10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful 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 | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!

Growing Japanese Maples

A couple of months ago, I talked about the elements that go into making a Japanese Garden…with the idea that I would be creating one in my yard this summer.

And I have to admit one of the reasons why I want a Japanese garden is that I love Japanese maples! To tell the truth, I have quite a few of them in my garden already…the Japanese Garden will just give me an excuse to get a couple more.

Japanese Maples have a bit of a reputation for being finicky, but they’re actually really easy to grow and care for once you get the hang of it.  There are just a few things you need to know to keep them happy.

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

Young Japanese Maples Should Not Be Pruned

10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
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. Most Japanese Maples are grafted. If you let the suckers grow, they will probably end up taking over the whole plant.

Prune Established Maples In The Summer

10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Acer Palmatum ‘Viridis’, 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.

They Like A Lot Of Mulch

Japanese Maples like a lot of mulch | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Japanese Maples like a lot of mulch

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

Japanese Maples Don’t Need Too Much Fertilizer

Japanese Maple Fertilizer. via amazon.com*

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.

They Like Shade More Than Sun

Japanese maples like shade more than sun | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Japanese maples like shade more than sun

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.

However, The Leaf Color Is Better In Some Sun

Leaf color is better in some sun | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Acer Palmatum ‘Scarlet Princess’

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.

Japanese Maples Grow Well In Small Containers

Japanese Maples grow well in small containers | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Acer Palmatum ‘Toyama Nishiki’ in 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.

10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples

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

The Leaves Come In A Variety Of Colors

Japanese Maples can have many different colors of leaves | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Acer Palmatum ‘Oridono Nishiki’

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

Acer Palmatum 'Shindeshojo'

Acer Palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ via amazon.com*

Who needs flowers when you can have such interesting leaves?

They Can Provide All-Season Interest

Japanese maple spring leaves may be a different color | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Acer Palamtum ‘Toyama Nishiki’

Japanese Maples are a great addition to your garden because they can add interest all year long.

In the spring, the leaves come out…often in a different color than the mature leaves.  The variety in the picture above starts out with white leaves that turn to pink and then red before going green.

Japanese Maples in the border | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Japanese Maples in the border

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

Beautiful Japanese Maple fall leaves - By David Eickhoff from Pearl City, Hawaii, USA (Japanese maple Uploaded by Tim1357) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!

By David Eickhoff from Pearl City, Hawaii, USA (Japanese maple Uploaded by Tim1357) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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

CORAL BARK JAPANESE MAPLE Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’, via amazon.com*

And in the winter, the interesting shape of the trunk will provide some structure.  Or if you happen to have a coral bark maple, the bright red stems will stand out against the winter backdrop.

They Look Really Good With Landscape Lighting

Japanese maples look good with landscape lighting | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!

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

Japanese maple landscape lighting | 10 Surprising Things About Growing Beautiful Japanese Maples | If you want to add a Japanese Maple to your landscape (or you already have one growing in your garden) but aren't sure how to care for it, these tips on fertilizing, pruning and growing in containers (among other things) are very helpful!
Japanese maple landscape lighting

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

Hopefully, you have found some inspiration for planting your own Japanese Maples.


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

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10 tips for growing gorgeous Japanese Maples


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14 Responses

  • 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. 🙂

    • 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.

  • 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

    • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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😩

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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???

    • 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.

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