Want some red in your yard? How about a Japanese maple like this? You can have one. I took this photo in a neighborhood in Edmond, Oklahoma. Although this is a great example of a mature ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple, which is one of the more common types of red Japanese maples available at the various garden centers, I would limb up some of the undergrowth to emphasize the beautiful crown.
I don’t own a ‘Bloodgood’, but I do grow two lovely Japanese maples. One, I’ve grown for three or four years. It is a very small, slow growing, cascading form called ‘Crimson Queen’ (Acer palmatum var. dissectum) and is shown with the angel below.
This is an excellent time of year to plant trees and shrubs, especially since this spring is cool, rainy and slowly creeping toward summer. Some years we have drought and heat in April, but not this one.
When you consider where Japanese maples originate from, you wouldn’t think they would thrive here. Japan is mountainous and cool. Oklahoma is flat or hilly and hot. Japan is an island. Oklahoma is in the middle of the vast American prairie. However, if you situate them in the right spot, give them enough water, and protect them from our drying winds, you can successfully grow one of these trees.
My new one is another dissected leaf form. It is a ‘Tamukeyama’ (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Tamukeyama’.) I was looking for some small annuals at one of the box stores, and I became very excited when I found it and its brothers hidden behind some patio furniture. When I saw it was only $79.00, I was ecstatic.
I’m going to show you how to plant it and where. First choose a shady spot or a location on the north side of your house. If you have a garden on the north, that would be ideal, as the tree will be protected from the hot, afternoon sun which causes leaf burn. My ‘Crimson Queen’ Japanese maple is planted in dappled shade on the West side of my home (which is in my front garden,) but it is in deep shade by the time summer arrives.
About sunlight; this time of year, it is difficult to know how much shade you will have because the trees haven’t leafed out. Look up at the tree canopy. Although it isn’t leafed out in the spring, it will be by summer. Remember, the east side of your house receives early morning sunlight. The west gets hot afternoon sun. Because the north side of the house has weaker sunlight, we can grow some things we normally grow in shade. South side, think hot, hot, hot.
Do not put your sweet tree there.
After finding the perfect location, dig a hole. Readers sometimes wonder if my natural soil is red, and the photo below should resolve any doubts. The hole should be two times deeper than the root ball of the tree. Mine was grown in a container, so I dug it one and a half times the container. I also dug the hole twice as big around as the container.
Then, you need to amend the backfill soil with compost. I used crushed leaves and leaf mold. You could use your own homemade compost, or a commercial compost like Back to Nature. Just be sure to mix it into the soil. I also put a little in the bottom of the hole. There is some thought that we shouldn’t amend the soil because it kind of fools the tree into thinking it doesn’t have to work its roots into the regular soil. I say go ahead and amend it some. Give the tree a chance. If you have clay soil, really dig the hole big and deep and work lots of organic matter into the hole. You don’t want to create a clay bowl that retains water.
Before you place the tree in the hole, water it so that it doesn’t have to struggle so hard. Then, tickle the bottom of the roots. They’ve been in a pot, and they are root bound. Don’t worry if some of the soil falls off into the hole. Just incorporate it. All will be well.
Backfill your hole and tamp the soil around the tree with you foot. Top it off with some mulch. Again, I used shredded leaves, but you can use any type of organic mulch. This tree is in a windy area, so I will stake it for about six months. You don’t want to stake it too long because strong roots won’t develop.
Then, water your tree. If the water reveals a hole, tamp the soil down until the hole disappears. I water my new trees three times. That way, I’m sure the water penetrates their roots. You’ll need to watch your tree and not let it get too dry between waterings. New plantings generally need an inch of water a week.
I hope this information is helpful and didn’t bore you. I also hope you’ll give Japanese maples a chance in your garden. They are peaceful and beautiful just like the countryside where they were originally born.