Japanese Maples: The Epitome of Style and Grace

Japanese maples are one of the most popular small ornamental trees in our area. Who would have thought that a tree without showy flowers would grab our attention so strongly?

But Japanese maples are special. Whether it’s a weeping variety or a larger, upright type, they bring much character to the garden. With their intricate, colorful leaves and sculpted shape, Japanese maples are a great choice to draw attention to entrances, soften corners or create a focal point.

Even in the winter, they hold our interest. The bare branches of these beautiful trees form an interesting framework that continues to intrigue long after the foliage has disappeared. Some varieties, such as the ‘Coral Bark,’ wow us with their fiery, red-orange stems. The color is so dynamic that some of our customers wonder if we spray the trees. In case you were wondering—ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Winter Japanese MapleJapanese maples have been extensively selected and developed, resulting in hundreds of cultivars. They can be broadly categorized as either upright or weeping – and red or green leaf. Japanese maples will mature anywhere from 10’ to 30’ tall, with an equal spread. The weeping forms will become 3’ to 15’ tall, with an even greater spread. Leaf colors can range from yellow to green, or shades of red, burgundy and purple. They can even be variegated in spring and summer. Fall colors are brilliant yellow, orange or red. The various combinations of texture, color and form in this group of plants is one of the largest of any ornamental tree.

Don’t let the elegance and delicate beauty of these trees fool you. Japanese maples are anything but delicate and are quite easy to take care of. They’ll grow in sun or shade, but do best in full morning sun with a bit of protection from the intense afternoon heat. A moist, well-drained soil is important for healthy, vigorous growth Japanese maples don’t tolerate extreme heat or dry conditions very well. If planted in these conditions, the leaves may become scorched.

Here are just a few of the many varieties available at Merrifield Garden Center. Please note that it will take about 50 years for these Japanese maples to reach their mature sizes, and that it is easy to train and shape the plants to a size that is conducive to where they will be planted.

Upright

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’

Arguably the most popular of all Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ has been propagated to a wide extent. So you’ll find some variation between trees with the ‘Bloodgood’ name. An authentic ‘Bloodgood’ retains its dark red color through most of the summer and tolerates heat better than many other varieties. One of the faster growing Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ matures to about 20’ to 25’ tall and nearly as wide.

A. palmatum ‘Emperor 1’

Very similar to ‘Bloodgood’ in growth and appearance, ‘Emperor 1’ (sometimes called Red Emperor) leafs out a bit later in the spring and tolerates temperature extremes a bit better. ‘Emperor 1’ retains good leaf color through the summer months and turns a fiery red in the fall. 

A. palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’

‘Sango Kaku’ is prized for its coral-red bark. The young twigs have a bright color, which gradually changes to light brown in two to three years. The leaves are a pale green in the summer and a brilliant, golden-yellow in the fall. ‘Sango Kaku’ matures to a height of about 15’ to 18’. This is a great choice for year-round interest.

Weeping

A. palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’

‘Crimson Queen’ is a weeping tree that forms a graceful dome. Its branches can even descend lower than the root crown if it’s planted in an elevated bed or near a ledge. With good color retention and heat tolerance, this tree is a slow, but steady grower, maturing to about 6’ tall with a 10’ spread. The crimson leaves turn to a brilliant red in the fall. Green Japanese Maple

A. palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’

Introduced from New Zealand, ‘Red Dragon’ rivals ‘Crimson Queen’ for color retention and durability. ‘Red Dragon’ is a fast grower with a cascading form.

A. palmatum dissectum ‘Virdis’

With a graceful, weeping form, ‘Virdis’ makes a great specimen tree with its beautiful, green lace-leaf leaves and mounding shape. The leaves are bright green and look like ferns. ‘Virdis’ will grow to an eventual height and width of about 10.’ Pair with a red Japanese maple for a striking contrast.