Gardening with Japanese Maples

Photo Gallery of Japanese Maples in the Garden

Photo Gallery of the variation of Japanese Maple Leaf
Planting:  Maples are easy to plant and have shallow root system.  They can thrive even in a areas with a hard bedrock close to the surface.  They do need consistant watering to nurish these shallow roots.  The hole should be slighly larger than the root mass.  It helps the roots establish quickly by adding composted mulch, rhododendron planting mix, or rose compost.  Never use sawdust or wood chipping.  These will use up all the available nitrogen.  Make sure the maple does not dry out at any time so prepare this hole in advance.  Before putting the tree in fill the hole with water (this will also give you an idea of how fast the soil will drain).  Place the tree in to soak the root mass and begin refilling around the root mass with soil.  Gently step on the tree to make sure there are no pockets of air underneath.  If you have heavy soil it is a good idea to raise the planting up and mound the tree.  Especially if the soil does not drain well.  Just digg a shallow hole and plant maple with the rim above the suface.  Then mound soil around the root mass (Rock may be used and other plants to soften or blend the mound into the landscape).
Mulching:  Laying bark or mulching is a good idea for the entire yard but for maples their are several benefits.  Mulching maintaines weed free condition and this is not just for good looks.  Those weeds will be competing for moisture and soil with the maple.  The mulch minimize water loss in dry spells as it keeps the water in and prevent the ground from dying.  It is important during the first two years especially because the roots are not as strong and need to become established.  Once the roots establish mulching is still a good idea but not as critical.  Established roots protect the maple from very cold winters (down to 0 degrees F.) and hot summers.  Ideal mulch is a 2inch layer of coarse wood-free bark with an average chip size of 3/4inch.  
Moisture:  Watering is the most important part of growing maple.  It is more important than the soil or the fertilizer.  A maple needs consistant water but not a lot of water.  The maple will have problems if there is a period of dry wheather and not sufficient water.  Too much water is probably worse than too little.  The roots will drown where in the heat the established roots will still find some moisture.  The key is 
consistancy.  When growing containers the same rule applies: consistancy.  An understanding of where how often the maple will need water is important so understanding the soil, the exposure to sun, etc. are valuable.    
Fertilizer:  Maple do not need much more than what is in the soil.  Maples do well in the soils of the PNW.  A balance fertilizer (such as those for roses and shrubs) applied once a year before the leafs push out is recomended.  Keep in mind that over fertilizing the verigated varieties will make the maples lose their verigation.
Pruning:  A maple is beautiful when it is allowed to grow unhindered.  Many gardeners do not want their maple to become so large.  Starting top prunning early and once a year is a good plan.  A smaller cut will always heal more quickly so any major prunning should be done during the autumn to mid winter before the sap starts rising.  Otherwise it is ok to prune once the new growth has hardened off.  The cuts should be made just beyond the two buds on the branch.  Cuts to larger limbs should be made above the plants collar (cutting to close to the main trunck will invite disease.  Make sure your tools are very sharp (rigdid cuts invite disease).  Each maple has a particular growth habit and one needs to prune according to that habit.  Otherwise thining the tree out is a good practice to improve light getting through.  On a smaller scale maples can also be prunned back for bonsia (usually this is done on container plants).  It would be nice to have an infinite amount of space but most people don't.  Fortunately maples are adaptable and take prunning well.  It is still important to consider the range of growth on the label before planting. 
Pests(insects):  There are not serious problems with pests when it comes to maples.  This mostly happens at the nursery where there are other hosts and conditions that serve the pest. Some pests that often ruin the appearance of that beautiful leaf include: Aphids, Mites, Worms, and Weevil.  Aphids feed on the soft new foliage of maples and other garden plants leaving a honeydew secretion on the underside of the leaf (often you will find ants on your plants and this is a sign of aphids).  For aphids a spring spay of pesticide will get rid of these pests.  Mites typically attack only sick trees so keeping the maple healthy is the best defense.  Mites leave a speckled spotty look to the leave and the leaf appears to dry out.  Mites are more difficult to control and making sure the maple has what it needs it needs is how you address mites (regular watering is usually what is lacking and as the tree dries it becomes weak).  Worms or caterpillars do not pose a serious threat but can ruin the appearance of the leaf.  Some chemical sprays will work but use only if the problem becomes serious (covers the entire tree) and hand picking the pest is sometimes the best approach.  The important note is that healthy growing condition usually creates a strong tree that will be able to tolerate these pests.      
Diseases:  One of the worste diseases that can seriously damage and kill maples is the soil disease Verticiliium Wilt.  This disease attacks the tree through the roots.  The leaves will begin to wilt on one branch or many.  an individual branch will die off and eventually the entire tree.  There is no defense against this disease if it is present in the soil.  A tree may live for many years before becoming infected or it will be very rapid.  The only way to know is to test the soil and if it is present then Japanese Maples should not be planted in the ground.  Anthracnose (leaf blight) is a fungus that overwinters on dead branches and enters the fresh leaves during the spring.  It causes brown spots to appear on the leaves.  Cut the branches off and use a preventative spray before the spring to prevent this and again once the leaves have pushed out.  Leaf Scorch is something that is common in the landscape and is sometimes diagnosed by the homeowner as a disease or pest.  Leaf scorch is a result of either quick water loss to the leaf from hot wheather and/wind combined with a lack of moisture in the ground, or watering duing the hottest time of the day.  Be consistant with watering and water early or late to avoid this.  Chlorosis is a yellowing of the leaves and it reflects a lack of essential micronutrients such as Iron.  It also reflects the pH of the soil as being either too high or too low.  Without bringing in new soil, raised beds and containers are a better alternative for the maple.  Powdery Mildew can be a nuisance in humid and wet springs as it can cause a powdery look on the leaf surface.  Powedery Mildew is usually not serious although sprays can be effective to prevent or shortan its duration.  Pseudomonas is a fungi that invades dead, dying, or diseased twigs wherever high levels of soil moisture or high humidities prevail.  This fungi will cause twigs to die back in the spring or summer creating a noticable black branch that will eventually spread to the rest of the tree.Prevent by controlling soil moisture and allowing aeration.  When pruning prune in mid-winter (late summer prunning is an invitation for this disease to enter.  

