Yes, You Can Grow A Japanese Maple In Oklahoma

'Bloodgood' Japanese maple

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.

‘Crimson Queen’ JM
'Crimson Queen' with angel

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.

Digging the hole

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.

Backfilling the hole with composted leaves.

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.

Place the tree in the hole. This hole should actually be a little wider I think.

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.

Japanese maple ‘Tamukeyama’
Your beautiful new tree.

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.


  1. heather says:

    Hi there! My backyard is full of JM trees, I have what I think is the crimson queen, and the regular red ones…. Well, last week I noticed a truck load of seedlings all over my yard, with a few red leafs on them. I dug them up and put them in styrofoam cups. I don’t know anything about taking care of these… My Mom wants one if I can manage to help it survive. Could you give me a detailed plan for ensuring their survival? They have been in these containers for about a week. I used potting soil and water, and that’s it so far. How much water? When should they be lanted in the year? Where do I put them in the winter? Do I need to fertilize them, and how much and with what? They are about 3 inches tall, and I think they are all the JM red blood type. Thanks in advance for your time and help. I am in Tulsa, OK, and all of my JM’s are in a backyard with a high fence and lots of huge tall trees providing shade.

    Hi Heather, I would say the trees need to establish their root systems before you plant them in a garden bed or backyard. I’d give them about a year to establish. They don’t need a lot of extra fertilization. Too much nitrogen will often turn the leaves of the red Japanese maples green.~~Dee

  2. yasko says:

    Hi Dee I am glad I found your web site. I have a young Maple tree in front of our yard. We live in the Bay area near san francisco. The tree is a year or two years old. Do they need to plune it once in the while? thanks for any help.

    Hi Yasko, glad you found me too. Yes, you do need to prune it occasionally if it is a slow growing tree. More if it is a fast grower.~~Dee

  3. tina says:

    Ah yes, definitely it would be a popular post since so many love the J. maples-me too! I have both of these cultivars with the Tamakeyama being a recent purchase. Yours is a beaut!

    tina´s last blog post..Ice House

    Hi Tina, I didn’t realize how popular they truly are until this year. I just knew I liked them. O.K., I love and very nearly adore them.~~Dee

  4. justin says:

    i got one these last spring like the one in the 2nd photo here “‘Tamukeyama’ (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Tamukeyama’”. It was doing wonderful until July, and the leaves all burnt!! 🙁
    I went and bought a 1st up camping tarp to give it ultimate shade and it ceased degradation …once the temp dropped to the lower 80’s mid 70’s here in Ada, OK, I took the tarp down yet the tree seems to not be bouncing back
    1st it has about 2/3rds shade throughout the day around noon is the 1/3 of the day that it gets direct light i have thought about building a pergola over it to create more shade for it (as well as keep ice off it during harsh Oklahoma winters…in your opinion would you build shade for it or transplant it ? We are now in October. Also, will the leaves stay gone until spring or will they still grow back at any time. Please if you can offer any assistance in saving our tree we need it … it is looking very much like if we do not take some sort of major action and soon it will die. But, as for transplanting it i’m wondering if this is a good time of year or not?

    Whoa, Justin. I can see you are very worried about your tree. Without seeing it, I would say that it’s getting 1/3 of the day of afternoon sun. You don’t say which side of the house it is on, so I don’t know how harsh that sun is. If it is anywhere other than the north side of the house, I would go ahead and transplant it somewhere cooler. Almost all Japanese maples get some leaf burn (the tips of the leaves turn crunchy) in the summer, but it sounds like yours is getting more than normal. If you transplant it, you’ll need to make sure it gets water throughout the winter; although not as much as summer. JMs are deciduous (which means they lose their leaves in the winter.) They will grow back in the spring. I’m sorry I can’t offer you more information, but that’s the best I can do from here. Good luck with your tree.~~Dee

