How to Grow A Japanese Maple Tree? A Complete Guideline

The autumn season is the second spring when every leaf is a flower!

Japanese maple is one of the reasons that autumn looks breathtakingly beautiful, thanks to its lovely red hue.

Upright, weeping, tall, or short, they come in multiple shapes and sizes and have the power to decorate your landscape with ethereal beauty.

Here in Japan, you will find these trees adorning the garden and mountainsides, attracting thousands of tourists. If you are also captivated by this tree’s aura, you may want to grow one in your yard or garden.

And that’s why, for all who want to learn how to grow a Japanese maple tree, I am providing a complete guideline here.

How to Grow A Japanese Maple Tree? From Plant Selection to Caring Tips

Although Japanese maple is native to Japan, Korea, and China, they can be grown in various countries. They are perfect for planting in a large container or growing as an impressive bonsai specimen.

Japanese maple trees

Today, I will give you every little information regarding their growth.

Before going into the details, I want to present a table showing their basic needs, which will help you to learn their requirements and other information at a glance.

Japanese Maple Tree Growth Requirements & Other Information

  • Scientific Name: Acer Palmatum
  • Japanese Name: Momiji
  • Plant Type: Shrubs, Trees
  • Mature Height: 4 to 25 feet (based on variety)
  • Mature Spread: 4 to 25 feet (based on variety)
  • Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
  • Heat Zones: 2 to 8
  • Sun Exposure: Full to partial sun
  • Soil Type: Sandy, loamy, silty loam, and clay soils
  • Soil Drainage: Moist but well-drained
  • Soil pH: Moderate to slightly acidic (5.5 to 6.5 on the pH scale)
  • Water Needs: Average
  • Maintenance: Low
  • Characteristics: Showy during the fall season
  • Foliage Color: Red or purple
  • Lifespan: About 100 years

Now that you have known their basic information, it’s time to dig deep and learn everything in detail.

First of all, you have to select which Japanese maple you will be growing.

Varieties of Japanese Maple to Choose from

There are hundreds of different types of Japanese maple in a range of colors, sizes, shapes, and leaf textures.

Generally, you have to consider two sizes: a compact, big shrub with lacy leaves that tend to branch lower and have a weeping form, or a more upright shrub with a vase-like structure and tree form.

Different sizes of Japanese maple

Here I am mentioning some popular cultivars that are gardeners’ favorites. Don’t forget to check each of their hardiness zones and see whether it matches yours before buying.

1. Acer palmatum “Coonara Pygmy”:

If you are planning to grow a Japanese maple tree in a container, Coonara Pygmy can be a great choice. It’s a dwarf Japanese maple tree that has pinkish leaves in the spring, which turn orange-red in the fall.

Vibrant orange red leaves

Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

2. Acer palmatum “Villa Taranto”:

In case you are looking for a weeping maple, you may check out this variety. Its foliage has a reddish-green to cream variegated color that turns into golden yellow in the fall.

Reddish green foliage of maple tree

Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8

3. Acer palmatum “Wolff”:

For zone 5 gardeners, it is one of the best cultivars. It can reach 10 to 15 feet tall and has stunning purple foliage during spring and summer.

Stunning purple foliage of Acer palmatum

Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

4. Acer palmatum “Suminagashi”:

One of the fast-growing cultivars of Japanese maple is Suminagashi. Typically, it grows 8 to 10 feet tall over the first 10 years and reaches 15 to 20 feet tall upon maturity.

Fast-growing cultivar

It also grows well in zone 5.

Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

5. Coral Bark Japanese Maple:

This variety has attractive red bark that shows up in the winter months. Its leaves are green with a slight reddish edge that turn golden in the fall.

Coral bark Japanese maple

It can reach 15 to 20 feet tall. Also, it’s one of the Japanese maples that can be planted in full sun.

Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9

6. Bloodgood Japanese Maple:

Bloodgood is one of the upright Japanese maple varieties. You will easily find it at nurseries. With rich burgundy red palmate leaves, it can grow up to 20 feet tall.

The tree turns brilliant scarlet during the fall season and has a deep red winter bark.

