Thursday, March 1, 2012

Landscaping with Japanese Maples

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Viridis' (Weeping Japanese Maple)
Japanese maples have been welcomed additions in the landscape for hundreds of years and are long admired for their delicate red or green foliage, beautifully structured trunks and striking fall color. 

Native to Japan, these beautiful trees have been cultivated since the 1800's.  When the first Japanese Maple specimen reached England in 1820 the name palmatum was given to the tree by botanist Carl Peter Thunberg after the characteristic palm-like feature of its leaves.

Basically there are two varieties of Japanese maple.  Dissectum refers to the weeping or lace leaf type of maple and palmatum refers to the upright or standard form.  The terminology is used interchangeably to describe the exact characteristics of each tree.  More known for the red variety, approximately sixty percent of the palmatum Japanese Maples are red and the remaining green.  I must point out however; that green variety, (pictured above) can be just as magnificent in the landscape.  Most Japanese Maples are cold hardy to zone 5 and prefer a moist but well-drained acidic soil.

Acer Palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen' (Weeping Japanese Maple)
When choosing a type of Japanese Maple it is important to consider the lighting requirement for your tree.  The lace leaf varieties have more delicate foliage and cannot tolerate direct sunlight or wind as well as the palmatum types.  I find that an eastern exposure works well for these trees so that they receive the morning sun and are shielded from the more direct afternoon rays.  Generally both varieties do best in non-direct filtered light and the green varieties can handle a little more sun, but again not direct.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Red Select' (Weeping Japanese Maple)
This 'Red Select' Japanese Maple is known to be a little more sun tolerant than some of the other varieties.  This beauty keeps its vibrant "red" coloration throughout the entire season.  'Red Select' is hardy to USDA zone 5 and grows to a mature height of 5-6 feet and width of 6-10 feet.  'Crimson Queen' (above) grows a little taller at 6-10 feet in height at maturity.

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Viridis' (Weeping Japanese Maple)

One must also consider the mature size of the tree for its space.  Sizes do vary considerably for each individual type so be sure to do your research accordingly or ask an expert.  Japanese Maples can be selectively pruned to keep them more compact and to preserve their beautiful cascading rounded shape.  The best time to prune a weeping Japanese maple is in the early springtime.  Pruning is somewhat of an art but if you take your time your tree will become even more magnificent as it matures. Always make clean cuts flush to the trunk and just outside the branch collar.  Systematically clip branches that are cascading to the ground around the perimeter of the tree until you reach the desired height.  There are basically two types of appearances, one exposing the trunk to view the form of the tree or that of a more cascading nature.  The nature of these trees is that they resemble a cascading waterfall, making them a graceful and beautiful focal point in the landscape.

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' (Upright Japanese Maple)
One of my favorite upright varieties of Japanese Maple is Coral Bark Maple or Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'. Known for its striking red bark in the fall and winter, this specimen makes an excellent single piece in the landscape. The foliage of 'Sango Kaku' varies from a pinkish-green in the spring to medium green in summer, then turning to a bright yellow in fall. During the winter months the vivid coral-red color of the branches contrast beautifully against the snow, hence the name Coral Bark Maple. Coral Bark Maple is hardy to USDA zone 5 and is classified as a medium sized tree, reaching to a mature height and width of approximately15-20 feet.

Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira’ (Upright Japanese Maple)

A more exotic and rare and species of upright Japanese Maple is that of  Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira’ or "Lion's Mane" Japanese Maple. 'Shishigashira' is in a class of its own unlike any other Japanese maple in the world.  It's leaves are curled and more densely arranged unlike other maples and its deep green color lasts into the fall before it transforms into the most fiery-red foliage you ever did see, resembling a lion's mane.  'Shishigashira' is extremely slow growing reaching a mature height of 15 feet and is hardy in zones 5-9.  Due to its slow growth this tree is also well known for its use as bonsai.  This tree is mostly used as a single specimen and will surely be a conversation piece in the garden.  It's show of changing color will supply interest in the landscape all season long and for many years to come.
Japanese Maple Types (Summary Chart)
Japanese Maples are known for their long time history and will add constant beauty and grace to your outdoor space.  Find the perfect location for these beauties and they will be sure to supply you with many years of color, interesting foliage and enjoyment!

Author:Lee@A Guide To Northeastern Gardening Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved


  1. These are such magnificent trees. I especially love the green variety. It is so majestic.

  2. So very lovely...wish I had space for one :-( At least my neighbors have some that I get to enjoy just as much!

  3. The 'Shishigashira’ is so unusual looking. It is really beautiful! I could see that in my backyard!

  4. I planted the 'Shishigashira’ at one of my customers houses a few years back and it is one of the most spectacular of the Japanese Maples I ever did see. It gets even more unbelievable when it turns fiery-red for the fall. I wish I had an extra space to plant one.

  5. I adore Acers. We have three Sango Kaku in the Garden. The coral bark is quite stunning in winter.

  6. The Coral Bark maple is still a favorite to use in Portland area landscaping, but I find the branch unions are still a bit tricky.

    At first I thought the numerous V shape unions were just the result of excess fertilizer at growers and nurseries, or too much baby-ing by homeowners.

    But I'm seeing plenty of the weak unions on established trees that are not fertilized and get minimal watering.

    As long as pruning is done once per year or every other year though, they seem to hold up very well.


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