Doesn’t everyone love Japanese maples? And with their elegant shape and gorgeous, and seasonally changing, colors, who wouldn’t? Red, orange, yellow, the leaves stand out in the Fall…
We stick with the Bloodgood Japanese maples grown from seed – they have the classic japanese maple tree and leaf shape that we all love and a tenacity that the grafted maples do not have. Maybe once you have nurtured one of these Bloodgoods for a while you will want to try the increasingly more unique and difficult to grow grafted types. We don’t raise ours from seed since we can so easily get starts from suppliers – we use Lawyer’s Nursery.
And it turns out that seed plants do not breed true, sometimes forming the brilliant red leaf of the Bloodgood and sometimes forming a “sport” that has a very different leaf shape – it could turn out lacy, for example. This is how the vast variety of these trees have increased – nurseries or gardeners have taken one of these sports and grafted it. If you were to collect seed from a sport, that sport would generate both plants like it as well as additional sports.
Often noted for its attractive silhouette, the Japanese maple shows nicely when lighted at night – especially in winter when all its leaves are gone. The leaves start out a gorgeous bloody red when they first sprout out (don’t be surprised by the wilted look of the brand new leaves – that’s normal). As the year progresses, the leaf color tones down a little to a ruddy red that takes you all the way to the fall. And then, its blazing red or yellow or orange. The color is a big draw.
The tree will attain a 20 by 20 foot presence at a rate of about 12 inches a year.
The Japanese maple serves well along edges, particularly with plantings under it, or it can add to your deck or patio as a container planting. You can even train it as a standard, but we like it a little more free-wheeling with its own natural shape dominant. Consider placing your tree in front of dark colored conifers. Take advantage of the japanese maples striking colors by choosing a blue or green glazed pot to hold it.
You might consider the japanese maple as a bonsai candidate if you don’t want it as a specimen tree in your yard. But before you go here, take a look at “Bonsai Techniques I” by John Yoshio Naka (Bonsai Institute of California). Bonsai is quite the art form. Milewide is tooling up to offer less stressful ways to grow bonsai using either rosemary or jade plants. We will post about it soon.
As the Halls comment in their excellent “Timber Press Guide to Gardening in the Pacific Northwest”, “…ideal conditions include plenty of moisture, relatively cool growing conditions, summer sun that’s not too hot or intense, and moisture-retentive, slightly acidic loam…”. This means planting on the edges of openings in your garden or in a dappled shade. Direct sun in the morning will work, but not in the afternoon. Consider mulching the soil around your tree to cool down it roots.
Despite these needs, they are a hardy tree, down to zone 5 and 6 and are even drought tolerant – just get there in time. Its leaves will wilt, then burn, then fall off if you aren’t careful. In the early spring, their young, and early, first leaves can get bonked by the frost (yes, “bonked” is a technical term). Since you must protect them from both drying winds and direct sun, they are often situated in a place in your landscape where the frost will bonk ( 😉 ) them the least – under partial cover and away from a steady wind.
Given a well drained soil mix, they live happily in deck or patio containers with otherwise minimal care. But beware, soggy soil can be fatal. They need their water, certainly don’t let them dry out over the summer – their leaves, as we mentioned, will dry and curl up and then drop.
Be very careful with your pruning. They don’t want a lot taken off at any one time. Other than dead or crossing branches, take only a few cuts; then, wait and see before you make more. Remember: you can take it if you leave it, but you can’t glue it back on if you take it. And it really does make its own shape.