Bloodgood Japanese maple

Planting a Japanese Bloodgood Japanese maple will adorn your garden with vibrant foliage throughout most of the year.

Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8

Except for these, there are many other varieties that you may consider, such as Autumn Moon, Crimson Queen, Butterfly, Red Dragon, etc.

Red Dragon Japanese maple

Alright, after you purchase your tree, you have to select a place for it. And for that, there are some requirements that you need to fulfill.

Japanese Maples Growth Requirements

These trees have slow growth, reaching 7 to 12 ft by 4 to 8 ft in ten years in landscapes and about 6 ft by 4 ft in a container.

But, of course, they will only thrive like this when you give them the right place to grow.

So, thoroughly check their basic requirements now.

1. Zones

Hardiness zones 5 to 9 are where they can thrive.

Heat is a factor that you have to take into account, especially in the South. It’s not necessarily for the maple’s health but for its effect on leaf color, which may cause many purple or red leaves to become green in the summer.

Japanese maple leaf multi colored

They normally leaf out early in the season, and a late cold blast can severely damage them, even the mature specimens.

2. Location

Japanese maples prefer to be in a location protected from strong winds and spring frosts.

Their foliage is quite fragile and dries out quickly in high winds. But, this doesn’t indicate that you have to grow them in totally enclosed or protected areas.

Japanese maple surrounded by other tree

It will be fine as long as it isn’t blown around by the wind frequently.

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3. Light

It can be difficult to acquire the correct balance when it comes to lighting.

Too much light may damage their delicate leaves. Also, if there isn’t enough light, some of the more colorful types will take on a greenish hue, which is still appealing but not as vibrant as the beautiful fall colors of reds and purples.

Japanese maple under direct sunlight

Most of the maple varieties require dappled or afternoon shade when they are young. After reaching maturity, they can thrive in full sun to partial shade.

Japanese mapple under afternoon shade

So, it will be best if you choose a place that gets filtered sun to part shade.

4. Soil

Japanese maples are quite adaptive but prefer moist, well-drained, and moderately acidic soils (ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 on the pH scale) that have organic matter.

Personally, I recommend loose media; containing 40% fine silt or soil (normally your native soil), 40% organic compost, and 20% peat moss. This soil mix will give good drainage blended with good water and nutrient holding capacity.

Good drainage soil

Moreover, planting them slightly elevated is beneficial if you reside in an area with heavy clay soil. It will help to guard against root rot and other diseases.

The only soil concern is salt, as this tree doesn’t like salt soils. Therefore, consider growing them in a container if your ground is high in salt.

5. Height/ Spread

Japanese maple can grow about 4 to 25 ft with the same spread depending on the variety. So, you need to keep this much space around your tree so that they can thrive without any obstacles.

Growing Japanese maple

6. Growth Rate

Before, I mentioned that these trees have slow growth, typically fastest when they are young and slow down as they reach maturity.

Now, if you want an established tree right from the start, you may opt for planting an older, larger maple rather than a young one that will take years to mature.

Planting a bit older maple

If this isn’t possible, choose a cultivar with a reputation for growing more quickly than the average, such as Acer palmatum ‘Beni-otake’.

Anyway, as you get to know the pre-requirement, it’s time to move on to the planting process.

Planting Japanese Maples

This section will tell you how to plant a Japanese maple, when is the right time for planting, and where you should grow them.

1. When to Plant Japanese Maple

Autumn is considered to be the best time to plant a Japanese maple. Plant at least a month before the ground freezes so that the roots have time to grow before the winter.

You can also plant them during early spring if you miss the autumn time.

Just consider your climate condition. If you live in the South, planting the tree in the late fall will be good as winter isn’t that harsh there. But for the Northerners, try to avoid planting in such a time when a hard freezing time is approaching cause it can be fatal to unestablished trees.

Planted Japanese maple

On the other hand, since young Japanese maple trees are sensitive to extreme heat and sunlight, summer isn’t the best time for planting.

Now, if weather extremes make you worried, planting in a container in the fall is a safe choice, allowing you to relocate your tree inside the garage if conditions become too extreme.

2. How to Plant Them on The Ground

If you want to plant Japanese maple on the ground, you have to dig a hole three times the width of its root ball, but not as deep.

