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Design Your Garden With Japanese Maples

These beautiful Japanese maples are at our nursery. This was taken in June of 2013 when our friends from "In The Garden With Bryce Lane" from UNC TV were filming a special on "Magnificent Maples" here at our nursery.


People often ask the question, how do I design my Garden? The answer is simple. As long you incorporate the beauty of Japanese maples into your landscape, there is no wrong answer. Every garden design is quite different and should be. A garden design should express the individuality of each gardener or designer. Think of a garden as a living portrait which you paint with shapes, textures, and colors of the plants you select. This is a living portrait that gets more and more beautiful each year. Not only can you enjoy this art in photos, but you can visit it daily and find relaxation in its essence. Take these tips below on Japanese maple placement in the landscape design into consideration. With these tips you can make your gardens unbelievably beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

Garden Design with Japanese Maples

This photo was taken at Westonbirt Arboretum, the National Arboretum of Great Britain in 2011. Here you can see how these red Japanese maples provide great color in the landscape.
Garden Design Tip #1 - Add Color With Japanese Maples
Japanese maples display amazing colors in the landscape. One should consider the spring color and the fall color of the tree when determing the placement of the Japanese maple in the landscape design. When looking at the design, a gardener can determine  which of these colors might create the most dramatic affect for garden-goers.

The most simple and easy way to add color in your garden design is by using a red Japanese maple. A red Japanese maple provides excellent contrast in the traditional green landscape. Red Japanese maples come in many different shapes and sizes. The larger upright red Japanese maples can produce a lot of color in the garden. Many of the more dwarf weeping red Japanese maples  give great color but to smaller space in the landscape. This allows you to determine how much color you want in the landscape and where you want it.

Some Japanese maples can even present great color in the winter garden such as the coral bark Japanese maples . These Japanese maples provide excellent focal points even during the winter due to their bright red bark.
Designing YOUR GARDEN WITH fall color Japanese Maples
Look at where your eye is drawn to in this garden design. This is an excellent example of a fall focal point planting of a Japanese Maple at Kubota Gardens in Seattle, Washington.
Gardening Design Tip #2 - Focal Point Planting With Japanese Maples
Focal point plantings are reserved for the plants which the garden designer believes display exceptional beauty. This makes the Japanese maple an ideal candidate for use as a focal point in the garden design as there is nothing more beautiful than a Japanese maple.  Since there are many different Japanese maples, that means are many different options for the focal points in your yard or landscape.

By selecting a Japanese maple that you love and enjoy you can express your personality through the focal points in your garden design. Deciding which Japanese maple fits your personality or the personality of your garden may take more time than less important plant, and that is okay. You will find detailed information on our site that will help aid you in selecting the right Japanese maple for your focal point.
Design Your Garden With Japanese Maple Trees
This is a great example of accenting your garden with Japanese maples. This Inabashidare Japanese maple accents the outstanding rockwork at our display gardens at Hill Stone Arboretum.

Garden Design Tip #3 - Accent Your Garden With Japanese Maples

Accent plantings are often some of the last pieces added to the garden. If a gardener can plan ahead, accent plantings can be more than an afterthought and add a lot to the garden. Accent plantings are typically smaller plants that can continue the overall concept of the garden design. Dwarf Japanese maples are excellent choices for accent plants. Due to their smaller size and slower growth habit, dwarf Japanese maples make great choices for accent plants. Dwarf Japanese maples come in an array of colors and growth habits providing plenty of options to select the right Japanese maple.