  5. Christine says:

    Hi.. I live in zone 5 just north of Toronto in a new development. Lots of clay soil. I bought a purpleleaf last summer (5 footer/150cm pot) and planted it in my backyard, on the north side of my house and in the corner. It was doing really well and this spring it grew a fair amount so I thought it liked the spot. Didn’t even need to water it much this year because of all the rain this summer. But I decided to groom it at the bottom a bit, because I wanted to encourage upward growth and wanted a tree form, not a bushy form. But I didn’t seal the wood (didn’t know I was supposed to) and I think it got what the nursery told me was fireblight (a virus/fungus) from my hand-held clippers. When I first showed them a clipping of the tree they were baffled. It didn’t look like root rot, or anything else because of the way the leaves dried up evenly, all at the same time, and without the loss of color, not to mention how quickly it all happened from the time I prooned (3-5days) but their pond expert said it was fireblight. Luckily I had a warranty and exchanged it. I just planted the new purpleleaf yesterday and found that when digging up the old soil after removing the old root ball, it was VERY spongy, wet, dark and smelled like sewage/rotton. Not normal! Could this be from the fireblight or was it something else? I know the tree didn’t have root rot, yet did find it strange that the roots were not taking well (it came out real easy) considering it had been planted a full year and was growing and healthy up until I pruned. Close to the bottom was a lot of clay but we put good soil down before placing the new one in the spot (but we sort of rushed it… my cousin came to help me and he did it so fast, I didn’t have time to think. I’m worried now that there’s too much clay just 6-8″ below the base of the ball,and not great drainage. We dug double the diameter, but not exactly double the depth in the ground. Not even sure if I have a qustion -just thought I’d share my experience yet I do welcome advice/thoughts. Crossing fingers it takes this time. Lesson learned -always sterilize gardening utensils!!!!

  6. Eric says:

    I grew up in Buffallo New York and my late mother’s favorite tree was the red Japanese Maple tree….I now live in Israel (Galillie Area near Nazereth) I just found a Japanese maple at a nursery but it’s a smal tree and green . The small new leaves are reddish but it may be because it’s August and it’s 35 degres C today …. in short is there any hope for red leaves ?? Can I put something in he water or soil ?
    Should I leave it in the pot and grow it inside the house?
    Thanx in advance!!!

    Hi Eric, I responded to you via email, but I’ll also put a comment here. If the tree starts out with green leaves, it is probably a green-leafed variety. However, putting too much nitrogen in the soil will cause a red leafed tree to turn green. I don’t know much about Israel’s climate, but it seems rather arid for a Japanese Maple. I’m sorry that I can’t help you more. That said, I would keep it in a pot and put it in a shaded courtyard or the house.~~Dee

  7. Frank says:

    My Japanese maple is planted in a garden on the north side of my house, it is about 3ft from the house in the corner. The leaves at top have become crumbly ( I am guessing leaf burn ). Will the tree recover from this and what could I do to help it. Also the lower leaves are more green than red. When I bought it, the leaves were red. Can you help me please?

    Hi Frank,

    Yes, your maple has leaf burn, and yes, it will recover from this. Next year’s leaves will be new and won’t have it anymore. It’s just from the hot weather we’ve been having. It will probably get it next year too. As to the green leaves on the bottom, it may be getting too much fertilization. Other than mulch, the maples don’t need a lot of fertilizer. If you planted it with some flowers that you feed, it is probably getting runoff.

    This won’t hurt it. It will just have some green leaves. Hope this helps.~~Dee

  8. Erika says:

    I just bought a Crimson Queen and I would like to encourage it to grow taller. Do you know if I should stake it and how I would go about doing that?


    Erika and I have been communicating by email because I couldn’t answer this question without more details from her about her tree. She will send me a photo.~~Dee

  9. Rosemarie says:

    I am totally inspired now. I have wanted a Japanese Maple for a while and saw both types you mention at Home Depot today. I get nervous thogh because I haven’t ever bought a tree, but my main garden is north facing and gets plenty of shade. I think the red would be a welcome color! Thanks!!

    Take the plunge, Rosemarie. Japanese maples are beautiful and not that hard. Sounds like you have the perfect spot.~~Dee

  10. hanako says:

    Having visited Japan this past fall I got to love the Japanese maple and its brilliant colors. The lowland areas were still green, but the higher altitudes were cool enough that the trees were beginning to change into their fall colors. My uncle took me for a hike on Mt. Mitake to the west of Tokyo and the the scenery was *breathtaking.* I should share some photos I took sometime with you as it’s quite an amazing tree when found in abundance. While walking through the little village on the mountainside we found a few flats of containers carefully preserving the red and orange leaves. It’s a very iconic symbol in Japan.

    Anyway this is a rambling way of saying that one day I’d love to grow some in my yard, when I have a house, and I love these illustrated instructions on growing a happy tree 😀 I love the photo with the angel as a backdrop.

