Japanese maples bring more than color

TREES: An ability to adapt to climate and funky shapes make these a must for autumn

September 28, 2011 

Every autumn the garden wakes with a second spring — Acer Palmatum or the Japanese maples strut their stuff with colorful foliage that can range from bright yellow to carmine red.

Lots of trees show color as the days shorten and the nights grow colder, but what makes the graceful Japanese maple the most popular tree in the Pacific Northwest is what these trees offer besides just fiery fall color. Japanese maples come in grafted and tall forms and all have great shapes, fanciful leaves and an adaptable nature that allows them to grow in soil that ranges from sandy to clay and locations from shade to sun. So in honor of a perfectly behaved tree that loves to grow in our climate, here’s my favorite questions that I’ve been asked about Japanese maples.

Q. My Japanese maple had lovely red leaves. We had to move it to a new location due to a home remodel. It survived the transplant but now the leaves are green. What happened?

A. Shade happened. Some varieties of Japanese maples need bright light and a few hours of full sun every day to keep their red leaves. Others keep their red foliage even in full shade. In general maples with green leaves can take full sun better than red leaf maples. The sign of sunburn on a maple are leaf tips that turn brown and dry.

Q. I have a beautiful Japanese maple with variegated pink, white and green leaves. It is called a butterfly maple. The problem is some of the branches have leaves that insist on trying to turn solid green. I cut out these wild green branches but then they return. I fertilize, water well and grow this tree in partial shade. Anything else you suggest?

A. Stop trying so hard. The clue to this mystery is that you fertilize and water well. When variegated Japanese maples are given too much fertilizer and water they get all lush and crazy and become too lazy to grow those beautiful variegated leaves. A little bit of stress on your plant will keep it in the pink – and green and white.

Q. How long can I grow a Japanese maple in a pot?

A. That depends on how large a pot. I’ve seen Japanese maples live happily for a decade in large tubs and trees that thrive for years in 5-gallon plastic pots. Unlike most trees, Japanese maples have a shallow, fibrous root system so they don’t put a choke hold on themselves when their pot gets tight. But remember that potted trees do need more water than trees planted into the ground.

Q. A horse came by and snapped a branch right off my perfectly shaped Japanese maple tree. My neighbor claims I can use duct tape to re-attach the limb. True or False.

A. True. Japanese maples are so adaptable that when a snowstorm or some horsing around damages a branch, you can use duct tape to carefully realign the edges of the bark and – without all the King’s horses or men, put all these pieces back together again. Duct tape now comes in different colors so it can blend in with the bark. Good thing because if you don’t remember to remove the tape after a few years it will become part of the tree as the new growth covers the edges.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.

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