The Japanese Maple Tree
In Japan and abroad, the Japanese maple tree is viewed as a symbol of elegance, beauty, and grace.
Japanese maples have the potential to be one of the most outstanding small trees for specimen plantings and focal-point use in residential landscapes in the Southeast. With their small stature, tremendous variety, and four-season beauty, Japanese maples always offer something to see. Dark, undulating branches sometimes crested with snow create a variety of graceful silhouettes in winter. While nobody knows exactly how many different Japanese maple varieties exist, there are more than 700 unique cultivars in circulation. Selecting the right one from so many can be overwhelming, especially because virtually all of them are unique and quite lovely.
Few trees provide such an extraordinary range of ornamental interest as the Japanese maples. In Spring, their exquisitely toothed leaves emerge in shades of rose, cream, orange or red, then turn green or bronze-red in Summer, and then blaze away in Fall in showy yellow, gold, purple, orange and/or scarlet. When the leaves fall, the tree form and bark are revealed, and they etched in grace when dusted with snow. Although relatively small in stature, the variety range is vast, with heights from 2ft to as high as 30ft, and leaf shapes from classic maple-like to lacy or spidery. They may look fragile and delicate, but Japanese maples are pest-resistant and durable. They deserve a place of honor in your garden. They have that place of honor in mine.
Japanese maples lend themselves beautifully to container growing. Dwarf types in ornamental pot & urns are well suited to patios and small gardens. Where larger containers can be utilized, the choice of form, color, leaf texture and branching offer greater variety. Full size trees grow well in tubs and permanent containers. Care is minimal, although it has to be constant since plants in containers will dry out more quickly than the same plant in the ground. The Japanese Maple is an excellent specimen for the Art of Bonsai. The occasional root & top pruning with proper attention to water and fertilizer create this art form.
Japanese maple trees can be classified in various ways. I’ll focus on a couple of classification criteria: fall foliage color and leaf type. For while Japanese maples with red fall foliage are better known, some varieties have golden fall foliage (e.g.,Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’). Meanwhile, particular Japanese maple tree varieties are prized for their lacy or “dissected” leaf type. The name given for these Japanese maples will often include the term “dissectum.”
There are few, if any, trees that can compare to the beauty and splendor of the Japanese Maple. I have been a passionate admirer of this tree since I was a child. I propagate the seeds, grow seedlings, graft them and just love them. They are a very large player in my free time.
In upcoming posts I’ll share some of my secrets for propagating and growing these magnificent trees.