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More Japanese Maples, Please!


By Paul James

For years, I’ve been asked repeatedly, “What’s your favorite plant”? It’s a difficult question to answer, because there are so many incredible candidates. But the other day, while pruning my Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ (meaning Lion’s Head), I came to the realization that my favorite plant – or more specifically plant group – would have to be Japanese maples.

I’ve always been captivated by their amazing diversity in terms of leaf color and shape, range of sizes, and by their many and varied forms, whether upright or weeping. And I’ve always been impressed by how incredibly tough they are, despite their seemingly delicate appearance.

Best of all perhaps is the fact that they’re easy to grow, provided you plant them in the right spot to begin with. That means an area where the soil contains a decent amount of organic matter and drains well, and ideally gets just a few hours of morning sun followed by shade the rest of the day, or dappled light throughout the day. Green-leaved varieties can handle pure shade, but red-leaved varieties actually color up best with a little sun.

Beyond that, Japanese maples don’t require that much attention. The weeping varieties do need light pruning to remove deadwood in their interior, and the upright forms may need a touch up every other year or so, but it’s best to keep pruning to a minimum. The same is true of fertilizer: Japanese maples simply don’t need much of a nutrient boost beyond a topdressing of compost twice a year, or a light application of a slow-release, low-nitrogen organic fertilizer in spring and fall.

However, because they have shallow root systems, plan on applying a thick – as in 3-inch – layer of bark mulch around the base of each tree to maintain fairly even moisture, something all Japanese maples require.

I could provide you with a long list of species and varieties of Japanese maples I adore, but I won’t. Instead, I would encourage you to discover for yourself the ones you like best, knowing that at the end of the day, you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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6 responses to “More Japanese Maples, Please!”

  1. tmeier51@gmail.com says:

    I share your love for Japanese maples and have about 10 myself. Most are leafing out as usual but I’m worried about several that aren’t yet. They’re orangeola and Hana matoi and are both in very large tall pots should I be patient or concerned?

    • Paul James says:

      I wouldn’t be too concerned. Our Orangeolas here at the nursing are only now just beginning to pop. All of mine at the house that are in pots just started to show life late last week.

  2. tmeier51@gmail.com says:

    Thanks! I got an acontifolium from Southwood about 5 years ago and it is so beautiful it stops traffic!

  3. Greg Rosta says:

    Hi Paul,
    I love Japanese maples, but have been reluctant to plant more on my property, as I live in a very windy area, and I have in the back of my brain that they don’t like wind. I have one very beautiful, mature Red Dragon on my property, but it is tucked out of the way from most wind. My question is, do they in fact not do well in windy areas?
    Thanks!
    Greg

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