Guide to Japanese Maple Trees

Guide to Japanese Maple Trees

photo of tall purple japanes maple tree


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Japanese Maple Trees – Buying & Growing Guide

photo of tall purple japanes maple tree


Guest Author:  Mary Van Keuren

Japanese maple trees are striking landscape plants that stand out for both the color and form of their leaves as well as for the tree’s silhouette, which provides winter interest in the garden even after the leaves have been shed. Although Japanese maples may look like a high-maintenance trees, they are not, and are well within the reach of even a beginning gardener. To learn more about how to grow and take care of Japanese maple trees, check out this guide:

How to Grow Japanese Maple Trees

How to plant Japanese maple trees

Plant your Japanese maple sapling in the spring after the last frost or in early fall – avoid summer, as the heat can be a stressor on the young plant. Choose a sheltered site that gets filtered or partial sunlight, with soil that drains easily and has a neutral to slightly acidic pH.

Dig a hole in your chosen spot that is several times wider than the root ball and just as deep. Scatter some thoroughly decomposed compost in the bottom of the hole. Unpot or unwrap the plant and tease out any encircling roots to avoid strangling the tree. Place the sapling in the hole with the soil surface at the same level as the top of the root ball. Fill the hole with soil mixed amended with compost.

Tamp the soil down firmly and water your tree deeply, but stop if the water starts to pool around the root ball. Japanese maples like moist soil but do not do well if their roots are waterlogged. Apply a three-inch layer of organic mulch around the root zone, do not allow direct contact with the trunk.

How to achieve maximum results

With more than 700 varieties, there is a Japanese maple tree for every need. To achieve maximum results, make sure the one you choose is suited to your climate and soil type. There are dwarf varieties that do well as container specimens, and Japanese maple is even a favorite plant for bonsai use. Although Japanese maples do not need a lot of care once established, it is worth the investment to pamper your newly-planted tree with regular watering and mulching, as well as protection against frost damage.

photo of small japanese maple tree


How to Care for Japanese Maple Trees

Watering and nutrients

For the first few months after planting, water your Japanese maple twice a week. Once you see new growth, your plant needs about an inch of rain or supplemental watering a week. If you are experiencing drought conditions, increase your watering accordingly.

Feed your Japanese maple in the spring with a slow-release balanced fertilizer designed for landscape trees. Each year, rake off the mulch and add a layer of compost to the planting site, followed by fresh organic mulch.


Nursery-bought Japanese maples are usually propagated by grafting a particular variety to a sturdy rootstock, rather than seed grown. However, the trees do naturally flower and set seeds. They are self-pollinating, with honeybees and other insects doing the work of moving pollen from the female to the male organs in the flower.


Examine your tree carefully in early spring and prune out any diseased or broken branches, as well as any branches that are rubbing against each other. You can also prune for form, trimming branches that are too low or take away from the tree’s attractiveness. If the center of the tree seems densely packed, a little judicious pruning of branches will help open up the canopy to light and air.

Pests, diseases, and animals

Pests that prey on Japanese maple trees include Japanese beetles, mites, scale, and mealybugs. A blast from the hose may dislodge the larger bugs. For scale insects, use an insecticide product formulated to kill them.

Japanese maples are susceptible to several fungal diseases, including canker, verticillium wilt, and anthracnose. Stop infections before they begin by planting resistant varieties, and keeping the area around the tree free of debris. Water with a soaker hose or turn your hose on at a trickle and leave it near the roots. Avoid overhead watering to keep the leaves dry.

About the Author:   Gardener (30+ Years Experience)  Mary is a lifelong gardener — she started growing radishes and lettuce in her family’s garden at the age of five. Over the years, she has tended vegetable gardens in multiple climes, including the United States, England, and sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, Mary is a hobby farmer who grows and preserves most of her food in Macedon, New York. Her areas of expertise include organic vegetable gardening and permaculture. She is passionate about the use of native plants and wildflowers to rejuvenate landscapes and attract wildlife and pollinators.