Complete Japanese red maple tree growing guide including how to plant, how to prune, how to grow, when to prune, and when to plant.
At a Glance
Botanical Name: Acer palmatum
Common Name(s): Japanese Red Maple
Height: 6 to 25 feet
Bloom Time: Early spring
Soil Conditions: Moist to dry soil
Sun: Full sun or partial shade
When to Plant a Japanese Red Maple Tree
A tree, such as the deciduous Japanese red maple tree, also known as Acer palmatum, is best suited to planting during the fall season. However, it can be established at almost any time of the year, including winter in areas where the soil does not freeze too solid to be excavated. Select a relatively fledgling plant as it may endure the shock of transplanting better than a mature maple. As the Japanese maple does have a shallow root structure, it is fairly easy to plant in contrast to most other types of trees.
Bare-rooted trees must be set in the ground when bare and leafless. In northern areas, frozen terrain usually thwarts wintertime planting, so they can be planted only during spring or fall. Exceptions to these general procedures can be found when determining the zone that you intend to plant the Japanese red maple tree. Zones are divisions of areas based on temperature, rainfall, altitude, and soil. However, many Japanese maples do exceptionally well if provided with extra care outside of their designated areas.
Even if you have a choice of several seasons for planting, there are many benefits for fall or spring planting. A tree planted in spring has many months to establish itself before severe winter weather arrives. Many horticulturists prefer fall when the soil is damp but not compacted so that excavating the hole is unproblematic.
As noteworthy as the moisture content of the soil is its temperature. When planted in the fall, the soil is still warm, triggering new roots to sprout even when overall summer growth has ceased. The following spring will allow the transplanted tree with a better root structure and an advantage in launching productive growth as compared to those planted in the winter.
How to Plant a Japanese Red Maple Tree
If you have seen a yard professionally landscaped with Japanese maple trees, it may have caused you to wonder how to plant a Japanese maple tree on your own. It is not necessary to hire a professional landscaping crew to plant one or more Japanese maple trees in your yard if you follow a few basic instructions.
Japanese maples are wonderful additions to any home yard or garden because of their hardiness and diversity of color. Learning how to grow a Japanese maple is not difficult, and once established, these trees will become beautiful arbors that do not require much attention in order to flourish.
Placing the Japanese Maple
The positioning of the Japanese maple may be the most important part of growing these trees successfully. Japanese maples need moist, well-draining soil, especially for young trees. Test the drainage of the soil by pouring five gallons of water into the ground. If, after 15 minutes, there are no puddles of standing water left, the soil has adequate drainage. Japanese maples also prefer partial shade and partial sun during the day. This is especially true of hotter climates to give these trees relief from the summer sun. In areas that have milder summer weather, Japanese maples can tolerate full sun throughout the day.
How to Care for the Japanese Maple
Understanding the growth cycle of the Japanese maple can help gardeners know how and when to care for these unique trees. Japanese maples are most active in the spring when they are flowering and summer months. They will lose their leaves in the fall and remain dormant throughout the winter until spring temperatures begin to rise again. Thus, these trees ought to be fertilized during the early spring for the best absorption. Use a slow-release, all-purpose plant food so that they will be fertilized throughout the most active season of their growth cycle. This will produce the most beautiful spring flowers and ensure the tree stays healthy throughout the rest of the year.
Consider Your Climate
Where you eventually choose to plant your Japanese maple tree will depend largely on the typical climate in your region of the country. If you live in an area that usually experiences dry, hot summers, the Japanese maple tree will do best if you plant it in a shady area. For areas that have more variation in the climate, it is no problem to plant the Japanese maple tree in direct sunlight.
If you live in a colder climate, wait until there is no longer a possibility of frost forming on your plants overnight before embarking on planting your new tree. Finally, make sure you choose an area that has moist, rich soil for optimal growing conditions.
Maintenance of a Japanese Red Maple Tree
After you have dug a sufficiently large hole, planted the tree bulb, and replaced the hole with dirt and soil, it is time to consider how you will take care of the tree so that it will grow properly. The branches may need a little help in the beginning, and you can provide this by propping them up with support stakes until they are strong enough to grow on their own.
You will need to fertilize your new tree once every spring with a slow-release plant food. In the winter or late fall, remove any branches from your Japanese maple tree that have died or appear to be diseased. This annual pruning will encourage the remaining branches to be healthy.
How to Prune a Japanese Red Maple
Learning to prune a Japanese maple tree is not difficult and can greatly enhance the tree’s health and appearance. While some growers may prefer to let their Japanese maples grow unhindered, pruning will make the tree grow in your desired shape and is essential to disposing of diseased branches before they endanger the rest of the tree.
As Japanese maples can come in a variety of shapes, it is essential first to determine of which cultivar the Japanese maple is so that you may prune it accordingly. Some Japanese red maples will be straight, others V-shaped, and still others may be weeping maples. Once the desired shape has been established, the tree can be pruned, using a good pole saw, with that goal in mind for better results.
First, are health concerns – look for branches that are dead or not producing leaves and buds. This could be a sign of disease within the tree, and these branches ought to be trimmed from their origin to prevent the spread of the disease to the rest of the tree.
Branches that are crossing each other or rubbing against each other will also become tangled and should be pruned off. Pruning Japanese maples can be done with hand shears as the branches should not be very wide.
Shaping the Japanese Maple
After ensuring that only healthy branches remain on the tree, address the Japanese maple’s overall shape. If it is a straight tree, trim off any branches that aim downward.
For weeping maples, vertically growing branches should be pruned, along with any ends of branches that are touching the ground. Japanese maples do not need excessive pruning, so evaluate the visual effects of the process often before cutting too much of the tree. If in doubt, any healthy branch can be left for the following year without harming the tree.