‘Fireglow’ among hostas, conifers, and white-flowered foxgloves.
Photo by: Richard Bloom.

For healthy, durable, long-lived Japanese maples, experts advise moderation in all maintenance. As Matt Nichols of MrMaple.com says, “The number one thing people do wrong with Japanese maples is they over-love them.” So every time you get the urge to bestow copious attention on your maples, consider these maple mantras.

Deliver drainage.

Japanese maples absolutely must have it. So use loose soil. Or, if you live in an area with heavy clay, plant the root ball slightly elevated. In general, plant them slightly raised, and absolutely avoid planting them deep.

Watch the water.

Excessive water can be a death knell for maples. Water well at planting time and evenly thereafter. Do not stress maples by allowing the rootzone to be parched or waterlogged.

Forego fertilizer.

Low nitrogen fertilizer in spring is fine (N number 15 or lower), but stop after May or you will impede good fall color and winter toughness.

Beware the weed eater.

Tim Nichols (also of MrMaple.com) calls this a common Japanese maple killer, second only to overwatering. On established trees, carefully remove turfgrass and replace with about an inch of composted bark mulch (avoiding the trunk) or small groundcover plants.

Prune passively.

Japanese maples do not require regular or aggressive pruning, so whether or not you prune depends on your aesthetic goal. For an airy look, thin out branches over time; for a tree canopy shape, remove a few lower limbs. To reduce the tree’s size, prune in late July; to generate growth and increase size, prune in spring. But Japanese maples will create their own naturally beautiful forms with no pruning at all.

This bonus content accompanies “Maples for All Seasons”-an article all about the tree that presents many options in size, form, leaf shape and color—in the Autumn 2016 issue of Garden Design magazine.

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