If you’ve ever seen a Japanese Maple tree, you will know just how vibrant the leaves are. With deeply rich red colors in the fall, this is a tree that makes a powerful impact. Let’s learn when the best time to plant a Japanese Maple is and how to care for it.
When to plant Japanese Maple: Adding a Japanese Maple tree to your yard is a fantastic idea. Plant these trees in the fall to allow the root structure to take hold. However, you can also plant them in the spring. Japanese Maples need soil that drains well but beyond that, it can be a mixture of sand, clay, or loam. Stake your saplings when they are young to give them support. Find an area that has at least partial shade. While they will grow in full shade, their colors will not be as vibrant.
Planting Japanese Maple in Different Climates
Japanese Maple trees need a colder winter to be dormant, so will not thrive in a tropical climate.
Unless you add extra water and protect your Japanese Maple from the colder summer months, it will not survive in a dry climate.
A temperate climate has the right mixture of cold winters and warm summers for Japanese Maples to grow to their best potential.
A continental climate should be able to support a Japanese Maple. For new seedlings, you may have to cover the tree in the winter and add protection from the hot sun in the summer.
There is not enough warmth in a polar climate for a Japanese Maple tree.
Choosing Japanese Maple Seeds
There are quite a few varieties of Japanese Maple trees to choose from. In fact, there are 17 categories of cultivars. Here are a few of the more popular types.
The most popular category, Japanese Maples within this subset will have that classic red foliage in the fall.
For these cultivars, you can expect orange or bright yellow leaves in the spring before they turn green in the summer. As for the fall, expect a pale yellow-green color.
The defining characteristic of this category has to do with the leaves. They grow in a convex shape with long tendrils on each leaf.
When you see these types of Japanese Maples, you’re in for a treat. The green leaves are a stark contrast to the red bark on the branches.
How to Plant Japanese Maple Seeds
The best time to plant a Japanese Maple tree is in the fall. This should be done about a month before the ground starts to freeze, so September or early October are good options.
Even though your tree will become dormant in the winter, planting it in the fall will give it a good chance to settle into the ground and establish itself.
If you miss the fall window for planting, the next best time is spring. Even though your tree won’t have had a head start in establishing itself, your tree will still grow well starting in the spring.
Ideally, you should have your Japanese Maple tree grow in either full sun or partial shade. While your tree will do well in full sun, if you live in a very hot area, you may want to give it a bit of shade, instead.
Shade is especially important in the first few years of your tree’s life. Too much sun in the first few years can actually scald the tree. If you have full sun and hot temperatures, you may want to consider installing a temporary shade covering over the tree, at least during the peak afternoon hours.
You may have been fascinated with them as a kid and seeing a Japanese Maple tree seed can transport you back to your childhood. Known as “helicopters,” Japanese Maple tree seeds are designed to travel a lot of distance to reach their destination.
With two wings on either side of them, the tree seeds can float down to the ground under the tree or even be transported to a different neighborhood. You can indeed plant these seeds in your garden although if you are going this route, fresh seeds picked right from the tree do better than those that have already fallen.
Take the wings off the pods and place the inner seed into a bowl of water and let it soak for 24 hours. Only the seeds that float will survive.
Once you have your seeds, cover them in the soil in your backyard. Keep the area moist but not too wet and by spring you will see sprouts emerging from the seeds.
Now, even though it is fairly easy to plant Japanese Maple tree seeds, many gardeners prefer to go with seedlings instead. With this method there is a higher chance of the trees taking, so even though you have to spend more money on the seedlings, it will be worth it when you see your tall, stately tree take hold.
Dig a hole
Most seedlings are between one and three years old when you transplant them. Dig the hole you need roughly double the size of the root ball.
Before you place the tree inside the hole, you can add some extra nutrients to help it along. This can include aged compost or manure.
The roots of your Japanese Maple might be a bit tight so you can take this time to loosen it. Move the roots outwards so that they get started on the right path.
Finally, fill the hole back in with soil. Tamp the ground down to make it more compact for the tree.
Depending on the age of your tree, you may want to stake it in order to give it some extra support. This is especially a good idea if you live in an area that has strong winds in the fall and winter.
Japanese Maple trees are pretty hardy. They can withstand soil that has clay, sand, or loam. The key is that the soil should be well-draining.
How to Water Japanese Maple
During the first few years of its life, you should water your Japanese Maple once or twice a week. Its root structure will be small and will need extra help in getting to a water source.
Once your Japanese Maple is more than a few years old, you won’t have to water it. The only exception is if you have intense heat during the summer, in which case you would want to help your tree out, as well as any other trees on your property.
How to Grow Japanese Maple
Adding a ring of bark mulch around the trunk of your Japanese Maple will help keep the soil moist as it will absorb extra moisture.
The trick, however, is to not smother the tree. Add a light layer of mulch near the tree trunk but then increase the depth of the mulch as you move farther away from the trunk.
As long as you start with decent soil, you won’t have to worry about fertilizing your Japanese Maple. The soil, along with water, should be all your tree needs.
You do, however, want to check for signs that your tree needs a bit of help. You can do a quick soil test or look for signs of weakness or stunted growth in your tree. If you see these, then add an all-purpose fertilizer to the ground directly underneath the branches of your tree.
Different varieties of Japanese Maples will produce different sizes. You may want to prune once a year in order to keep your gorgeous tree looking nice and trim.
Winter is the best time for pruning. The tree will be in a dormant state, so you won’t negatively affect any new growth, and there won’t be any leaves so you can see all the branches in the tree.
First, check for any broken branches. Removed these in case they fall down and injure anyone. You don’t want to remove too many branches as this will weaken your tree.
Instead, cut a few branches off where they join other branches. Never top a tree as this will weaken it and make it susceptible to diseases.
How long does Japanese Maple take to grow?
Overall, Japanese Maple trees are pretty slow to grow. They can take up to 20 years to reach their full size.
Because some varieties are smaller than others, it can be hard to know how large your tree will be, unless you are the one who planted it.
Some varieties of Japanese Maples can be grown in a container and only reach up to 6 feet tall. Others, that definitely need to go in a garden, can reach 15 feet tall.
Japanese Maple trees are a real delight in any garden. The bright leaves in the fall are absolutely brilliant and the trees are relatively easy to care for.