Japanese maples are hardy and very adaptable to soil and climate conditions.  They are grown and thrive in the great state of Oregon and the pacific northwest with the rainy warm conditions we have.  Most appreciate well drained soil and and sufficient water, especially during the hottest days of the year.  
If a gardener really wants the maple to show its beauty, the culture and character of the maple must be understood.  The label is very important.  If a semi-shade maple is planted in the sun it will burn just like we do and its leaves will peel away.  This is a discouraging thing.  So avoid this and read the labels and look at your yard.  
When does the sun cover the yard?  If you have partial shade in the yard or the yard is shady in the afternoon, a varigated maple will probably thrive as most need some shade.  If you have a lot of shade some maples will loose some of their featured color.  However most will do fine in shade.  
How much space do you have and how large of a tree to you want.  Maples come in all sizes of course.  One of the nice things about maples is that there roots are not terribly competitive and they are resiliant and managable with pruning.  In other words the size will vary depending on what is planted around the maple and how it it prunned.  Some maples take prunning very well (and even look better).  
Think about color.  What are the other colors in the yard.  The last thing you want is one color everywhere.  Some diversity in the garden is a beautiful thing.  When selecting a location think of how it will contrast with the surounding plants.  Or you can start with the maple and select plants to contrast with it.
Think about texture.  Japanese Maples are broadleaf and to place them around too many other broadleaf and deciduous plants will leaf your garden bare in the winter.  Try to place your maple are evergreen shrubs or conifers to retain year round appeal in the garden.
Here is a quick rundown on some of the groups of maples and how they can serve your garden with a purpose that you envision.      
Upright Maples:  Uprights are very versitale for the garden.  The bright colors add instant attention no matter what variety you plant.  The main thing with the uprights is the size.  Many use uprights (especially the reds) as a centerpiece for the yard.  Uprights can grow large and create an overstory or shady area for shrubs and perennials to live under.  Some verigated forms will thrive growing in these semi-shady conditions.  For larger yards group planting of different verieties of uprights can be appealing.  An upright can serve as a transition for a change in the landscape in the corner of the yard or border.  Smaller uprights can be mixed with evergreen and perrenials in mutlitudes of combinations with great appeal.  Some dwarf uprights can be used in rock gardens and troughs.  Others can be used for bonsia
Weeping Maples:  These are the beautiful red mounding maples we see sometimes 10ft or larger in old yards.  At that size the twisted bark will have become a nice winter features.  These come in various red(dark-purple to bright scarlet) and make very nice accent plants.  Just beside the green grass will work or beside a blue spruce would be a nice contrast effect.  The graceful habit of the weeping maple makes it a good choice around any kind of water feature or waterfall.  Weepers also can soften a hardscape.  Many can become large enought to be a beautiful stand alone specimen plant.  Intermixing with a variety is also a nice touch.  There are large and small weepers just like uprights.  Some weepers also varigate and again these need much protection.  Typically the varigated forms are smaller in habit and would be good for the smaller gardens with shade.  
Containers:  Many maples work well in a containers.  They will not outgrow the pot and for those with small yards, a small patio container would be a good choice.  Many of the dwaf forms are better suited for containers because they grow so slow in the yard.  The varigated forms are good for containers as well and with container you can control the color and verigation by maniputlating water and fertilizer.  A good rule is smaller maples up to 12ft(on the label) for small patios, and medium and larger maples for larger patios (and use larger more permanent containers or toughs). 

