Growing Japanese Maples

For a blaze of autumn colour in even the smallest garden, go for the bright and bold foliage of a Japanese maple.

Growing Japanese Maples

As the name suggests, these maples are native to Japan, growing as understorey trees in forests and the edges of woodlands.

Treasured for their dazzling autumn foliage display, they have been cultivated in Japan for centuries and in the West since the 1800s.

Deciduous small trees or large shrubs, Japanese maples are all slow-growing plants.

They are happy in full to part sun, as long as they have protection from harsh conditions.

Most grow to about four metres, though under ideal conditions some can reach 10m high.

Autumn colour can be red, green, yellow or purple in a variety of leaf shapes and sizes.

The best seasonal colour is shown in climates with clearly defined seasons.

Japanese maples must go dormant over winter, so they have a hard time surviving in climates where it doesn’t get cold enough.

The leaves have five, seven or nine lobes and are usually from 40 to 120mm long.

They range from the broad classic maple form to fine or cut leaves, which are heavily lobed, to filigree or dissected lace-like foliage, and even variegated.

The names of maples give a clue about the foliage. Atropurpureum means purple or red leaves and is used as a generic name as well as a particular cultivar.

These types prefer afternoon shade as their leaves discolour with too much sun or too much shade. Dissectum varieties have finely cut leaves that can be barely thicker than the skeleton of the leaf veins.

These plants need protection from wind and hot sun, as they scorch easily. TIP Small-leafed Japanese maples are particularly popular as bonsai plants.

1. Weeping maples
1. Weeping maples

A popular type of dwarf maple is formed by grafting a fine-leafed Japanese maple with a weeping habit onto an upright understock.

The tree will generally grow only as tall as the understock, usually one or two metres.

Most commonly grown as a feature tree, they also take on starring roles in rockeries and in large pots.

Some have lollipop-like, straight forms, while others fall in rippling waves that would look at home in a Japanese watercolour.

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