Japanese Maples are some of the most brilliant trees to add to your landscape when vibrant colors are desired and the colors aren’t limited to only shades of red. When it comes to Japanese Maples most people think of the classic upright Japanese Maple tree with a silvery-grey trunk and dark burgundy leaves. However, there is a huge variety of these trees that differ in shapes, sizes and color.
FIRST: A Little History
Japanese Maples have been cultivated since 700 BC in Japan, but they’re also native to China and Korea. With centuries of cultivation it’s no wonder that these maples have a ton of unique characteristics. They made their way to England in 1820, and spread around the world from there. They quickly became popular because of their fall colors that are far from ordinary.
A Swedish botanist, Carl Peter Thunburg traveled to Japan in the early 1800s and began drawing portraits of Japanese maples, similar to the artist oriental paintings of them. He gave these trees their ‘Palmatum’ name for their hand shaped leaves. This similar to the names, ‘kaede’ and ‘momiji’ given to them in Japan which mean frog hand and baby hand.
Speaking of leaf shape…
Japanese maples have two different main leaf shapes. Disctum and Palmatum. Palmatum leaves have five wide leaf blades that grow from the center of the leaf into points. Disctum leaves are very thin, and grow out into points from where the leaf meets the stem. They’re so thin that they are often referred to as lace leaves.
The Right Fit For The Job
No matter what your gardening project is there is a Japanese Maple that will fit perfectly into your landscape. With so many different shapes and sizes among different Japanese Maple varieties you can choose between a small tree to keep in a container or a large shade tree.
Some Japanese maples have an upright, vase-like shape with multiple trunks, similar to crape myrtles. An example of one with a vase shape is the Bloodgood Japanese Maple.
The Red Dragon Japanese maple is example of one that grows upright, with a single hardy trunk. Similar to the shape of the traditional maples native to America.
Other Japanese maples weep like miniature weeping willows, with branches that gracefully arch over and sweep the ground. Generally under the canopy of weeping maples you will find that the trunks and branches curve in many different directions. The Weeping Japanese Maple ‘Viridis’ is an excellent example of this.
Let’s Talk Color
When it comes to fall colors most trees have green leaves that turn either red, yellow, or orange. Japanese Maples are leaps ahead of that game. Some have leaves that start off every spring with dark crimson leaves that almost appear purple. As the season heats up if they get too hot they will start to turn green, before turning a shade of bright red in the fall. Golden leaves tinged with orange will turn green, and green leaves will turn shades or bright orange and red with splashes of yellow. Some varieties have leaves that go from red to bright orange and yellow.
Even in the winter, when the leaves are gone Japanese Maples display brilliant color with their silvery-grey trunks that standout against barren winter landscapes. Although, the Coral Bark Japanese Maple has a bright red trunk that really stands out against the snow!
Since Japanese Maples have been cultivated for hundreds of years the top varieties today are extremely easy to care for. They have evolved into low maintenance, fuss-free trees.
When planting your Japanese Maple trees look for an area of your yard that receives full to partial sunlight. They can tolerate full sun, but prefer to get a little shade at some point during the day.
Most Japanese Maples are recommended for growing zones 5 through 9. If you live above zone 5 simply place your tree in a container and bring it indoors during the winter months.
If you plan to keep your Japanese Maple in a container either all year or just during the winter months place it by a large sunny window when kept indoors.
Make sure that the container for your tree has drainage holes at the bottom, if it doesn’t you can easily add a few with a drill.
Japanese Maples will adapt to your natural soil, even if it’s sandy or heavy in clay as long as it drains well and doesn’t hold a lot of water. These trees really aren’t picky when it comes to dirt, but they are sensitive to over watering. Make sure that your trees don’t sit in a low area of the yard that’s prone to flooding or that collects a lot of standing puddles.
Don’t worry about a watering schedule with these trees, instead go out and check on them every few days. Once the soil feels like it’s close to drying out give your tree a slow drink of water by holding a hose to its base and counting to 20. If your tree is in a container it may dry out faster than it would if planted in the ground. Water your potted tree until water comes out the bottom of the pot.
Typically Japanese Maples don’t need any fertilizer, unless you know that your lawn is lacking in nutrients. If you need to fertilize your trees give them some well-balanced organic fertilizer like formula 10-10-10.
About The Seeds…
Our Japanese Maples are grafted, not grown from seed. By taking a cutting from a mature and healthy root stock and grafting a stem or branch to it we will ensure that we get healthy, disease resistant, beautiful trees every time.
Japanese Maples produce small flowers every spring that are small and easy to miss. The flowers can be self-pollinated or cross pollinated. If pollination is achieved your tree will produce seeds, that are known as samaras. Samaras consist of two seeds in winged pods attached at ends.
At first they’re a shade of light green but as they mature they turn shades of red or brown. Once they change colors they will be ready to drop from the tree and you can watch them gracefully fall. Most people refer to them as helicopter seeds, because when the fall off of the tree they spin in the wind.
Because Japanese Maples can be self-pollinated or cross pollinated it’s hard to tell what type of Japanese Maple will grow if the seeds are planted. There is a chance for the seedlings to grow up and look like the same type of maple as its mother if the tree was self-fertilized, but if the tree was cross pollinated by another Japanese Maple in the neighborhood then the new tree could turn out completely different.
Sometimes the seeds can be completely sterile and not even produce new saplings.
Add a touch of Exotic Zen to Your Garden
With all the different Japanese Maples big and small it’s hard not to find one that fits perfectly into the landscape. Whether you’re looking for a tree to be the center of attention, to accent your garden, or to frame your entry ways consider a Japanese Maple for the job. They add color and elegance to the scenery.
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