The term Japanese Maple refers to the Latin plant name Acer palmatum and all the varieties within Acer palmatum.  There are 22 other species of maples that grow native in Japan and these are set aside in the nursery trade (horticulture) as "other maples from Japan" (other maples from Japan include: Acer japanicum, Acer shirasawanum, etc).  In Botony all maples from the island of Japan are called Japanese Maples.  Here, however I describe just Acer palmatum and its varieties.
Japanese maples have been cultivated (propagated) by selection or cross polination for over 300 years and to this day there are hundreds of variations within the species in leaf form and color.  Over 900 varieties exist and new varieties are "created" or found every year.  Maples have been known for there great variety of color and form for the garden, especially in the spring.  
Where perrenials bring color and form through flowers, Japanese maples have the ability to bring a similarly unique brilliance in color and form through a leaf.  The spring for Japanese maples brings colors of florescent pink, bright orange, and even white, to dark shades of purple and crimson red.  Some forms display multicolored leaves with a mixture of brilliant colors.  Even the viening of the leaf often adds a unique design and contrast to the leaf.  When the show of spring has ended, many varieties of Japanese Maples save their real beauty for the fall with the colors of red, orange, and bright scarlet.  
With the variety of color among Japanese Maples, there are several unique forms (shapes) of the leaf within the Acer palmatum list of cultivars.  Some leaves are finely cut or dissected and these are what most people think of as a Japanese Maple.  Some have a large leaf in the shape of a palm (palmatum).  Some leaves look like bamboo (Beni otake), some look like a star (Beni hoshi), some are sickle shaped, some look to be crinkled or burnt.  With all these different forms of leaves and the variable colors to each you end up with a number of different looking trees.  
If you consider that maple varieties come in all different shapes and sizes (the smallest maple grows up to around 3ft after many years and the largest up to 33ft), it is not a surprise that Japanese Maples are considered to be versitale and having a place in every garden.  The difficulty or challenge is in selecting the right one with all this variation to choose from.         