The tree should be slightly above the soil line when you place it in the hole. Backfill the hole with slow-release fertilizer and water thoroughly.

And you already know which type of soil they prefer, so keep that in mind.

3. How to Plant Japanese Maple in Container

These trees can be cultivated in a container and moved to the yard throughout the season.

First of all, you have to choose a container with drainage holes and size that will allow the tree’s roots to grow.

From my own experience, the best potting soil for Japanese maples is one-half EB Stone Azalea Mix combined with one-half Edna’s Best Potting Soil. In case you can’t mix, you can also use straight Edna’s.

Just try not to use any potting soils that have added fertilizers or wetting agents. Also, avoid using topsoil or soil from your garden as it can be too heavy for your maple in a pot.

After you get all the things ready, follow the below steps.

Step 1:

Line the bottom of your container with a cloth or a piece of permeable landscape fabric before filling it with soil mix. This will prevent the drain holes from becoming clogged with soil.

Step 2:

Fill the bottom of the container with a small amount of soil mixture. Then place the plant inside and adjust the soil as needed. Make sure the top edge of the root ball sits ½ to 1 inch below the container’s rim.

Step 3:

Backfill with potting mix around the rootball, tamping as you go, until the level of the potting mix is even with the top side of the root ball.

Step 4:

Water thoroughly until the holes in the bottom of the container begin to drain. If settling happens during watering, add more potting mix.

Step 5:

Finally, apply a ½ inch layer of wood chips or sphagnum moss to the soil surface.

After the plantation, you have to take proper care to help your Japanese maple grow elegantly.

So, let’s learn the caring procedure.

How to Care for Your Japanese Maple

Japanese maple requires some maintenance like watering, fertilizing, mulching, and frost protection. Now, I will describe these.

1. Water

For the first three/ four months after planting, water two times a week to help the roots establish themselves. After that, water once a week or whenever the soil seems dry.

Remember that Japanese maple doesn’t prefer soggy soil as it may lead to deadly diseases like root rot. In the absence of enough rainfall, water your tree only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil moist, not wet.

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Reduce the amount of water you give the tree in the autumn unless the weather becomes really dry. This will stimulate more vibrant leaf colors.

During winter, in case the weather has been dry, and forecasters are predicting a deep freeze, wet the ground surrounding your tree well. This act will prevent root freeze-drying.

Once your tree is established, you may reduce the frequency of watering.

For the container tree, you need to water it a bit more often than in the ground. And when it is grown, you can lessen the watering.

Ohh, I forgot to tell you that watering them in the early morning is best as late evening or night watering may cause fungus and diseases to develop.

2. Mulch

Mulch is a good friend of maple. It protects the roots from the cold in winter and the heat in summer.

Apply a loose mulch such as pine needles or wood chips with a depth of two to four inches of a layer.

Wood chippings mulch

Make sure not to mulch way too close around the base of the trunk. You may maintain at least a six-inch distance from the base of the tree. Lay mulch lightly nearest to the trunk and then thicken as you move away.

Replace the mulch if you see discolouration or decomposition.

Be sure to mulch your potted maple too. Chunky bark makes an excellent mulch for the container tree.

3. Fertilizer

Japanese maples only need to be fertilized after they are one year old or during their second growing season. So, don’t bother fertilizing a newly planted tree, as it’s unlikely that the roots will have the ability to absorb nutrients.

They don’t require much-added fertilizer, especially if the soil is full of organic matter. So, only apply it if your plant seems to be growing too slowly or if a soil test shows a deficiency.

And the best time to fertilize them is late winter or early spring before the leaves emerge. Give your tree slow-release fertilizers which is the best choice since they break down gradually during the growth season, providing a constant supply of nutrients when the plant requires them.

Japanese maple during growth season

On the label, these fertilizers will have a high percentage of “water-insoluble nitrogen.”

You can feed it again in summer only if needed.

4. Pruning

Generally, these trees don’t require regular pruning and will develop their own naturally beautiful shape. But, of course, periodic pruning will help promote their health as well as the aesthetics of the tree.

