In Praise of Japanese Maples

Trees add to the garden landscape in various ways. Often, very large trees will dominate the scene, and bring stability and grandeur to the scene, and shade a large area. In time, they can be desirable components to the garden and add value to the property.

By contrast, small trees contribute to the landscape in different ways, notably as specimen plants that attract the eye with their specific features, e.g., blossoms.

Unless you have a relatively large garden, a large trees can be overwhelming, and a small tree can be a delight.

There are many choices of small trees, which might be called “patio trees,” even though they have roles to play in all parts of the landscape.

Today, let’s review the Japanese Maple, which many gardeners and landscapers regard as the most popular of the small trees.

The true Japanese Maple is Acer palmatum. Other Acer species, including A. japonicum and A. shirasawanum, are also called Japanese Maples, and have attractive characteristics. Still. A. palmatum has been the focus of hybridizers in Japan for centuries, and has been favored by western horticulturists since its introduction to England in 1920. The species now includes well over1,000 cultivars.

The extraordinary range of sizes, forms, leaf shapes and colors of A. palmatum reflect the long history of its development and stimulate the interest of gardeners and landscapers. Those who have the pleasure of gardening in large spaces can be tempted to collect large numbers of A. palmatum cultivars.

For most gardeners, however, even one Japanese Maple can be rewarding. Even very small gardens, including balcony gardens, can be enhanced with one of these trees, which range in mature height from the dwarf varieties (three-to-six feet) up to twenty-five feet. They grow well in containers, and will ”self-stunt” when their roots are confined. This characteristic makes Japanese Maples popular with bonsai artists.

acer-palmatum-unknown-cultivarThe accompanying picture shows one of my Japanese Maples as it begins to show its fall color, which is the typical seasonal variation of these trees. It has grown to about eight feet, with distinctive red twigs, but sadly I have lost track of the cultivar name.

Many gardeners will locate a Japanese Maple as a garden feature or focal point, where the color or leaf form of the selected variety can be appreciated. With this in mind, once you have become interested in adding a Japanese Maple to your landscapes, consider where it would be best located. This decision should involve envisioning the tree in several spots in the garden, and from different perspectives. This process draws upon the most creative work of gardening. Think of your new tree as a living sculpture.

Also, keep in mind that Japanese Maples prefer part sun or indirect light, good drainage and consistent watering. They like a slightly acidic soil and do not like cold winds or salt air. Plan to provide regular watering during the first year after planting.

A Japanese Maple or several of these small trees could enhance your landscape during future years. Right now is a good time to decide on the best location, explore the range of cultivars and choose a fine selection to install in your garden before the start of winter rains.

Article: Nine Japanese Maples for Fall Color, Garden Design magazine

Article: Enchanting Japanese Maples, Fine Gardening magazine

Finding the Japanese Maple you Chose (from On Gardening, 9/7/2008)

Once you have chosen a cultivar, you’ll need to find a grower that actually has a tree of the size you want. Visit these selected websites for contact information.

Note: The Mountain Maples and Eastfork Nursery websites include brief advice for planting, cultivating and pruning Japanese Maples.

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