How to Make a Japanese Maple (Propagation)
Collect Seed:  You can collect maple seed from a Japanese Maple tree (a non-cultivated variety will work fine).  This can be done as early as October and as late as December depending on how long the seeds stay on the tree.  One note of advice is there is a brief period of time when many of the leaves have fallen and yet the seeds remain.  This is a short period of time but is much easier to pick the seed.  
Treat the Seed:  The seed should be soaked in warm water for one day and drained.  The seeds can be stored in the fridge in 33-39degrees in a mixture of moist peat moss (not too much moisture-just squeeze the water out of the peat after soaking it).  A light dusting of fungicide will keep the seeds from rotting.  Keep in sealed plastic bags in the fridge for 60-120 days depending on when it is time to sow.  The seed can be sown as early as late February or early March.  So if you pick the seed early December you will be able to sow by March.  
Sow the Seed (at 3months):  When it is time seeds may be sown outside or in a greenhouse in pots, beds, or flats.  Most soil will work but a 60/40 peat/perlite is recommended.  Spread the seed out in the flats or beds a few inches apart and cover with peat the same diameter as the seed (just enough to cover the seed).  Water immediately and the seeds will begin to germinate within one week if temperatures are above 65 degrees.  Many critters will attempt to eat these seeds prior to germination so keep on the look-out.  The seedlings will grow through the spring and summer.  These seedlings should reach up to 2feet or more by the winter.  
Transplant the Seed (at 1year):  After one year the seedlings can be separated and transplanted into pots (1year).  If they are transplanted in the winter and fertilized in the spring, these seedlings should be up to a size large enough to graft by the summer.
Grafting(at 1.5years):  Grafting is done as soon as the spring growth slow down and the branches harden off.  This happens during the summer months.  To graft we select a particular cultivar we would like to propagate or reproduce.  We cut the new spring growth branch off of a young tree (this branch is called the Scion).  With that branch we cut the base at an angle to expose the tissue.  A cut is made into the side of the 1.5year old seedling and the Scion is inserted into the seedling.  We are matching the tissues of one tree to another (both trees are Acer palmatum and therefore compatible).  Once the scion is inserted the graft union is covered with a band and we place the tree in an warm area with high humidity (once that branch was cut it is one life support and is losing water).  We wait for the seedling to form a union and exchange energy to force new growth into the scion.  If we graft in July and the graft was a success a flush of growth will occur by mid August.  At this time it is ok to cut off the seedling and give the new maple space (many nurseries leave uncut until the following winter or spring to prevent disease).  As the winter approaches it bring cool temperatures and a new graft is more sensitive.  Some will die off but if the spring brings another flush of growth that graft has officially taken and can be potted up into a 1gallon.
Transplant (at year2):  The graft can be potted into a larger pot during the mid spring.  By the fall with fertilizer and consistant watering, a greenhouse grown maple will caliper up and be able to sell or plant.  At this time the maple will be around 2feet tall depending on the variety.
Time to sell or plant (at year2.5-3):  We plant many one gallons in the field at this time, or they are held over for the next spring, or they are moved to a larger container (such as a 3gallon).  It all takes some time.  If 
you want a larger maple you’ll have to wait even longer.      

Photo Gallery of Japanese Maple Propation
My favorite Japanese Maples
Red Upright Maples:  Many people know of and like the popular Bloodgood and/or Emperor I for a red.  I like Bloodgood because the color is a nice deep purple red and it lasts so long into the summer.  The leaf itself is a bit larger than Emperor so this I think makes a more bold statement.  They are both beautiful trees.  Other red uprights would be Moonfire because it is a smaller growing tree.  Yards are becoming smaller and smaller and it is an advantage to find a red upright that can be managed in a small yard.  I personally like to fit as much as I can into the yard.  Another smaller growing red upright is the Purple Ghost.  This is just beautiful in the spring and still holds color well into the summer.  The tree itself is a small growing tree and demands attention.  For an brighter red or orange Fireglow is nice as it holds almost a fire-engine red which is quite different than the dark purple of Bloodgood or Emperor.  