One notable thing is that, unlike most other trees and shrubs, the Japanese maple shouldn’t be pruned in the winter or fall season as it will bleed or ooze sap.

So, the best time for pruning these trees is from July to August, when sap won’t seep from the cuts.

Anyway, when you plan to prune, try the following guideline for the best results:

  • Cutaway any branches that are pressing against one another.
  • Trim back branches closer to 2 inches to allow wind to pass through and prevent branches from breaking due to wind stress.
  • Remove all the dead or diseased branches.
  • Trim branches that are growing straight on a tree with a weeping profile.
  • Remove inward-growing branches that are developing towards the trunk.
  • Prune branches that distract from the tree’s ideal shape and balance.

5. Frost Protection

Japanese maples shed leaves in early spring and become susceptible to freezing and dying during a heavy cold season.

If freezing temperatures are forecasted, move your potted tree inside. And don’t worry, it will grow indoors.

Potted Japanese maple indoor

For the outdoor tree, cover it with a tarp, burlap, or frost protection cover.

6. Pests & Diseases

Pests that cause problems to Japanese maples are mites, scales, aphids, Japanese beetles, and mealybugs. You can remove them by using a powerful stream of water from your hose.

Japanese maple leaves after drizzling water

If they keep coming back, you may consider upgrading to a pesticide that addresses your specific issue.

While Speaking of diseases, Japanese maples are susceptible to canker and verticillium wilt, both of which are incurable diseases.

Wilted maple leaves

So, you need to keep your tree healthy. Water and fertilize it as needed to help prevent them. Also, avoid damaging the bark with a lawn mower or other garden equipment.

Anthracnose is another disease of this tree that causes black patches on deformed or dead leaves. It is more common in wet, humid weather, and there is no chemical treatment.

However, maintaining your garden free of dead or diseased plant parts and using only clean, fresh mulch can help prevent this disease.

Well maintained maple garden

By the way, after learning about these problems, are you disheartened?

Well, don’t be, cause there is a good news.

Most of the illnesses will go away on their own, allowing your Japanese maple to heal from it and thrive for years to come.

7. Animals Related Problem

Woodpeckers and sapsuckers may make holes in maple tree trunks in search of insects or sweet sap, but they will not eat your maple tree.

The real enemies are rabbits, squirrels that are widely found in Japan and other rodents who might eat the bark and damage the cambium.

Squirrel on a maple tree

To protect from these animals, you may use animal repellents and sprays. But, make sure to change up brands once in a while. It’s because animals may become used to the same one.

Besides these, deer may also cause problems. You might be thinking that Japanese maples are deer-resistant, but actually, they aren’t totally.

During the winter season, if they run out of food, then it’s possible that deer will attack your newly planted maple, not the old one.

Hungry deer during winter season

So, to keep them away, you may use a high fence around your garden.

Now, after owning one Japanese maple, you may feel like buying more. Then, are you going to spend more money purchasing them?

Well, I will say you don’t have to. It’s because you can easily grow another maple tree from seeds or can propagate from the existing one.

And, now I will teach you how to do that.

Growing Japanese Maple from Seed

Before going into the detailed process, I want to let you know that the new tree won’t grow true to type. That means it likely won’t have the same striking leaf color as the parent tree.

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But, still, it will be beautiful without any doubt. So, don’t worry.

Alright, you will see maple flowers during the spring season on your tree. And over the summer, these blossoms will turn into seeds that have wings attached to themselves. When they fall from the tree, they spin like the blades of a helicopter.

Japanese maple seeds

Once you see these seed pods starting to fall, you have to collect them quickly because once the pods begin to fall, the entire tree will drop its seeds within days.

Although you can pick the pods from the base, pods plucked fresh from the tree appear to germinate best.

Fresh maple seeds

After the seeds fall from the tree, you can always plant them directly in the ground, but this can be hit or miss. The ideal method is to harvest the seeds, test their viability, and cold stratify them in seed trays.

Break the “wings” off the pods and soak the seeds in a bowl of room temperature water for 24 hours to harvest the seeds. Then gather all of the seeds that have fallen to the container’s bottom. Those that float aren’t viable options.

