Japanese Maple

The Japanese maple is one of the most popular plants. Its poise, its elegance, its rusticity, but above all its webbed leaves call a lot of attention. We do not know if it is because there is no plant in the West that looks like it, or because we are not used to see bushes or saplings of this type, but the reality is that the Acer palmatumconquers the gardens of the whole world. Well, the gardens and the patios, since by tolerating pruning very well, it can be grown even in a pot.

For several centuries we have been working as Bonsai, both in Japan and in China, where this art emerged, and with patience and perseverance, we have achieved truly amazing works. But what are the characteristics of the Japanese maple? And how do you take care of yourself? Of all this and much more we are going to talk about this special.

japanese maple

Characteristics of the Japanese Maple

The Japanese maple, or Acer palmatum in botanical terms, is a shrub or small deciduous tree, that is, that fall in autumn, originating in Japan and South Korea. It grows to a height between 6 and 10 meters , although there is some other variety that can reach 15m. The leaves are of an interesting size: between 4 and 10cm wide and high; These are clapped, with up to 9 finished lobes. In autumn, this plant dresses up, acquiring reddish or purple tones before letting the breeze of the wind drop its effective leaf blades.

The flowers are distributed in inflorescences called vertices, that is to say, that the terminal flower of the axis is the first that opens, and the others develop laterally. Each of them has 5 whitish petals. They sprout in the spring, to have the winged sámaras ready-their seeds-towards the autumn, which will be the moment to collect them and stratify them in the fridge (more ahead we will see how to do it).

This plant vegetates in temperate-fresh climates, with temperatures between 30ºC maximum and -18ºC minimum . For this reason, they can have serious problems in climates where mercury rises more in summer. But we are not going to finish this special without giving you some tricks so that you can also have one ????.


Subspecies of the Japanese Maple

There are many cultivars and we could think that they all come from a single subspecies, but the truth is that only three subspecies are recognized:

  • Acer palmatum subsp. Matsumurae: it is the one with the largest leaves, up to 12cm wide, with double-serrated margins. Live in Japan, at high altitudes.
  • Acer palmatum subsp. Palmatum: is the one with the smallest leaves, up to 7cm wide, with double-serrated margins. Live at a low altitude, in the center and south of Japan.
  • Acer palmatum subsp. Amoenum: has leaves up to 10cm wide, with margins serrated. He lives in the highest altitudes of Japan and South Korea.

Cultivars of the Japanese Maple

And speaking of cultivars, do you know there are around 1000? It says soon, right? But there are a thousand Japanese maples with which you can decorate your garden. These can only be reproduced by grafting, a technique that allows trees to grow rapidly and with certain characteristics. In this sense, the experts choose those cultivars that stand out for some reason or another: either by having a light colored or darker leaf, by the size they have, by the size they reach, etc. One of the main advantages that grafts have over plants obtained from seed is that, if you acquire a graft, you can be completely sure that it will not exceed 5m in height.

The cultivars come from mutated plants or have been artificially selected over many generations. Many of them have their own characteristics in different seasons; namely: different color on the leaves, more or less bright bark. This is a problem, since a cultivar can have many names.

Examples of cultivars

It is difficult to make a list of the most impressive Japanese maple cultivars, since we can all have our own opinion about each of them. But hey, here is a small selection of those that are easier to find in the nurseries , or that for one reason or another we think can be great plants for both garden and pot:

  • Atropurpureum : it is, by far, the best known. It has intense red leaves throughout the year.
  • Bloodgood : is an improved cultivar of Atropurpureum. It resists better the high temperatures.
  • Butterfly : has leaves with white edges.
  • Defoliation: its leaves are bright and soft red.
  • Dissectum : leaves shaped like needles.
  • Katsura : yellow and green leaves, dotted with orange.
  • Little Princess : small size (does not exceed 2m), with irregular bearing.
  • Osakazuki : shrub or small tree that acquires a spectacular red tone in autumn.
  • Sango Kaku: beautiful tree with red or pink leaves in autumn.
  • Seiryu : finely dissected leaves, orange-reddish in autumn.

Care of the Japanese Maple

Japanese maple is an ideal plant to have in pots or in gardens, but … how do you take care of yourself? Well, as you need the same care in one place as in another, let’s see it separately:

Japanese Maple In Pots


This plant, if you want to grow it in a pot, you must plant it in a well drained substratum, which also has a low pH, between 4 and 6. Ideally, you should use a specific substratum for acidophilic plants, but if you live in a climate Warm, I recommend you mix 70% of akadama with 30% of Kiryuuzuna. In this way, the roots will remain properly aerated, and they will be able to bring the water quickly to the leaves, preventing them from drying out.


The irrigation will have to be frequent, since it does not resist the drought. For this, we will also use an acidic water (you can acidify it by diluting the liquid of half a lemon in 1l / water), or rain, at least 3-4 times a week ; Something more in summer.


Place your Japanese maple in a place where the sun does not shine directly . There are some cultivars, such as Seiryu or Osakazuki, that can tolerate a few hours of direct sunlight, but it is preferable not to risk. The area where it has to be very bright, but always avoiding that the sun’s rays hit directly on its leaves, it could burn them.


Japanese maples in pots must be transplanted every 2 years , especially if a very porous substrate is used or lived in a climate that is appropriate for them. It will be done towards the end of winter, when the risk of frost has passed, planting them in a pot about 4cm wider minimum.


Care in the garden


The soil where the Japanese maple must be planted should have a pH between 4 and 6 . It could also thrive on limestone soils, to which pine leaves and / or iron sulphate were added regularly to maintain the pH at values ​​suitable for Japanese maple.


The irrigation will have to be regular, between 2 and 3 times per week ; up to 4 during the warmer months of the year.


