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Care of Japanese Maples

Congratulations on your Japanese Maple!

We are excited that part of our family can now be part of your family! You now have a living plant to take care of. Here are some instructions on what to do:
1. Take the plant(s) out of the box and remove completely any plastic bags around pots. 
2. Give your plants a thorough watering as they have been in shipment.
3. If the trees are in leaf, we recommend placing them in the shade until you are ready to plant them.
4. Remember that Japanese maples are not indoor plants. They will do much better outdoors.
If you are in a colder zone than us and plants in your area are still dormant, plants you receive from us may not be dormant. It is up to you determine when it is safe to be planted or placed outside in your area. We are happy to hold them here at the nursery if you contact us ahead of time, otherwise it is your responsibility to take care of them once the tree ships out from our nursery. 
** Remember to give them water frequently in the containers and allow them to dry out. Our nursery potting soil will typically dry out faster than many other potted plants you may have. It is best to check the soil with your finger to determine if the plant has dried out enough to water again. **


Planting Japanese Maples

Location is something that should be considered. Nearly all Japanese maples can handle growing in the shade or getting morning sun and afternoon shade. For planting trees in the sun it is important to make sure you are getting a selection that can handle full sun in your area. We have plenty of Japanese maples that grow and do well in full sun in Zone 8. When you get to zone 9, many of the Japanese maples should be planted with protection from the hot afternoon sun. There are a few maples we carry that can handle full sun in zone 9.

One of the most important things to remember is that Japanese maples do not like wet feet. This means that heavily boggy areas will need raised beds that allow drainage for the Japanese maple roots. This can simply be done by raising the area where you will be planting the Japanese maple with more soil.

The hole should be dug 1.5 times bigger than the container the Japanese maple is in. This extra size is primarily to loosen the soil for the roots of your Japanese maple which will allow for it to get established quicker. Take the Japanese maple out of the container and place it in the hole. The main thing to remember when planting a Japanese maple is that it should be planted level with where the soil level was in the container. This is important as Japanese maples planted too deeply do not perform well in the landscape. This means that you will have to put part of the soil that you already dug back into the hole before planting.

People often ask where or not they should condition their soil for the Japanese maple. For the most part, you shouldn't. Japanese maples can do well in both sandy soils and clay soils. When you amend the soil they have to get established in your amendments and then get established in the exterior soil.


For more information on soil type for Japanese Maples, click here.

Container Growing Japanese Maples

Japanese maples have a non-invasive root system that makes them ideal for container growing and bonsai culture. This will allow you to bring the ornamental appeal of Japanese maple to your deck, patio, poolside and driveway expanding your garden. The concept of how big a Japanese maple will get in a container is similar to that of how big a goldfish will get inside a bowl. A Japanese maple will grow the size container it is put in. A small container will dwarf the size of the tree from the size the tree would naturally be in the landscape. Dwarf Japanese maples are often used in containers because they get fairly close to full-size in most containers. The best tip for container growing is a well-drained pot.


1. Choose your Japanese maple based on the location you plan on growing your container grown maple (ex. Sun or shade?).
2. Select the container you would like to use. The primary thing to look for is good drainage. You may be able to drill extra holes in non-ceramic containers. At least one drain hole is necessary. For containers with only one drain hole, you may consider lining the bottom of the container with 1-2 inches of medium sized gravel to increase drainage.
3. Soil should be selected based on how frequently you plan on watering the plant. For Japanese maples that will be regularly watered by an irrigation system, a soil with more perlite is ideal. An example of this would be a regular bag of miracle grow mix. For maples that will not be on a regular irrigation system, make sure to add more peat moss to the mixture. This will allow for the maple itself to retain a higher amount of moisture. When adding the soil to the container make sure to keep the root collar and trunk of the Maple at the same level it was in its previous container. It is also good to leave at least 1/2 inch to 2 inches of the top lip of the container free from soil. This allows for the maple to be watered effectively.
4. Select a companion plant such as small sedums that can cover the soil-surface to reduce heat and moisture loss for the roots of the maple. When choosing a companion plant it is essential to use only plants with extremely shallow and tiny root systems that will not grow into the roots of the maple.
5. Water frequently based on the finger test. If the soil around your Japanese maple feels dry, water.
6. For small containers (smaller than a nursery 3 gallon) check the root system of your Japanese maple during the winter every 3 years. If the root ball is getting very thick, trim the root system leaving 3/4 of the root system. Add soil as necessary. For larger containers, you can go much longer without root pruning the roots of your Japanese maple. We suggest checking every 7-8 years. For those that do not want to root prune, you can always upgrade your Japanese maple to a larger pot size or put the tree in the landscape, however, with a few minutes of root pruning every few years a Japanese maple can stay in any pot for its entire life.