Plant them in containers initially if you live in Zones 4-7. Fill up a seedling flat three-quarters of an inch from the top with seed-starting media and space the seeds four inches apart.

Then cover it with a quarter of an inch of soil and place a piece of mesh screen cloth over the top. Now, place the flat outside in the cold in a partially shaded region for the entire winter. This is a natural method of cold stratification.

Until germination, keep the soil damp but not wet. You’ll notice small green sprouts growing in the spring. Remove the hardware cloth and put the flat somewhere with shade.

In case you live in Zones 8 and 9, you will have to do the stratification work artificially.

Fill a bag with moist sand and place the soaking seeds in it. Seal the bag after forcing the air out. After that, put it in the fridge for three months. Check the sand every few weeks to make sure it’s still moist.

In the early spring, place the artificially cold stratified seeds four inches apart in a flat filled with seed-starting material. It’s best to use a mixture of compost and coco coir.

Then, place it beside a window with bright, indirect sunlight for at least four hours a day. Also, keep the medium moist.

Now for either method, once you see the seedlings growing into one set of true leaves, you can transplant them into their permanent growing spot by following the previous planting process.

Make sure the fresh seedlings are hardened off by placing them outside in a sheltered area for an hour before transplanting them outdoors. Bring them back inside after that.

Take them outside for two hours the next day. Every day, add an hour until the plants can stay outside for a total of eight hours.

To grow a bonsai from seeds, you will have to keep the seeds in the refrigerator for 100 days at approx. 38 to 40 degree Fahrenheit. This will allow for stratification, which will break down the stiff seed coat and prepare the seeds for germination. After that, soak the seeds for at least 24 hours before planting them.

Then, plant it in a heat-resistant container. When it matures a bit, you have to wire it from time to time to form the bonsai shape.

By the way, the seeds for regular Japanese maple and bonsai are the same, so don’t think that you have to collect seeds for bonsai from anywhere else.

Okay, I will now move on to the propagation process.

Cloning Or Propagating Japanese Maple

You can propagate Japanese maple from softwood cuttings that will be ready for transplantation after about a year.

Begin the propagation process in the spring, after the last frost, or in early summer, once the first leaves have formed.

Follow the below steps:

  • Fill a nursery pot halfway with perlite and halfway with peat moss. Wet the surface thoroughly.
  • Dig a four-inch deep hole in the center of the mixture by pressing it down firmly until it’s partially compacted.
  • Cut a six-to-eight inch long, 1/4-inch-diameter portion. At a 45-degree angle, cut the maple tree’s tip right below the point where a leaf meets the stem (AKA leaf node).
  • Remove the bottom leaves to reveal the nodes. Then dip the cuttings in water for a bit.
  • After that, soak the cut end and leaf nodes for about a minute in a medium-strength rooting hormone.
  • Put the cut end of the branch into the hole you made in the nursery pot, with the leaf nodes slightly below the potting mixture’s surface. Gently compress the mixture around the stem and drizzle water around the base of the cutting.
  • Place the pot on a heat mat in a spot with indirect sunlight outside.
  • Twice a day, moist the cutting. And when the top two inches of the potting mixture are dry, water it.
  • Check for root development after five or six weeks by gently tugging on the cutting and feeling for resistance.
  • After the roots have been established, transfer to a one-gallon pot filled with potting soil.
  • Continue to grow indoors until spring, and keep watering regularly.
  • After the final frost in the spring, transfer the cuttings outdoors after acclimating them for about a week in a partially shaded outdoor spot.

Well, that’s it. I have nothing left to inform you regarding today’s topic. So it’s time to end the writing.

Conclusion

I think you now have complete knowledge of how to grow a Japanese maple tree and their requirements and caring procedure.

Hopefully, you will succeed in growing one by following my guideline.

And I wish that your maple tree keeps your yard decorated and your eyes fascinated.

See you soon through another writing.

Frequently Asked Question:

Fungal infections and pathogens that grow in damp soils are generally the reason behind a dying Japanese maple. Saturated soil encourages root rot, which leads to the death of Japanese maples.

Maples with brown, wilted leaves and a dying appearance are also caused by too much wind, sun, and insufficient water.