Next to roses, nothing is more beautiful than a well grown Acer palmatum. When their leaves unfurl, Japanese maples are beautiful in spring. Then, they bloom and produce seeds. Throughout our Oklahoma summers like many other plants and people for that matter, they hang on for dear life, but in fall, they dress in party frocks, with the green-leaved varieties turning yellow, orange or rust, while the red cultivars deepen. A few, like ‘Sango kaku’ also sport gorgeous winter bark. What else could you request from a small tree?
The most popular post on my blog shows how to plant a Japanese maple. Because of search engines, it remains my highest ranking post even in its third year. The cultivar I planted that day was ‘Tamukeyama,’ and despite temperature extremes, it is still growing strong in the lower garden.
There is a misconception that Japanese maples must be coddled in Oklahoma. True, some cultivars are not as successful here, but ‘Tamukeyama’ can even take some sun as long as it has regular irrigation. ‘Bloodgood‘ is another cultivar which doesn’t mind sun. I don’t grow ‘Bloodgood,’ but I see it all over Edmond and Oklahoma City often planted too close to people’s homes. It is one of the larger cultivars and should be given some room to stretch out and breathe.
Japanese maples vary greatly in size and growing style. There are both upright and cascading forms, tight leaves and loose filigrees. Some need a lot of shade, while others don’t. So, when you see one you like in the nursery or box store, use your phone to search its name and growing conditions before you buy.
As for soil, they require good drainage, but don’t mind a mildly alkaline soil as long as it has good composted matter in it. Don’t fertilize too heavily, or you may turn some red-leaved cultivars green. I know because people frequently write me with this question. Absolutely, don’t plant them in Oklahoma red clay as it is a death sentence. If you have clay soil, burm up an area first and place the tree in an area protected from harsh winds.
I’ve added several cultivars which I grow in various garden beds and also in containers. Some like to be grown in containers in the shade (‘Baby Lace‘ comes to mind), and most will do fine as long as you keep them fed and watered, not unlike puppies and small children.
I thought I would share some of my new A. palmatum with you.
‘Shindeshojo’ is my newest addition. I found it at Home Depot of all places, and it was very reasonably priced at $29.99 for a two-year old tree. I also purchased another maple the same day, and I want a third, but I don’t know where to plant it. ‘Shindeshojo’ also written as ‘Shin Deshojo’ should grow to eight feet. I planted it on the north side of the house as it will receive quite a bit of sun. It is supposed to perform well in partial shade, and a trick to growing some shade lovers in Oklahoma is to place them on the north side. Just make sure they are cold hardy.
A. palmatum dissectum ‘Rilas Red’ was the other cultivar I bought the same day. It is a small and slow growing tree, probably good for a container, but I have mine growing in the new border on the east side of the house where it will only get morning sun and has wind protection.
‘Sango kaku‘ is probably my favorite of all Japanese maples. I already mentioned its bark, which is pink-tinged green in summer, and turns the most amazing hot pink in winter, but its leaves are also so beautiful. My tree grows in dappled shade and will one day reach twenty feet.
In my front garden is one, A. palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis,’ and I have another in the back garden. I also grow one in a blue container, which highlights the green leaves and bark. This variety is fairly common now, and there is good reason. It is relatively easy to grow in shade and makes a lovely small cascading tree.
‘Tsuma gaki’ also resides in a container, and it is the unhappiest of the trees. I think its roots get too warm even in the shade. I may need to move it next year. I need to anyway because eventually it will get eight feet tall. Now, where to put it? I think it is also persnickety because it has green leaves with red edges in the spring. It seems that these bi-colored maples are a bit more difficult to grow.
Japanese maples suffer from being burmed too high. I have a raised bed in the front garden which is also burmed, and the Japanese maple planted there has difficulty making it through winter. The first tree planted in the spot by the landscaper died (never knew its cultivar). He then returned and planted a ‘Tamukeyama,’ but half of it died in a late freeze. Just something to consider.
The cultivar I’m thinking about returning to buy is ‘Shishigashira’ also called Lion’s Head. It has tight, ruffled, green foliage and makes a very interesting specimen plant. It turns orange in fall and has green bark. I would grow it in partial shade.
In recent years, there’s been an explosion of other cultivars. If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to read, Japanese Maples, Fourth Edition, by J. D. Vertrees and Peter Gregory. I read the third edition cover to cover, and I frequently use it as reference when thinking about new trees to add to my collection.
I hope, if you live in Oklahoma or in USDA Zones 6-8 (and some parts of Zone 5b), you’ll consider a Japanese maple for your own garden. They are exquisite and rewarding plants.