Japanese maples are ideal as a four-season interest tree that fits well in a small-space garden. There are many varieties of Japanese maples with brilliantly colored leaves, architectural branching structure, and interesting shapes. With so many to choose from, you’re sure to be able to find one or two that would be a strong focal point in your garden. What’s even more fascinating is how they are propagated.
In my small urban garden, I have four Japanese maples. It’s probably one (or three) too many for such a small space but I’m at peace with my penchant for plant hoarding. Let’s not invite any of the other members of my family to weigh in on it though!
Japanese maples grow perfectly in my Vancouver, BC garden. They do well in zones 5 through 8 and like a temperate climate without deep winter freeze or blistering summer sun.
A Japanese maple may be a fair-weather friend, but for those who have the right conditions, you’ll get months of beauty from one small tree.
Japanese maples are beauties all year long with their attractive branch structure in the winter, little helicopter seeds and flowers in the spring, gorgeous full maple leaves in the summer, and brilliant neon-bright color in the fall.
When it comes to small trees, Japanese maples really are the king.
Sponsored Content: this post is sponsored by Monrovia who has generously offered up a giveaway for one of our readers! Be sure to check out the end of this post to see how you can get your hands on a Japanese maple for your garden. All opinions in this post are my own.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Monrovia Nursery in Dayton, Oregon and see how Japanese maples are grown. Monrovia has some absolutely stunning varieties of Japanese maples; just browsing through the pages on their website might even make you tear up when you see the weeping Japanese maples.
Head over to Monrovia’s blog to read a fantastic article on how to select the right Japanese maple for your garden.
During my trip, I got to see two demonstrations from Monrovia Craftspeople on Japanese maples: propagating and pruning.
Propagating Japanese Maples
The Japanese maples Monrovia grows are all grafted on the same rootstock. This means that, no matter what the branches and leaves look like in the end, they all started off with the same seed, Acer palmatum. The rootstock is grown from seed and once they are large enough, different varieties of maple branches will be grafted onto them. This video describes the process of starting the rootstock from seed.
When the saplings are old enough, they are fused with a branch cutting from a different decorative Japanese maple.
Grafting is both an art and a science. It is done by slicing a notch in a tree branch and inserting another branch into the notch. The two are bound together until they fuse together and grow as one. If you have a Japanese maple at home, look to see where this grafting took place on the base of the trunk. There should be a “collar,” or ring, around the grafted branch.
It can be handy to know where a tree has been grafted because if a branch grows from below the collar it will have the characteristics of the original rootstock. I occasionally notice a rogue branch with leaves that are different from the rest of the tree on one of my Japanese maples. This is a result of the grafting process. The branch has some of the characteristics of the rootstock.
I took a little video of this so you can see the process. These guys go so quickly and they make this detailed work looks so easy.
Next, the little sapling with the graft is potted and grown for another few years at Monrovia. Japanese maples take very well to pruning and they are shaped regularly to keep them uniform as they grow large enough to be shipped to the garden centers.
Here’s another video, this time showing the shaping of a young Japanese maple.
Now that you know the story of how Japanese Maples are crafted and cared for, you surely want to adopt one (or several!) for your own garden. Read on for home care tips for Japanese maples.
Planting Japanese Maples at Home
Read the plant tag thoroughly to make sure you’re picking the right tree for your garden. If you want a smaller tree to be grown in a large container, choose a dwarf variety; if you want a small tree to perform as a shrub in your garden, look for a weeping variety; and if you want a decorative statement piece, look for a tall, colorful Japanese maple. Be sure to follow the planting instructions on the label that comes with your Japanese maple to ensure that it transitions well into your garden.
Once you know the right variety of maple for your garden, it’s time to pick out the right shape. Pull the plant away from its brothers and sisters and look at it from all angles. Make sure that the shape is attractive to you. A tree will grow into that exact shape as it gets larger. It could have some pruning to help direct the shape, but the best practice is to choose a tree that you like the shape of when young rather than trying to fix it as it grows older. Try to envision what this little tree will look like when it’s grown to full size.
Pruning Japanese Maples
If you picked out the right tree, you won’t need to do a lot of pruning. It should grow and fill in the space that you’ve provided for it without needing to be cut down for size. It should also have a gorgeous branching structure that’s natural and organic.
If you find that the Japanese maple is getting too dense then it’s best to go into the maple and thin out branches rather than head cutting the branches. The more you go in and remove branches as close to the trunk as possible and keep the organic structure, the more you will be able to see and enjoy the true beauty of a Japanese maple as it grows in your garden.
For more information on how and when to prune, please see these two articles:
- Learn how to Prune like a Pro! Pruning 101
- Want to Know WHEN to Prune? This will Answer all of Your Questions
This contest is now closed. The winner was chosen using a random number generator, congratulations Lisa!