A Japanese Maple is a great addition to your woodland garden. Although not native to North America, the many cultivars of Acer Palmatum and Acer Japonicum are actually related to our native Acer Circinatum (Vine Maple) and also closely connected to Acer Shirasawanum. All of these trees and shrubs have beautiful foliage and incredible fall colors. They also have striking winter silhouettes. They thrive in our Northwest temperate climate where they receive moisture in the summer and no temperature extremes. There are literally over a thousand cultivars varying in height from under just a few meters at maturity to over 10 meters. Japanese maples require no pruning except to eliminate inward facing branches and dead wood. The Japanese, however, have perfected the art of pruning to create magnificent sculptured specimens. If you decide to prune, try to hold off until late summer or early fall when the sap has stopped running. In a woodland setting, it is preferable not to fertilize. Mulch thinly with fall leaves or barkmulch and the tree will receive all the nutrients it needs. The roots are shallow and non invasive so they are great trees to plant near patios and driveways and the smaller specimens can even be included in your foundation plantings. They are also very tidy trees with no litter except fall leaves to rake up. Even these leaves look great left on the ground creating a pool of golden or crimson color for most of the fall season. Trees can be single or multi-trunked specimens, but remember that heavy branches that split off near the base can break off as they get larger, creating disfigurement. Make sure you prune the tree to shape in the early formative years before this happens. All the shrubs and trees have small somewhat insignificant flowers that will produce winged samaras in the late summer. The flowers and samaras are attractive to numerous forms of wildlife.
I have to say that I had a difficult time controlling myself when buying maple trees for my yard and I fell in love with numerous of these beautiful little treasures. I have planted the following:
Acer Palmatum “Osakazuki” This tree is lovely in all seasons. It has strong bones, large palmate spring green leaves, lovely dangling pink spring flowers, wildlife friendly winged samaras and incredibly stunning red fall color. The sister maple to “Osakazuki’ is ‘Ichigyoo ji’ which is very similar but has yellow-orange fall coloring and produces a beautiful complementary picture if planted nearby. Other Japanese maples that would look great if planted in the same yard would be ‘Omurayama’, ‘Hogyoku’, or ‘Sango kaku’ also called Coral Bark Maple.
Acer Palmatum “Hogyoku” This green-leaved plant is so sturdy and healthy looking all year and in the fall it turns a bright pumpkin color. The leaves are thicker than most Japanese Maples and it is a quick grower and takes well to pruning. It looks great with the setting sun behind it in the late afternoon.
Acer Palmatum “Omure yama” or “Omurayama” I will confess to stroking the leaves of this tree when I pass by. It has a delicate weeping form that looks like a baby Weeping Willow. It has yellow-green spring leaves and beautiful golden fall color. The leaves are deeply dissected and very silky. It will grow to a small tree about 2 to 3 meters high in 10 years and the weeping branches will form a beautiful flowing curtain around it. Because of this, make sure you give it room to spread.
Acer Palmatum “Bloodgood” This small tree may be common but for a very good reason. It is a beautiful deep crimson all year and then turns bright red in the fall. Stunning! I have also planted an Acer Palmatum “Emperor 1” which is very similar but perhaps a bit darker red and the leaves come out a week or two later than “Bloodgood” so it is a good choice if you live in a late frost region. I also personally believe it is a faster grower with a more open habit. These look really nice with a white blossomed shrub or perennial planted underneath. I have a couple of white rhododendrons and a “Krinkled White” peony beneath one of my trees. Another white blossomed shrub that would look pretty nearby is the Spiraea Nipponica ‘Snowmound’. I also have the small weeping Acer Palmatum Dissectum “Crimson Queen” on a small hillock with ferns and a rhododendron beside it. It has finely cut deep red leaves that will not burn in sun. It grows slowly to about 1 to 2 meters in 10 years.
Acer Palmatum “Samurai” also called “Aka Shigitatsu sawa” I record all my Japanese Maples in a folder on my computer because you can see that not all these names are easy to remember. I planted this tree in the sun and it really looked sad and washed out. I moved it into total shade where it took off like a bullet. It has lovely delicate veined spring leaves and bright red fall foliage that looks a lot like the Osakazuki but perhaps more glowing. I have an Ilex Verticillata near it and the yellow fall leaves of the deciduous holly look gorgeous next to the Samurai redness. Sometimes 2 different subjects can complement each other better than each as individuals (like pumpkin pie and whipped cream).
Acer Shirasawanum “Palmatifolium” also called “Full Moon Maple” can take full sun unlike the Golden Full Moon Maple or Aureum, although the leaves can shrivel a bit in a heat wave. It is a lovely airy tree that casts dappled shade and has golden fall colors.
Acer Japonicum “Acontifolium” also called “Dancing Peacock” or “Maiku Jaku”. Another name for this cultivar is Full Moon Maple, just to confuse you since the Acer Shirasawanum above is also called the same. The Japanese must like that name. This is an unusual maple that looks somewhat tropical but fits into a woodland garden when surrounded by large trees. It has huge leaves that turn incredible multiple colors in the fall. They are very deeply cut and quite thick. I have noticed that the squirrels particularly like the samaras on this tree, perhaps more than all the other cultivars. These samaras are always eaten first. I love to watch the squirrel antics as they try climbing out onto the tiniest twig to reach their treasure.
And last, but not least, and not a Japanese Maple at all, is my treasured native Acer circinatum also called “Vine Maple”. I have heard people call this lovely little tree “coarse”!! How could they? It has soft flat leaves that are very “strokeable” should you feel inclined. They also will turn beautiful shades of yellow in the fall if planted in shade or bright red if planted in the sun. They never grow too big and are loved by wildlife. They also have exquisite pink spring flowers loved by hummingbirds.
I hope I have whet your appetite for obtaining a Japanese Maple for your woodland garden. If you want to further research the numerous cultivars, you must get (or borrow from the local library) J.D. Vertree’s book “Japanese Maples”. This is THE best reference book available for this subject.
This is a wonderful book to read in the middle of winter as you sit in a cozy chair with a steaming cup of tea in your hand looking out at your snow covered yard. Heaven! A couple of websites you might like to visit are www.japanesemaples.com and www.pacificcoastmaples.com. If you search the internet there are other wonderful informative sites that you can research these plants and buy them as well. Happy planting!