Japanese maples are one of the most popular small ornamental trees in our area. Whether it’s a weeping variety or a larger, upright type, these plants are desirable for their bright foliage as well as their elegant form.
With hundreds of cultivars available, it can be a challenge to choose the best option for your garden. Thankfully, we have a guide for you with some of our favorite picks to get you started thinking about which one is right for you.
Things to Consider
Before selecting a Japanese maple, you will want to consider the following:
- Where will you be planting this tree? How much space will it have to grow? Some varieties max out at about 30 feet in height, but others can be as small as 3 feet at max height.
- Are you looking for any particular leaf color? Japanese maples come in yellow, red, green, burgundy and purple, with additional fall colors.
- Does the tree need to have some color in winter? There are a few varieties whose branches turn vivid colors during the cold season.
- Are you interested in an upright or weeping variety? Weeping varieties max out at about 15 feet in height, but have a cascading form. Upright varieties can grow much taller.
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.
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.
Image Credit: “Emperor I Japanese Maple” by dankeck is marked under CC0 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/cc0/1.0/
Acer 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.
Photo Credit: “Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ at Pershore College 16 Mar 2014” by je_wyer is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Acer 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.
Photo Credit: “Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’, La Canada, Descanso, 2017.04.18” by Vahe Martirosyan is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Acer 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.
Photo Credit: “Acer palmatum ‘Red Dragon'” by MeganEHansen is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Acer 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.
Photo Credit: “150529 25 West Village Walk – Jefferson Market Garden, Acer palmatum dissectum, a ‘Viridis’ type like ‘Emerald Lace’, Nephrolepis exaltata cv, Nymphaea cv, Eichornia crassipes” by cultivar413 is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’
With a graceful, weeping form, ‘Viridis’ makes a great specimen tree with its beautiful, green lace-leaf leaves and mounding shape. The leaves are bright green and look like ferns. ‘Viridis’ will grow to an eventual height and width of about 10 feet. Pair with a red Japanese maple for a striking contrast.