Watering Japanese Maples

Japanese maples are easy to water. The key is that Japanese maples like good drainage, but also like regular amounts of water. The key when planting is to not to overwater your tree. It is best to water your Japanese maple, then allow it to dry out. Once you give the soil around your Japanese maple the finger test and realize that it has dried out, then it is time to water again. Watering times in different soils in different environmental conditions may vary, it is best to figure out what works best for your tree.


For more information on Japanese Maple tree watering, click here.

Fertilizing Japanese Maples

Japanese maples are extremely easy to care for. The less you do the better. Japanese maples do not like a lot of nitrogen so fertilizers are not necessary. When purchasing fertilizer, there are 3 numbers N-P-K. The first number, N, is the nitrogen amount. You want to make sure this number is 15 or under. We do not recommend fertilizing with fish emulsion. Fertilizers with low amounts of nitrogen can be used in the early spring, however it is not necessary. All fertilizing should be stopped by June 1st. 



Pruning Japanese Maples

Trimming your Japanese maple can actually make your tree grow faster. If you trim the smaller branches back leaving larger and thicker branching with buds, your tree will often grow very quickly. This is because you get a cleaner flow or nutrients from Japanese maples that have been trimmed. It is like exercising your Japanese maples. It is best to do this in the spring. The main trick for trimming is to never trim more than 45% of your tree off. Yes, that means you can trim a Japanese maple heavily. Remember to clean your pruning tools with rubbing alcohol. This helps keep your pruning tools sanitized which helps your Japanese maple stay healthy.

Steps for Pruning

1. Start out by pruning out branches you don't like on your Japanese maple. If the branch is larger than 3/4 of an inch in diameter we recommend using a saw. Large branches you don't like only get bigger so it is best to prune them out early in the tree's life.

2. Prune out the twiggier smaller branching. Smaller branching only makes smaller branching. This means these will make the tree grow slower. By pruning your Japanese maple and leaving the large branching you will get a larger tree quicker.

3. Trim out conflicting branching on your Japanese maple. This means if two limbs are touching and are too close, one of them should be trimmed out. A lot of pruning is judgement calls. Picking which one stays and which one goes will be a judgement call that only the owner or the pruner can make.

4. If you are trimming an upright selection, make sure to keep one branch as a central leader. This is typically the tallest part of the tree on most upright Japanese maples. If you are trimming a dwarf or a lace leaf Japanese maple, you can trim the Japanese maple to accentuate the natural shape of the tree. This can be done with lace leaf types by trimming your Japanese maple to create different levels of branching.

5. Trim out the fishtails. When there are three small branches coming out of the terminal buds on the end of a branch, it is often good to trim out the middle branch. This gives room for the other two branches and allows them have more energy.

While trimming is not necessary, if you follow these steps, your Japanese maple should grow much quicker for you.
For more information on pruning, click here.


Make Healthy Roots For Your Japanese Maples


For more information on making healthy roots for your Japanese Maples, click here.

Frost and Late Cold Snaps

Please be sure to cover young plants during late frosts or late cold snaps in the spring. This is something we cannot do for you. Young plants should be covered with a sheet or cloth, not plastic, when spring temperatures could allow for a frost or colder. Once a tree has established itself and attained a little more size, the frost doesn’t effect the tree the same way. When a tree has damaged foliage from frost, it is best to give it liquid fertilizer like MiracleGro every 2-3 weeks until it forms new buds. Since the foliage which makes food for the plant is damaged, this helps it get energy to form new buds.
For more information on frost and cold snaps, click here.

Stressed Japanese Maple

*Japanese maples that have been stressed should be given Super Thrive at recommended doses from the bottle. This can often be purchased at Wal-Mart or your local garden center or department store. This simply gives Japanese maples the proper nutrients and hormones that will help it heal and recover and help it get back into a growing mode.


Transplanting A Japanese Maple

Transplanting a Japanese maple is when you are digging up a tree out of the ground in your yard and moving it to another location. This is not moving a tree from a container to the ground, but removing it from the ground and planting the tree in another location (container or the ground).
When doing this, timing is essential. When the tree is in a dormant state without any leaves is the best time to move a Japanese maple. When transplanting a Japanese maple during this time of the season, you have a very high success rate. When digging a Japanese maple up out of your yard when the leaves are still on it, you typically have a very slow success rate. We do not recommend digging trees up in your yard when they have leaves on them.
After a tree has been moved it is best to give it fertilizer that includes Vitamin B or Kelp. This will help produce feeder roots that may have been damaged during the transplant. 
For more information on transplanting, including tips from Matt and Tim, click here.