Japanese Maples are some of the best four season interest trees available to gardeners. In winter these trees provide a beautiful silhouette of branches that twist and turn ever so gracefully, carrying your eye from the base of the tree to the very tips of the canopy.
The first set of growth in spring truly sets these trees apart from all others; leaves emerge with unsurpassed tones of reds, oranges, yellows and chartreuse greens. In late spring, as the leaves begin to develop their summer colour, many green and yellow leaved varieties will produce crimson red samaras that provide a beautiful contrast.
Throughout the early summer, leaves will harden off and by late summer many cultivars will show early signs of the fall colour that is soon to come.
In fall the show begins again as leaves quickly turn shades of pastel red, burnt orange and bright gold. Japanese maples also tend to hold their fall colour for an exceptionally long time before dropping leaf and entering dormancy.
Not only are Japanese Maples some of the most beautiful trees in the world, they are also incredibly adaptable and relatively easy to care for.
Most varieties will tolerate conditions varying from full shade to nearly full sun (provided the trees are watered regularly and the soil has adequate moisture retention) and little to no fertilization is required. The leaves tend to be relatively small and will break down quickly meaning little clean up is needed.
Japanese Maples have non-invasive roots that perform very well in confined spaces making them an excellent choice for containers.
Below I have listed a few of our favourite Japanese Maples
Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ is the gold standard of yellow leaved Japanese Maples. Leaves emerge a beautiful chartreuse colour in early spring and age to a vibrant, almost iridescent yellow. In fall the foliage will develop streaks of deep orange and red. This tree is slow growing to 10-12’ (easily kept smaller with annual pruning) and grows best when shaded from the afternoon sun.
Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ is commonly known as the “coral bark maple” and for good reason. In fall when the foliage sheds, the fiery red stems of this cultivar are revealed. The red stems will continue to intensify in colour as the weather gets progressively colder. Foliage on this variety emerges lime green with bright red margins and fall colour consists of yellows, oranges and deep reds. This variety is fairly vigorous and grows quickly for a Japanese Maple, eventually reaching a size of 15’.
Acer palmatum ‘Mikawa yatsubusa’ is a very slow growing dwarf cultivar incredibly well suited to bonsai and container gardening. Lime green leaves are tightly grouped along the deep green bamboo-like stems. Acer palmatum ‘mikawa yatsubusa’ has a wonderful architectural presence and truly shines when situated in a rockery or along a water feature. In late spring this tree produces bright red flowers that develop into crimson samaras that contrast beautifully with the foliage. Slow growing to 6’ and easily kept to a much smaller size with occasional pruning.
Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ truly is the king of Japanese Maples when it comes to spring colour. Leaves on this variety emerge a breath taking radiant pink, eventually fading to soft green. The new growth continues to emerge a salmon pink creating a wonderful contrast to the now predominately green canopy. In fall the tree continues to impress with bright scarlet red and apricot fall colour. This variety is slow growing to 8-10’ and easily kept smaller with annual pruning.
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In addition check out our Japanese Maple Guide and Plant List