Often a foundation planting can become an accent planting to accentuate the architecture of a home or building.  Japanese maples can perform well as foundation plantings in the garden design due to their non-invasive root systems. Even after 50 or 60 years, a Japanese maple should not damage the foundation of a home or building. This cannot be said to be true about many other trees and shrubs. This root system also makes them ideal for plantings near rock walls, for water features ( Tip #4), and container plantings (Tip #6).
Design Your Water Feature Garden With Japanese Maples
Japanese maples make great water features. Here are two weeping Japanese maples in a traditional Japanese gardening style near a small gentle waterfall at the famous Portland Japanese Gardens.
Garden Design Tip #4 - Japanese Maples For Water Features
Water features are an interesting way to bring a new dynamic to the garden. Not only are water features pleasing to the eye but they are enjoyable to listen to as well. Hearing the water trickle across rocks begins to set the mood of the garden design. Water is something all plants and animals need to survive. To many cultures, water not only represents life but it is synonymous with it. Japanese maples make a perfect pairing with a water feature. Like water, Japanese maples symbolize life. They provide vibrant colors in the landscape while giving the appearance of an aged tree. The branching habit of a Japanese maple flows like a river creating a repeating theme that grabs anyone's attention.

Water features are often accompanied by Koi. According to a translation from our friend the famous Mamoru Kodama, "Koi and Japanese maples make perfect harmony".  With that being said, if you have a koi pond then you need Japanese maples to create that harmony in your garden design.

Laceleaf Japanese maples are perfect selections to go directly on the side of the koi pond or water feature, especially for smaller water features. These weeping Japanese maple selections will cascade out over the water feature creating a more natural appearance. They give a soft display in the landscape with their delicate leaves which flow in the wind like a stream or river. The branching holding these finely cut leaves give this maple the shape of the waterfall. In fact, there is a Waterfall Japanese maple that is often used near ponds or waterfalls that performs well in this garden design. It is a green laceleaf Japanese maple with an exceptional shape and a good fall color. If you are a looking for a red laceleaf Japanese maple, then I would recommend an Inabashidare which is a red weeping Japanese maple companion to Waterfall maple.

For larger water features, taller upright Japanese maples may be used. For a large pond in a traditional and authentic Japanese garden setting, one should use tall green Japanese maples. In Japan, the green Japanese maple is the most commonly used maple in the landscape because they display an elegant summery feel in the garden with exceptional fall color. If you are going for a more modern Americanized Japanese garden, one can add flare with the use of taller red Japanese maples. This is one of our favorite gardening styles and one we highly recommend.
Design Your Garden With Background Japanese Maples
An an example of Japanese maples being used effectively as background plantings can be found at the Japanese Gardens at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, Washington. The maples located here in the background give a soft appearance until fall when these background plantings light up landscape.
Garden Design #5 - Background Planting With Japanese Maples
In traditional Japanese gardening, background plantings are to mimic the colors of the sky in the fall. Look at the yellows, oranges, and reds in the photo above. Can't you imagine a sunrise in the background of the photo above? Japanese maples make excellent background plantings as certain selections can blend in with soft green tones during the summer while providing excellent fall color in autumn that create the perfect background planting.

One should take time to decide the background of picture they want to create in their garden design. A landscaper can use different shaped Japanese maples to provide different textures, while using different fall colors to decide how you want your portrait to be painted. Red and orange fall colors are complimented well by golden yellow fall colors. Finding the combination for each particular garden design is up to the designer or artist. This is part of what makes each garden unique and special.
Design Your Container Garden With Japanese Maples
Japanese maples are ideal for container gardening. This is a container at our display garden at our propagation nursery.
Garden Design Tip #6 - Japanese Maples for Containers
The Moveable Garden
Japanese maples have a non-invasive root system that makes them an ideal candidate for container gardening and bonsai culture. This allows you expand your garden to porches, decks, patios, near your pool, to your driveway, or any other place on your property.

Growing Japanese maples in containers creates a moveable garden. If you decide you want to change your location of a container, you can simply move it to another part of your yard or garden. For those who live in apartments, this allows them to have a garden on their deck. This moveable garden comes in handy for those who know they will living at a location temporarily. Instead of leaving your landscape behind, you have the option to load up the potted maple and take it with you to your new home.

Since Japanese maples grown in containers also are dwarfed to their roots being constricted to the container size, collectors can have more Japanese maple selections in containers in their landscape than if they planted all the Japanese maples in the ground.

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 it’s 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.