Every home garden needs at least one Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) especially selected as a specimen plant for a “show” spot.

There is so much information about these gorgeous trees that it is impossible to cover it all. So, I will give you enough to whet your appetite!

Most Japanese maples are hardy in our zone 8. They prefer part-shade, especially when our Texas sun is boiling during summer afternoons. Maples prefer moist, well-drained areas. Spring and autumn colors are my absolute favorite times for our maples, with spring being the most favorite due to the delicate fresh new leaf color.

Japanese maples cannot take strong, sweeping wind. Think strongly before placing one of these beauties on the west side of the home unless it is protected by a fence, or larger shade trees. You could use shorter ones as understudies, as you would some azaleas. The soil should be amended, and mounded up by six inches so the roots will not be in a soggy area. However, keep the soil away from the trunk.

The maples need frequent watering, and very little fertilizer is needed. We use Dyna-Gro. They are adaptable to most soil types, and a bit of occasional compost keep them happy. Mulch is important to conserve moisture and help protect the roots, which are not deep at all.

Japanese maples also do well planted in containers. Large, deep pots, or saucer-type containers work well. Avoid a potting soil that is high in nitrogen. When a large deep pot is selected, packing peanuts are great for one-half the depth of the pot. This allows for better drainage. When containers are used, a fertilizer is essential, but only a very limited amount is to be used. Every few years, container maples must be transplanted to larger containers, and their roots trimmed. Maples may also be trained into Bonsai.

Now, as I look out over our back gardens, with ice covering the graceful silhouettes of the bare maple limbs, I have discovered a wonderful new love for the different shapes and colors of their fabulous bark–especially the brilliant red bark of the wonderful Fjellheim Sango Kaku.

Japanese maples can have hundreds of variations in color, height, width, leaf texture and shape, as well as tree shape. Many take on a shrub appearance, while others grow tall, with arching branches. There are more than 700 unique cultivars. I am quite fond of the lace-like leaves. A few of my favorite maples are as follows:

  • Waterfall
  • Oregon Fern (Acer Japonicum)
  • Inaba shidare
  • Shin deshojo (our largest)
  • Sango kaku
  • Crimson Queen
  • Shishigashira
  • Emperor I
  • Emerald Lace
  • Boskoop Glory
  • Bloodgood
  • Shaina
  • Moonfire

Hopefully, this brief overview of Japanese maples will spark an interest for some. There are so many fantastic books about Japanese maples – my favorite is JAPANESE MAPLES, (J.D. Vertrees), third edition – revised and expanded by Peter Gregory. There is a society for “Maple Nuts”, and it is The North American Branch of The Maple Society. The sponsoring big brother is The Maple Society in the UK. For interest in our North American Branch, please contact me at 903-561-3919. We have previously met in Cirencester, England; Laytonville, California; Chicago, Illinois; Vancouver, Canada; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and will have our next meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Other locations for the next few years may include Oregon, Japan and England. If you have been sparked with interest, Happy Growing!

Sharon Nelson, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Did you know that you can grow Japanese maples from seeds? Just collect them, place them in a bag of damp vermiculite and peat moss, and put them in the refrigerator. In the spring, plant them in pots.

So why doesn’t everyone do it? The answer, sadly enough, is that there is no guarantee that the same type of maple will grow from the seeds. But wait! There is a use for these unknown cultivars of maples. Here is a good opportunity to practice grafting by selecting a scion from one of your favorite maples and grafting it to the new plant. Read up on grafting (it’s not that difficult) and give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised at inexpensively growing your own Japanese maples and having some fun at the same time.

Keith Smith, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


When considering a new addition to your landscape, a Japanese maple will fit almost any need. There are more than 300 cultivars, ranging from extreme dwarf with tiny leaves to large, bold, upright types with large leaves.

Few garden plants compare to Japanese maples for their pure display of color, variation of form, and awe-inspiring beauty. In spring they bring subtle, unusual texture to the early garden as leaves emerge in colors of burgundy, pink, gold and crimson, slowly fading to summer green. Then, in the fall, the fireworks begin. Despite appearing delicate and fussy, the Japanese maple is easy to grow and care for. Cold hardiness varies from one cultivar to another, but most grow well in zones 5-8 (Smith County, TX is zone 7b/8a).

Japanese maples grow slowly to only 10-20 feet tall, making them excellent choices for small spaces and large containers. Here in the South, choose a site with partial shade and a position where you can easily view the splendor of this magnificent tree.

Belinda Ferrell, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Trees