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Protecting Your Japanese Maple During A Cold Snap

Protecting Your Japanese Maple During A Cold Snap


In this Episode of the Mr. Maple Show, Tim and Matt talk about cold snaps and what you should do to protect your Japanese Maples. 

What is a cold snap?

When the weather gets cold after a very warm period of time, it is considered a cold snap. In Western North Carolina, where we are located, we often get these periods in spring when we're starting to acclimate and then go back down to cooler temperatures. 

During the spring, temperatures can reach all the way up to 70°F, which means our plants start pushing growth and/or begin active root growth as well as trunk sap. Sometimes the weather forecast calls for colder temperatures, for example 16°F. If your weather has already been at 16°F, then it does not apply to you. It only applies if it has been warm and suddenly changes. 

The more extreme changes of weather are times that you're going to need to protect your Japanese Maples. You're going to need to take more caution to ensure that there aren't any damages from the activation of that tree. At our nursery, we always encourage that you be prepared. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. It's always better to be stay ahead of those cold snaps, which is something that we here in Western NC are always conscious of. 

What we love to see in the spring is a long, consistent incline of weather; what we don't like to see is erratic ups and downs. Here at our nursery we will put our heaters in our cold frames up to help with the temperature, which is the only time we heat. We like to keep our greenhouse doors open 99% of the winter unless there is an extreme change so that our trees will shut down properly and become as dormant as possible for the winter. 

You do not want your trees to be active during your extreme changes, so there are things that we recommend. 

One thing that you can do to help your Japanese Maples during potential cold snaps is to make sure that you don't over fertilize your trees. This helps them to grow better cell walls and make them more durable during the cold snaps. We always try to grow our trees at a moderate pace so that their cell walls don't become stretched. We go low on the Nitrogen number and we do not fertilize early in the season. 

If your plant is dormant and hasn't broken bud, there's not really anything that you need to do since the plant is still dormant and therefore will be equipped to handle the cold weather than a plant that is in leaf. One important thing is to make sure you don't give your trees a false spring, which is bringing them inside long enough to get them in leaf and then bringing them outside too early.

If your trees are in a container and have broken bud already, we recommend that you bring them inside an unheated garage or unheated shed. You should get your trees back outside as soon as possible after the cold snap. We hear some people complain that their trees don't look too good after two weeks inside, and that is due to the trees leafing out without correct airflow. 

One of the most detrimental things is a clear plastic bag. If your plants are in the ground and are beginning to leaf out, do not cover them with plastic (this includes plastic pots over the top of the tree). If you cover them with plastic, the entire plant will suffer damage. When a tree is covered with a plastic bag, it essentially microwaves the tree. It forces more foliage out and therefore, more foliage is damaged. We recommend bed sheets or a frost cloth since they do not lock heat in. 

What if I didn't protect my plants in time for the cold snap? 

If you missed covering your plants for a cold snap, the best thing to do once the cold snap is over is watering. During a cold snap, plants tend to dehydrate just like they would in the summer when the temperatures are really high. The plants will also need something to push them along and give them energy, so liquid Miracle-Gro can help, but mainly water since it is best not to push the trees into growing too soon. 




Additional tags: Japanese Maples, cold snaps, Protecting Your Japanese Maple During a Cold Snap, MrMaple Show,

We only ship Japanese maples within the continental United States of America.

When you buy a Japanese maple from, due to the high volume during the COVID-19 situation, your order of Japanese maple trees will be shipped out within 2 weeks. We greatly appreciate your understanding during these times.

We have custom boxes that extra thick and allow for the safest shipment of your Japanese maples. Our new custom boxes allow us to ship your Japanese maple trees in their container, making the smoothest transition from our nursery to your garden. These boxes can fit two Japanese maples easily inside each box. You will simply need a pair of scissors to cut the tape around the box and pull your Japanese maple out.

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 than container the Japanese maple is in. This extra size is primarily to losen 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 ammend the soil they have to get established in your ammendments and then get established in the exterior soil.

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 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.

*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.

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. Fertilizers with low amounts of nitrogen can be used in the early spring and mid-summer, however it is not necessary.

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 excersing your Japanese maples. It is best to do this in the early spring right before your Japanese maple leafs out. This is typically around the late February to early March time period for us in North Carolina. 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 are 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 laceleaf Japanese maple, you can trim the Japanese maple to accentuate the natural shape of the tree. This can be done with laceleaf 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.

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