Japanese Maple Care
Buying Quality Japanese maple Trees
1. The most important thing to consider when purchasing a plant is the root system. Ask if the tree has been grown with any root enhancing methods. While you can get maples much cheaper from a chain store, these trees are often grown in rows, then dug up and potted. When you transfer the potted plant into the ground, the tree will often go into shock and fail to grow.
2. Ask about the background information of the tree. How old is it? Where did it come from? Was it grown in the earth or in a container?
3. Is the main stem of the tree damaged?
4. Was the tree grafted, grown from cuttings, or a seed? If it's grafted, is it well potted?
5. Will the seller guarantee that it's the type of tree that you want? (Some sellers mislabel trees)
Japanese Maples are generally more resistant to the cold than the heat. Very rarely will they die due to cold temperatures.
Tips to maintaining your Japanese Maple
1. It is best to prune the tree in mid-winter and then a light pruning in the late spring.
2. Maintain a 3-4 inch layer of mulch around the base of the tree. This assists in keeping the soil cool during the beginning of spring. This will help to prevent early bud breakage and leaf emergence.
3. When planting Japanese Maples in a container on your patio/porch, just know that the roots will have to endure colder temperatures compared one that is planted in the ground.
Watering your Japanese Maple
While watering your Japanese maple is simple, keeping moisture levels correct is crucial to the health of the plant. Most Japanese Maples are considered "shallow rooters", which means the roots are between twelve to eighteen inches of the surface for adult trees. Younger trees are usually much shallower compared to their adult counterparts.
Failure to maintain adequate moisture levels can cause the trees to burn quickly and dry up.
If your tree was planted in the spring, their moisture should be tracked every day. Check the soil moisture about 2 inches below the surface. Water your tree every 2-3 days for the first month. After that, watering once a week should be sufficient, but monitor it on windy days as the soil can dry out quickly. If the tree was planted during the fall, water once a week.
Maintaining a layer of mulch around your Japanese maple will help to prevent moisture loss via evaporation.
Where to Plant a Japanese maple Tree
The success of your Japanese maple often depends on where you plant it. This will vary by variety. Planting your Japanese maple away from the afternoon sun will reduce sun scald, leaf scorch, and keep the amount of watering necessary to keep the soil moist and cool at a reasonable level. Plants under heat stress are also more succeptible to diseases and insect damage.
In southern states, Japanese maples often prefer shade from the late afternoon and evening and between four to six hours of morning sunlight to maintain the leaf's red color.
Japanese Maples with green leaves need late afternoon shade in the south. In the north, full sun all day is okay.
Trees with multicolored leaves often need more shade than their green or red counterparts.
If you're unsure about how the tree will grow in its current home, plant the tree in a container and see how it grows. If there are no signs of burning, the location is fine for permanent planting.
Planting Instructions for a Japanese Maple Tree
Following some simple good planting practices will ensure that your tree has a good home. The things to consider when planting are sun, drainage, soil conditions, and space.
Regarding sun exposure, Japanese Maples will usually thrive in a shady location, but this can very depending on the particular variety of your tree. One should also take into consideration where you live. If you live in northern states, full sun is usually okay for planting a Japanese maple.
Your next concern is soil drainage. To check if your planting location has good drainage, dig a hole, then fill it with water. A good planting location will drain in two hours, an acceptable one will drain in six, and anything outside of that is not a good location to plant your tree.
After that, your soil condition needs to be considered. While Japanese Maples do well in most types of soil, 40% fine silt/sand, 20% peat moss, and 40% organic compost is suggested. This mix provides good nutrients, water holding capacity, and proper drainage.
Finally, take into consideration the space available for your tree to grow. This is determined by the variety of your tree, but most standard palmatum varieties grow 15-20 feet up and 6-8 feet wide. Other varieties are much smaller.
Proper fertilization is crucial to maintaining successful Japanese maples.
Avoid using a fertilizer with high amounts of nitrogen . This is due to the fact that it weakens trees and can make them susceptible to damage during the winter.
Fertilization should be done late winter while the ground is still cold, or directly after the last freeze of the spring. Slow or controlled release fertilizer is suggested.
The proper way to use slow release fertilizer is to dig a hole 6 inches deep between the primary trunk and the drip line of the branches.
Pruning your Japanese Maple
Pruning your Japanese maple is suggested up to two times a year, the first one being mid-winter and again after the initial spring growth has hardened.
A light pruning after the spring burst of growth has hardened can be done to make the tree more presentable.
When pruning, it is best to to remove the center branch out of the three protruding branches. Prune as close to the center of the "Y" as possible leaving as little stem as possible. Doing this properly will result in fast healing and will rapidly become unnoticeable.
A proper transplant is based on multiple factors.
1. Condition of the root system
2. Size of the tree
3. Age of the tree
5. Overall health
The most important factor is the size of the tree. While any size tree can be transplanted as long as the root system is left intact, large trees will be impossible to manage without construction machinery. A 3-4 year old tree that is 3 feet tall could be moved by a homeowner and would weigh between 50 to 80 pounds.
Regarding the age of the tree, the older it is, the farther away from the trunk the feeder roots will be located. All in all, the older the tree, the larger your root ball will have to be.
A healthier-looking tree is more likely to survive a transplant since it will most likely have a stronger, healthier root system.
Timing is also crucial. It's best to transplant during late winter or very early spring. This time will give the tree the shortest amount of time with a compromised root system.
I suggest pruning 25% of the tree's canopy to reduce stress on the smaller root system, along with adding a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer to promote root growth.