Japanese maple does not like direct sun, so it is convenient to locate it in an area where there are tall plants or walls , which protect it from the sun’s rays.


If you want to pass it to your garden, you must do it during the spring , before its leaves sprout. To do this, make a hole large enough to fit properly, place your maple, and fill the hole with substrate for acidophilic plants (if the soil you have has a pH between 4 and 6, you can use the soil that you extracted from the hole ).


When and how is the Japanese Maple pruned?

Pruning allows us to have plants with a smaller, more compact size. There are some cultivars that can grow a lot, maybe more than what you expect and / or want, so in these cases it is very advisable to prune it. Also, if we have a Japanese maple bonsai, we will also have to maintain it with the style defined by pruning.

The most recommended time is in autumn or towards the end of winter , when the tree is not yet fully active. Once we have decided on the day we are going to prune it, we will take a hand saw and a pair of pruning shears and proceed to remove or cut off those branches that:

  • they intersect
  • they are too long
  • guide (this will be cut to force the tree to remove lower branches)
  • look weak or sick

Japanese Maple fertilizer

The fertilizer is very important for all plants, except for carnivorous plants. For proper development and growth, they must be fertilized from spring until the end of summer . It is also possible in autumn if you live in a warm climate.

In the case of Japanese maple, it must be fertilized with a specific product for acidic plants , following the recommendations indicated on the package (normally, it is once a week); although to get a more vigorous, healthier plant, I recommend fertilizing one month and another not with liquid organic fertilizers, such as guano, which has a quick effect.

Pests and diseases of the Japanese Maple

Japanese maple is one of the plants that, although it may seem otherwise, does not usually affect many pests or diseases. In fact, the most common are, on the one hand, the cottony woodlice , and perhaps the red spider or the aphid if the environment is very dry; and on the other hand, it could affect fungi of the genus Phytophthora .

¿ How to prevent the maple have these problems ? Following these tips:

  • It is necessary to avoid that the substrate is flooded . Whenever in doubt, put a wooden stick in the pot or soil to check the moisture of the substrate or soil: if it comes out practically clean, it is because it is dry and therefore should be watered. In the case that you have used a gravel type substrate, such as akadama and kyriuzuna, stir it a little to see if it is still wet (if it is, it will still have a darker brown tone).
  • It should provide a humid environment . To increase the humidity, you can put some glasses with water around. I advise against spraying, since the water remaining in the leaves could plug the pores and, as a result, the plant would have trouble breathing.
  • It is advisable to make preventive treatments with ecological insecticides, such as nettle slurry or Neem oil that you will find in nurseries and / or in gardening stores. You can also prepare at home some remedies, such as making an infusion with garlic cloves, strain it, and pulverize the plant when it has stopped burning.

And, what to do to solve them? In that case, we must choose to use insecticides and / or fungicides as the case may be . If you have pillbugs or another pest, they have to be eliminated with Chlorpyrifos or Imidacloprid; On the other hand, if they are fungi, in addition to reducing the frequency of irrigations, it is necessary to treat them with a broad spectrum fungicide.


Reproduction of the Japanese Maple

Do you dare to have your own Japanese maple? The experience can be really enriching , from which we can learn a lot from this wonderful bush or tree.

It can be reproduced by seeds, cuttings, aerial layering or by grafting.

Reproduction by seeds

Japanese maple seeds should be collected in the fall, to have them in the refrigerator for three months, at a temperature of 6-7 ° C, since they need to go cold to germinate. Once you have them, introduce them in a transparent tupper with vermiculite, and cover them with a thin layer of more vermiculite. Then, you just have to water a little and add a pinch of sulfur or copper to prevent the fungi from proliferating. Also, it is important that, at least once a week, take the tupper from the fridge and open it , so that the air is renewed.

When they have passed the three months, you can plant them in pots with substrate for acid plants, placing them in a location sheltered from the direct sun. If all goes well, they will germinate in one or two months.


Reproduction by cuttings

The method of cutting is one of the fastest and most effective. To make Japanese maple cuttings, you have to select a branch that has a thickness of at least 2cm and a length of 40-50cm, and prune it towards the beginning of spring. Next, you have to moisten your base with water and impregnate it with rooting hormones .

Then, it is planted in a pot with a porous substrate, which will always remain slightly moist. In the course of 5-6 months it will begin to issue roots .

Reproduction by air layering

But if you want to have a Japanese maple and you do not want to take any kind of risk, then the best thing you can do is layer it. To do this, you must remove a good piece of bark (about 10cm wide), moisten it with water and impregnate it with rooting hormones. Then, you have to pass a bag, which will be tied at one end to the branch, fill it with specific substrate for acid plants, moisten it, and then tie the other end .

The substrate must be kept moist , which can be done with the help of a syringe about 3-4 times a week. In the course of 4-6 months it will begin to emit roots.

Reproduction by grafting

Grafting is the method most used by experts to obtain new and more wonderful cultivars. It is done as follows:

  • Once the rootstock is chosen, that is, the plant to which a branch of another Japanese maple is going to be introduced, a deep cut will be made to one of its woody stems in spring.
  • Next, we proceed to cut a semi – woody branch -which will be the graft-, and introduce it into the rootstock .
  • Finally, everything is attached well with adhesive tape for grafts.

If all goes well, within two to four months of the graft will begin to sprout leaves . By the way, do not forget to remove the leaflets that come out to the rootstock, since it takes energy from the graft and may not develop well.

Uses of Japanese Maple

Japanese maple is used as an ornamental plant , either in the garden, in a pot or as a bonsai, since it was exported in the 19th century from Japan. Currently, you can find it living in all the temperate climates of the world, not only in Asia, but also in Europe, America and Australia.

Don Burke

I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide.  I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.

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