Green Upright Maples:  The famous Sango Kaku or Coral Bark is a favorite to most.  You'll find it is in most yards that have a maple.  This is a nice tree with a vase like compact habit and a nice lime green color.  The bark is a great feature for winter appeal.  The tree Beni kawa is identical to Sango kaku with more of a dense habit and it becomes a smaller tree.  I do like this for the same reasons above.  Other green uprights are Shishigishira or Lions head.  This tree is unique looking and very strong both in its look and how it grows.  It has very dark green dense growth.  Seiryu has dissected leaves which is unique.  The shape of Seiryu is nice as it forms a broad spreading canapy.  The fall color is a bright red/orange that cannot be missed.  Shindeshojo is a green upright but the spring color is among the brightest of reds until it fades to shades of reds/greens.  

Veriegated Maples:  Oridono nishika is very nice with colorful veriegated leaves and bright pink branches at the tips.  Ukigumo is another beauty but is very unstable.  Depending of how much fertilizer/sun/water/pruning etc. the plant may or may not show its verigation.  Otherwise very few maples compare.  I also like how Ukigumo looks nice as a shrubby plant branching low.  Many of the ghost series maples are nice but very similar.  Beni shigitatsu is one I like because it is so variable.  The spring color is a pink-cream and then the viening boldens and the colors change dramatically throughout the summer.  Most of these need shade and work better for small gardens of containers.  

Red Weeping Maples:  For a dark color Tamukeyama is probably the best because it is a very purple red and holds in both sun and shade.  For a lighter red color Red Dragon is nice having a cherry red color.  The shape is like an unbrella.  For orange Orangeola cannot be beat.  Bright orange foliage that contrast with red/green mature foliage.  Dissectum nigrum is interesting for its silvery spring foliage and the color is good.  Crimson Queen is the most popular and the color is very strong without being extremely bold.  These maples have different shapes as well.  I tend to like those that cascade sharply.  Amongh these are Inabe shidare, Orangeola, and Ebony.  For something very unique Red Filigree has among the most delicate leaves of any maple. 

Green Weeping Maples:  There are not a lot of green dissectums.  Verdes is the popular green because is grows fast and the color is strong.  Waterfall probably is as fast as Verdes and I like more because is weeps so sharply.  This can be nice around rocks and water features.  Green Cascade is interesting and its fall color is nice.  Filigree is a verigated green that is more ornamental looking.  It differs by spreading out more as it grows rather than just mounding up.  The verigation is nice as well.

Dwarf Maples:  Dwarfs are valuable for being able to fit a nice looking tree is a small area or for rock gardents or containers.  Many dwarfs I am not crazy about as many are simply a small green dense plant.  Others have bold colors like Akaji nishika with bright orange spring growth.  Katsura also has bright colorful spring growth.  Shaina is nice for a deep red tree that stays very dense.  Of the green dwarfs I like Veno Homar with the bright yellow color and red tips.  I also like Mikawa yatsabusa for its dense and unique growth habit. 

You may notice I appreciate many maples for either their color, shape, size, or growth habit.  It cannot be just one of these if you are considering it for the garden.  All parts of the plant need to be considered.  I happen to like bold colors and compact  trees so I can fit as must in the garden as possible.  There are defenitely large maples that will beautify all the space they occupy.  It is all about what you want the garden to bring.  For me I like diversity-a little of everything.  There is bound to be a place that could harbor a large growing maple.  It is also a way to create a new environment or planting zone for shade tolerant plants adding more diversity of both color, and texture all around the yard in order to create a Garden of all seasons.           

What is a Japanese Maple
Selecting the Right Japanese Maple
How to grow a Japanese Maple (Culture)