Few trees ooze elegance as well as Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). Japanese maples are highly prized additions to the garden due to their variety, versatility, and beauty. Hundreds, if not thousands of cultivars exist that include green leaf forms, red leaf forms, variegated forms, and an endless combination of colors in-between. Fall color of foliage dances between orange, yellow, red, and purple. Upright, weeping, cascading, dwarf and vase shaped forms are available for the perfect spot in the landscape. Full sun to fairly dense shade is acceptable with the only drawback being an aversion to soggy soils. With the variety and versatility of Japanese maple, every garden has a spot for one of these wonderful trees.
The most popular type of Japanese maples seems to be the upright red leaf form. Having the reddish purple foliage from March to October helps set these trees apart from other green trees. ‘Bloodgood’ and ‘Emperor I’ are two popular upright red leaf forms that hold their color fairly well through the summer months. ‘Bloodgood’ matures to a height between 15’ and 20’ while ‘Emperor I’ gets a little larger. It is important to note that purple or red leaf trees and shrubs will, for the most part, fade a little in the summer months to show a little green. This can be avoided by planting in an area that will give some protection from the hot afternoon summer sun. Both trees have crimson red color in the fall. ‘Oshio Beni’ is another red leaf form for the gardener that desires a smaller tree at maturity. This cultivar matures a little smaller than the other two and also does well in more heavily shaded areas.
The upright red leaf forms are the most popular, but the weeping lace leaf forms follow closely behind in popularity. The cut leaf weeping forms are graceful in habit every month of the year regardless of the presence of foliage. Green or red foliage can be found on the weeping Japanese maples. ‘Crimson Queen’ and ‘Tamukeyama’ are two popular red leaf forms that can mature around six feet in height and width. ‘Crimson Queen’ has deeply dissected foliage while ‘Tamukeyama’ is a little bolder in texture. Both plants bring fine texture and grace to the garden as well as fiery scarlet tones in the autumn. ‘Viridis’ is a green leaf form very similar to the other weeping forms mentioned here. Six feet of height can be expected from ‘Viridis’ as well as gorgeous red fall color. Height can be variable with the weeping forms due to their graft union. Most Japanese maples are grafted, meaning that the root stock and the top portion of the plant are technically two different plants to begin with. A hardy root stock is chosen and the ornamental top portion like ‘Crimson Queen’ is then grafted onto the trunk of the root stock. Where that graft physically is located on the trunk can affect the ultimate height of the weeping maples. Trees that are grafted low (near the soil level) will naturally be shorter plants than those grafted several feet off of the ground.
‘Shaina’ is an interesting cultivar itself. A dwarf, red, globe shaped plant, ‘Shaina’ does well in containers or on the patio. It is a rather twiggy tree with small leaves, a little larger than a quarter. An ultimate size of four to five feet can be expected from this cultivar. ‘Katsura’ is one of my personal favorites. During the early spring months when the tree begins to leaf out, the foliage is lime green with a shrimp colored margin. The foliage then holds lime green for several months before turning a darker shade of green in the summer. The fall color can vary from yellow to orange, then to red. ‘Katsura’ is a beautiful tree.
As mentioned earlier, the main thing to avoid with Japanese maples is poor draining soils. They are tolerant of most other landscape conditions. The perfect environment would consist of a rich well drained soil, some afternoon shade or filtered light, and protection from persistent winds. The plants listed here are just a few of the cultivars available. There are literally hundreds of cultivars in the trade. If your garden has a little space for a small tree, a Japanese maple should certainly be considered. They are beautiful!