Why is it that so many diverse people have fallen as madly in love with the species Acer palmatum, and Acer japonicum, most commonly referred to as Japanese maples? This is a love affair which began over 300 hundred years ago and continues to this day. Is the answer found possibly in the essence of the tree? Their grace, beauty, and seemingly endless varieties manifest this essence of the Japanese maple. Think of your anticipated, current, or past purchase of a Japanese maple as an investment, and in order to maximize your return, it would be prudent to learn a few important cultural facts about the tree. In so doing, you will become aware of its simple needs and thus avoid making some all too common poor decisions. Your Japanese maple in return will then be able to reward you with years of consistent viewing pleasure.
Japanese maples are one of those plants that every homeowner wants in their garden and for good reason. The ease in which they may be used in a landscape, complementing a vast selection of companion plants or bringing harmony and unity to an infinite number of landscape design possibilities, is an obvious reason. This means there is a Japanese maple with your name on it. The biggest selling point of these trees, without question, is their natural seasonal interest. This is attributed to the Japanese maples various leaf types, leaf color and texture, bark and branching structure. In each of the four seasons, one or more of these distinct characteristics are on full display – usually in dramatic fashion. And it is because of this, that Japanese maples are known as a “four season tree”. So, how do you select the right tree for your garden? The process should not be whimsically achieved, but rather thoughtfully and wisely pursued. When selecting a Japanese maple for your landscape, many factors should be considered. The most important and commonly overlooked is the mature size of the tree and its growth habit. Knowing these and the space that is available for the tree will narrow the choice down to a select few. This will also help you circumvent costly and potentially damaging modifications to your tree later. Matching the Japanese maple to the site requirements cannot be stressed enough and please, avoid the misconception that your cute little tree will remain so. “But it was just a stick when we planted it” – consider yourself forewarned. Another factor to consider in the selection process is the amount of sunlight the tree will be exposed to during the day. It is important to remember that the Japanese maple is an understory tree and would thus benefit greatly with some much needed protection from the damaging hot summer sun. This is especially important in the southern limits of the species hardiness zone. For this reason, most varieties do better in partial shade, while a few take full sun rather well. It is also important to remember, however, that sometimes certain leaf colors for which a particular variety is grown may be diluted or suppressed with insufficient light. A good example of this is the burgundy leaf types grown in too much shade, resulting in the leaves changing to a dull greenish hue. Similarly, trees with rich bark coloration will have these colors enhanced with more direct sun exposure. The bottom line – do just diligence in the selection process with thorough research and a complete sight assessment. In the end, your selection will be based on sound criteria, resulting in your choice being the right Japanese maple for the right location, giving you a lifetime of endless enjoyment. One caveat – not all Japanese maples are grown to high standards. Unfortunately, many are mass produced with no regard to the trees roots, its structure or eventual aesthetic beauty. The main objective is purely to produce a tree as quickly as possible, employing bad pruning techniques and other poor practices to achieve this end. Before you pay top dollar for a less than perfect tree, do look at the bones of the tree to preclude you from paying later to correct these inexcusable and unnecessary flaws. One other item of note is that there are new varieties flooding your local nurseries each year. It has been observed that some are not very strong genetically and suffer greatly in periods of climatic or environmental extremes. Also, do not purchase your Japanese maple solely on a picture of a few dramatic leaves on a nursery website or in a catalog. This may lead to complete disappointment when your new tree does not live up to perceived expectations.