    Hanako, I so enjoyed hearing about you seeing Japanese maples in their natural habitat. That is so cool. Someday, I want to go to Japan and see the beautiful gardens there. We have a Japanese master landscaper here in Oklahoma. Last fall, I saw one of his gardens. It was so beautiful, and he explained about pruning and so many things. You should definitely grow a maple. You will love it.~~Dee

  11. ElmoFromOK says:

    Thanks for the great post. I love these beautiful red ladies and cannot wait to have one in our yard somewhere!

    Hi Elmo, thanks for stopping by. I hope you get a Japanese maple. They lend class to the garden.~~Dee

  12. Curtis says:

    very informational post Dee. I don’t have one in my yard but If I were to plant one I think I would plant it on the north east side of the house. They are very graceful.

    Curtis, I think the north side is the best option.~~Dee

  13. walk2write says:

    I wish that I had had good advice like yours when I planted a Japanese maple in our Florida yard three years ago. It’s still alive but not thriving. I planted it on the west side of the house (the front) because I wanted a small shade tree there. I thought that the huge red cedar we have close to the street would block most of the afternoon sun, but unfortunately it hasn’t. Still, the poor thing shows pluck. It survived Hurricane Ivan in ’04 and Dennis in ’05.

    W2W, we all plant things in the wrong spot sometimes. I just hope the info helps someone else.~~Dee

  14. Aiyana says:

    Some people have tried Japanese Maple here in the AZ desert, but they never last. We are in USDA Zone 9b, and it’s never recommended for planting here. Too bad, because they are gorgeous!

    Aiyana, I can’t imagine why anyone would try to grow a J. maple in the desert. Hard enough to grow them here.~~Dee

  15. kate says:

    Hi Dee,

    This was good information – I would dearly love to grow a Japanese Maple, but have been reluctant to since they are hardy only to zone 4. I’m in zone 3 and so they are not considered reliably hardy here. One of these days, maybe I’ll brave it in a protected corner.

    They are such beautiful trees….

    They are, but I wouldn’t chance it Kate.~~Dee

  16. Anna says:

    I fried my last one. We didn’t plant it correctly and then we had a drought. I found your information very helpful and thank you. I’m going to try again and probably go with a Bloodgood.

    Anna, I think ‘Bloodgood’ is one of the most heat tolerant. I’m sorry your other one died.~~Dee

  17. Bonnie says:

    I love your expression about tickling the roots!

    I have lusted for a maple, but have not taken the plunge. I may have to make a trip to Metro Maples in Fort Worth. Check out their site, they have some incredible varieties!

    Bonnie, ask them which ones do best in the heat. That way, you’ll have success with your first.~~Dee

  18. Frances says:

    Hi Dee, Those trees are ones that I dearly love. Looks like you have two good ones. We have grown Crimson Queen for several years at two different houses in TN. The Tamukeyama looks like a winner also. In the late freeze last year we lost four of our eight dissectums, a financial hit for sure. Your how to was excellent advice. Hope your trees give you lots of joy.

    Hi Frances, I love your back yard. I thought you had even more J. Maples there.~~Dee

  19. Okay, now you’ve done it! Here I had myself convinced that I couldn’t grow a Japanese Maple. I’ve seen a few in the area, but those must belong to extraordinary gardeners. Now you show that they can grow in Oklahoma. What excuse do I have now for not getting one? (BTW, yours are so beautiful!)

    MMD, take the plunge!~~Dee

  20. Sherri says:

    This is a great post, Dee, not boring at all. I have a tree with leaves that grow green but change to red quickly. Do the Japanese maples start out red? I’m so dumb about plants, but I love them.

    Here’s a link to my tree, if you care to take a look:

    Sherri, I think that’s a maple, but I don’t know what kind. I believe that the red J. maples start out red (but can turn green if given too much nitrogen,) and there are green ones which turn red in fall.~~Dee

  21. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It is amazing how tough Jap Maples are. I have a couple of them in the garden. I might have to add another. I always get a bad case of the wants for the garden this time of year.

    Me too, Lisa. I think the maples look so tender, but they aren’t at all.~~Dee

  22. cindee says:

    I love Japanese Maples(-: I have a weeping one that I have had for 26 years. Its a red lace one.

    Cindee, I love them too. So far, I only have two. They’re rather pricey, and I don’t have that much shade.~~Dee

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