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Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum "Crimson Queen"


BOTANICAL NAME: Acer palmatum (A-sir pal-MAY-tum)

FAMILY: Aceraceae (Maple Family)

TYPE: Deciduous small tree

HEIGHT: 6 to 20 feet

SPREAD:  10 to 20 feet

FINAL SPACING: 10 to 15 feet


NATURAL HABITAT AND PREFERRED SITE:  Japanese maple is native to Japan and China but adapts well to typical garden soils in Texas. It needs moisture and good drainage. Most of these trees prefer filtered light or morning sun with afternoon shade. The green Acer palmatum tends to be able to stand the most direct sun.

IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION:  Japanese maples range tremendously in size, appearance, leaf texture and color from dwarf, lacy- leafed varieties to very tall wide-leafed varieties and cultivars. Fall color can range from yellows and gold to deep reds and maroons.

FLOWERS AND FRUIT: Flowers of most Japanese maples are insignificant and the bloom effect comes from the unfolding of the colorful new foliage growth in the spring. The fruit is a typical maple samara (winged fruit) appearing in the late summer and fall.

BARK:  Ranges tremendously from green through various shades of gray and brown to even red bark on the Acer palmatum ‘Coralbark’.

FOLIAGE:  Japanese maple foliage is fascinating. The leaves range tremendously in size, shape and color. Some species have delicate, lacy, deeply cut leaves, and others are almost rounded and some resemble elm leaves. The color varies as much ranging from green to various shades of reds, pinks, oranges, and greens. Some varieties have string like leaves and several all variegated with dramatic combination of colors.




CULTURE:  Most varieties of Japanese maple are easy to grow in Texas as long as they are given ample moisture and some protection from the hot afternoon sun. The red leafed varieties are the most susceptible to the foliage edges burning. When this happens there is really not much that can be done other than change the location of the plant. Japanese maples can be grown in pots. One of the best for pots is the A. palmatum disectum. Japanese maple needs a moderate amount of fertilizer.


PROBLEMS:  Few other than the scorch of the leaves during the summer. In most cases cold damage is not a worry unless an extremely hard freeze follows a long warm spell and the plant has not had time to harden off.

PROPAGATION:  Done primarily from seed and grafting but also budding and layering. An excellent way to get exactly the Japanese maple you want is to do air layering.


INSIGHT:  Yes, it is an introduced plant but it adapts well into Texas gardens. 


QUESTION: I planted a Japanese maple in May of last year. Recently, I noticed damage to the lower trunk of the tree, and I'm not sure what to do. I did find the cause: cats using the tree as a scratching post. I thought about placing chicken wire around the base of the tree to keep the cats away. I'm not sure whether to let the trunk heal on its own or try a remedy of some sort. --C.C., Dallas


ANSWER: Chicken wire arranged very loosely around the trunk would be fine as long as you promise to check it frequently to make sure it isn't touching or cutting into the tree. Apply my Tree Trunk Goop to the wound. This is a mixture of equal amounts of compost, soft rock phosphate and natural diatomaceous earth. Add water until the mixture becomes paste-like, and then slather it on the damaged area. Reapply after rain or sprinklers wash it off.


QUESTION: I have a 20-year-old Japanese maple that is showing serious signs of decline. I carefully dug out the soil around the trunk and found that the root flare was covered by 5 or 6 inches of soil. It is now exposed. What happens next? I have never read what to expect with a depression in the ground at the base of a tree. Will the root flare of the tree, if it survives, literally rise up to the correct level? Or will I have a depression around the trunk forever? B.R., Dallas


ANSWER: The hole you describe is merely a cosmetic problem. The flare will grow in most cases and expand to fill the hole over time. Follow the rest of my Sick Tree Treatment procedure, which includes aerating the soil and applying organic amendments. The tree should respond next spring. The number of years required for the root flare to grow and fill the hole varies with the age and type of tree.


'Crimson Queen dissectum' my oldest Japanese maple


Japanese maples are, as I assume you have figured out without my help, not from Texas. They are from Japan. Most of them prefer filtered sunlight, bright light under tall trees or morning sun with afternoon shade. Those are the conditions that most of my many Japanese maples have. On the other hand, my favorite of these wonderful trees is the mother of most of the hybrids and the one that could best take your conditions. Acer palmatum is the basic green Japanese maple. It is a lime green during the growing season which is quite pleasant, but the fall color is dramatic. The foliage turns an electric red-orange that is a show stopper. This splendid little tree will grow even in full sun - as long as the soil is healthy, which of course comes only under a organic program.


Acer palmatum 'Baby Ghost' leafs out in the spring deep amber to red with green veins. It is the shortest of the ghost series of Japanese maples and forms an upright tree to 6-8 ft. with a broad spreading canopy that is almost as wide as it is tall. Fall colors are bright orange to red. It is one of the hardest in the ghost series to find but a true gem.



Acer palmatum - Baby Ghost




Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium' (Full Moon Maple) has the largest leaves of all Japanese maples. It is slow growing to 18' with red fall color mixed with oranges and yellows. Best planted in morning sun, afternoon shade.



Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium' - Full Moon Maple



'Mikawa Yatsubusa' is a unique Acer palmatum that is a true dwarf and slow growing to 5’. The foliage has leaves that are unusually close together and layered on curving branches. Fall color is scarlet, orange and yellow. Samara are red and decorative. It will tolerate some sun but best to have some afternoon shade. It was the Maple society's Maple of the Year in 2015.


Acer palmatum - Mikawa Yatsubusa



'Murasaki Kiyohime' Acer palmatum is a great dwarf Japanese maple with dramatic spring color showing red-purple leaf borders with green centers. Fall color is yellow, orange and red. Mine stays dense, rounded and low to the ground. Great in containers and works well for bonsai.


Murasaki kiyohime (dwarf Japanese maple)

Murasaki kiyohime (dwarf Japanese maple)


Close: Murasaki kiyohime

Even closer: Murasaki kiyohime


Green Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, are the species maples that many of the hybrids were bred from. These are among my favorites but harder to find in nurseries. They are green in summer but have dramatic red-orange fall color. They grow larger than many of the hybrids and can take quite a bit of full sun compared to other Japanese maples.


Acer palmatum, green Japanese maples (species)



Green Japanese maple, fall color


Acer palmatum Var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen' is typically a rounded, slow-growing tree that rarely matures to more than 12' tall with a larger spread. These dissected-leaf plants are commonly called laceleaf, cutleaf or threadleaf Japanese maples. Dissectum means deeply cut in reference to the deeply cut, feathery nature of the leaves. It is a popular cultivar noted for excellent leaf color retention through the growing season. Small reddish flowers in spring give way to samaras that ripe late summer to early fall. As with many maples, the flowers are attractive close up, but are not showy from a distance.








'Orangeola' Japanese Maple fall color



Two new entries in 2022: Pine bark Japanese maples Nishiki Gawa and Arakawa





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