grow? Thank you.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Vicki…If all the growing conditions are the same, it’s hard to tell why one would do better than the other. It could be that the second plant didn’t have as much root growth so it can’t take in as many nutrients. Or it just might be a less vigorous plant (like 2 kids who start out at the same height won’t always end up at the same height when they’re older). Sorry I’m not much help with this issue.

      1. Vicki Waits says:

        Thank you, Wanda❣️❣️

  18. Our Japanese Red Maple is 15 year old, growing on a northeast exposure in Southern Wisconsin. We have noticed in the last 3-4 years some of the branches just die of, the rest of the tree looks healthy. Wondering what the problem could be and how to solve this problem. Hate to lose the tree, its gorgeous.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Donna…The branches on Japanese Maples can die back if they don’t get enough water, or it could be a fungal disease (although if the tree looks healthy, it’s probably not the latter). Otherwise, it may just be that the tree is getting older (I have branches die off on my trees that have been around for a while). If you want to know for sure, you might want to get an arborist to take a look at it.

  19. Christine says:

    Hi, I am a new owner of a shania maple. It has been cut back and is a beautiful small tree. We get some hard winters with snow do I need to do anything to protect it in winter? As well any planting tips for how close to foundations?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Christine…Generally, Japanese maples will do fine with lots of snow. It acts as insulation, and their branches are fairly flexible so they don’t break easily. If it gets really cold where you are, you might want to put a ring of chicken wire around it and fill it with pine straw to keep the plant insulated, at least for the first couple of years. I haven’t had any problems with Japanese maples wrecking foundations, but they can get pretty wide, so you probably want to plant it at least 4 or 5 feet out to give it lots of room to grow.

  20. I have 3 well established Japanese maples. We want to move one of them to a new location to extend the porch. What is the best way to do this? It’s probably about 5ft high. It’s also produced several seedlings that I’ve left growing in the ground. Would these do well in a container?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Sharon…Japanese Maples are pretty tough, so you should be able to move it. But for a 5 foot one, you’ll need to dig a pretty big hole. It should be almost as far around as the outside branches and go down two or three feet. You can do this by hand if you have some help to actually move it. Or hire a tree mover if you want to make sure it survives. Yes, the seedlings can be grown in containers. If you live somewhere with really cold winters, you may want to add some pine straw or extra mulch around them during the cold months to protect them.

  21. Lisa Marshall-Thomas says:

    I enjoy your info, very much!

    First, I might suggest that if you have to move a Japanese Maple, start preparing it to be moved as far from the move date as possible. I started root pruning two years in advance and mine moved without a hitch! Just cut the roots 2′-3′ out from the trunk in a circle, with a shovel. I cut in the depth of the shovel the first year and removed a bit of soil outside the circle. This promotes new root growth within the circle. The second year, I cut deep with a ditch shovel and removed a bit more soil from outside the circle all around. When it was time to move the tree, The circle became the root ball and only a few deep roots remained to be cut.

    Secondly, a question about this same tree. It was growing against the house for years and grew tall with few limbs. Now that it is moved and has room to spread, how can I encourage it to branch out and become fuller?

    Thanks, Lisa M.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Thanks for the transplanting information, Lisa! In the spring, I would trim back the branches to encourage it to produce new shoots. If it’s happy in its new location, it should also start to branch out on its own. Since most Japanese Maples are slow growing, it may take a while to see improvement.

  22. I got a Japanese maple as a gift. I don’t know what kind it is. It’s flat. After reading your article I think it’s getting too much sun. The tops of the branches are bare, the leaves are red and underneath they are green. It gats light shade in the morning and a lot of afternoon sun. Ideas? Thank you

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Beth…the red leaves on top with green underneath are pretty normal for Japanese maples, but the branches aren’t usually bare on the top. That could be caused by too much afternoon sun. They usually do best with some shade during the hottest part of the day.

  23. Hi Wanda! We inherited 3 beautiful and full upright Japanese maples when we purchased our home. My husband pruned them today, and unfortunately took quite a bit off the bottoms. One tree suffered quite a bit on its side as well. I feel the trees really lost their full ball effect. The trees look very naked now as much of the trunk is exposed. I’m worried about Sun Scorch. Will these trees recover and fill out through the bottom again? Also, do you recommend leaving a nub, or applying a cut paste to the spots that were pruned off?

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Allison…Japanese maples are pretty tough. They should come back. My lawn guy used his edge trimmer on one of my Japanese maples and took off the whole side (it was hanging over the sidewalk). It all grew back eventually and now you can’t tell at all that it happened. Cut paste is a good idea if you have it. Although I don’t use it on mine most of the time, and they have survived so far 🙂

  24. Hi there!
    We just had an emperor one Japanese planted in our back yard and it has multiple twisty flimsy skinny red “branches” all around it full of leaves but will these eventually get thicker and look more attractive? There’s just so many of them. Also should I prune them out? Thanks, Kristin

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Kristin…those little branches will get thicker as the tree gets older. If they are crossing, making the tree look lopsided or preventing good air circulation, then you may want to prune some of them out. But you could wait until next year and see how it does. Young trees can look a little spindly.

  25. Bill Weird says:

    I live in South Carolina and its the beginning of spring. My maple has small leaves started but after reading this article i realized i planted it in too much sun. i raised it in container for a year or so. then moved it to front yard.I need to move it to a spot with more shade. My question, should i move it now. its Mar 24 th in upstate South Carolina. Thank you Bill

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Bill…I live in the upstate, too 🙂 You should be able to move it now before it gets too hot (they’re pretty tough plants). Just keep it well watered until it gets established in its new location.