Guide to Growing Japanese Maples

People often think Japanese Maples are difficult to grow, but that’s really not the case. As long as you plant them in the right spot and give them a little care, they’ll thrive and get more beautiful every year. Unlike many other trees and shrubs, they don’t have many pests or diseases to worry about and can do well in anything from full shade to full sun.
When you’re planting your tree, it’s important to choose the right spot. Try to protect it from the harsh afternoon sun and drying winds. Some tree varieties handle heat better than others. If you have a cascading form, planting it on a slope, bank, or the top of a wall will really show off its beauty, rather than planting it on flat ground.

Start caring for your new Japanese Maples by preparing the soil. Most types of soil will work as long as it doesn’t stay wet for long periods. Avoid flooded soil. No matter what kind of soil you have, adding a good amount of organic material before planting will help your tree thrive. Use garden compost, well-rotted animal manures like cow, sheep, or horse manure, rotted leaves, or peat moss. Dig one or two buckets of this material into the soil where you’re planting your tree, and add some bone meal, rock phosphate, or superphosphate to promote good root growth.

If you’re planting in containers or planter boxes, make sure they have drainage holes. Without proper drainage, the soil can flood and kill your tree. You can drill holes in most containers; for ceramic ones, use a slow-speed drill and a masonry bit, starting with a small hole and enlarging it with bigger bits. Use potting soil meant for outdoor planters and top up the pot each spring with fresh soil.

Watering Japanese Maples

When you’re planting, be sure to use plenty of water right from the start. Don’t plant in dry soil and then just sprinkle some water on top. After planting, cover the entire root area with a rich organic mulch. For the first year or two, water your tree regularly—once a week from spring to fall, and twice a week during hot weather. You might need to water it during sunny and dry periods in the winter, too.

Staking  Japanese Maples

You won’t need to stake your Japanese Maples, but if you have a cascading form, you can create a taller and more attractive shape by staking a few branches upright. Keep them staked until they’re sturdy enough to support themselves. This will give you a beautiful, multi-tiered Japanese Maples that really stand out.

Mulch & Fertilizer for Japanese Maples

In the spring, renew the mulch and sprinkle a bit of tree fertilizer over the entire root zone. Young Japanese Maples also benefit from a dose of liquid fertilizer in late spring and early summer.

For Japanese Maples in planters and containers, feed them with liquid fertilizer once a month from the start of growth until late summer. Be sure to follow the instructions and use a half-strength solution to avoid burning the foliage. Don’t fertilize a dormant tree, as it might stimulate new growth that could be damaged by frost. Water trees in containers whenever the top inch of soil feels dry, and always water thoroughly until you see some water coming out of the drainage holes.

Pruning & Trimming Japanese Maples:

Pruning your Japanese Maples usually isn’t necessary, except to remove any small branches that might die off as it grows. You can trim back long shoots a bit to encourage denser growth, but avoid heavy pruning as it can ruin the tree’s natural shape, which is its best feature. Trees in containers might need more regular trimming to fit their space, but unless you’re growing bonsai, pruning is one task you can skip with your Japanese maple.

However, if you enjoy pruning, some people do it to give their Japanese Maples a more mature look earlier than they would naturally. The best time to do this is in winter when the tree is dormant—in February for cooler areas and January in warmer regions. Remove small branches from the lower parts of the main stems and any branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Leave branches where you want major limbs to be, spacing them out to make the Japanese Maples look more open and a bit sparse. Shorten long stems to encourage denser growth, always cutting just above a pair of buds. A second trimming of new shoots in early summer can also help your tree look more mature. Check out pictures of mature trees of your particular variety to get an idea of how to shape your young tree.

Here Are Some of Our Favorite Varieties of Japanese Maples:

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