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How to Plant a Japanese Maple

Preeti Sunil May 10, 2019
How would you like to have yellow, orange, burgundy and even purple foliage through the seasons in your garden canopy with a single tree? You can achieve this spectacular effect with the humble yet versatile Japanese maple. Here are some basic instructions to plant a Japanese maple.
Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are one of the most diverse (in terms of size and leaf type) and graceful trees that are ideal for growing in your backyard, patio or garden. They can be grown in containers as well.
The rest of this passage describes the ideal conditions for growing and instructions on how to plant a Japanese maple. If you like what you see in the adjacent picture, you'll be happy to know that there's absolutely no rocket science involved in growing this deciduous but beautiful tree in your own garden.

Selecting a Planting Site

Japanese maples grow well in any soil type as long as the soil is not soggy and always drenched at the root level. In addition, the following features of the site will ensure a flourishing Japanese maple.
✿ A location with well-drained soil without shallow rooted trees in the immediate surrounding will ensure that you will need to do very little soil maintenance in future, especially by way of fungal treatment. If you're potting the maple in a container, make sure that it has enough drainage holes.
✿ Choose a site with sufficient sunlight and shade. You want to secure the plant from the scorching heat of the sun during summer and harsh drying winds during winter. Check with your nursery about the variety of the Japanese maple that you have purchased.
✿ You may expose the upright and palmate varieties to full sun in a cooler zone to light shade in a relatively warmer temperature zone.

✿ The dissected, cutleaf and weeping varieties prefer a more shaded zone. Too much heat will discolor the peripheral leaves of the canopy, but will have no detrimental effects on the overall plant health.
✿ It would be best to plant the maple as an understory tree with a shading primary canopy which is, in fact, its natural habitat in the forests.

✿ You may consider putting it on a mound or in a raised bed for effective drainage.
✿ Potting the maple or putting in a container will give you more flexibility in moving the plant, if you're prone to extreme weather and wish to prevent leaf scorch. Be careful to expose the plant to moderate sunlight; early morning sun is most preferable.
✿ Too much shade makes the maple prone to diseases and affects its aesthetic appeal by diminishing the color of its leaves.

Planting the Japanese Maple

Autumn is the best time to plant a Japanese maple as the roots have enough time to grow before the ground freezes in winter. It is a slow-growing plant, so it's just that you'll have to wait longer for it to grow, if you plant it late in the autumn or early winter.
Also, late summer and early autumn is best for pruning, so you may time your planting accordingly to give some time to leaves to grow before trimming. You may not find this to be a problem if you don't experience snowy or harsh winters.

✿ Dig the soil in the selected site such that the hole is twice or thrice as wide as the root ball and slightly less deeper.
✿ Remove the plant from the container (spread apart the burlap bag if there's one) to expose the roots. Now, mix 1 part of the soil with 2 parts of leaf mold, soil conditioners made from pine bark or peat moss and fill into the hole and around the root ball, while descending it into the hole.
The final height of the filling should be slightly above the surrounding soil, about an inch or so. It's best not to add a quick-release fertilizer at this stage.

✿ Feel free to add mulch around the soil for cooling, but do not put it close to the trunk. In fact, even after the tree has firmly taken root, always keep mulch away from its trunk.
✿ Water the root ball thoroughly and add water as you go on backfilling.

✿ As the days go by and the ground begins to harden around the plant, make sure that it gets enough water only when required (not very often), and be careful not to make the surrounding soil excessively soggy.
✿ If you're planting in a pot, layer the bottom with 3-5 cm of crushed stones and/or pebbles so that the drainage holes are not clogged with soil and mulch.

✿ Put the containers on a wheeled platform to ease mobility as a growing maple will make the pot heavy.
You may already feel encouraged by the simple process of planting a Japanese maple. In addition, the maintenance of the plant is also not a very tedious process. Through some simple techniques of Japanese maple tree care, you can be assured of some truly breathtaking results.
So go ahead and purchase your favorite cultivar, pick out a suitable spot in the patio or yard, follow the given steps and you will undoubtedly see a magnificent display of foliage in myriad hues (depending on the variety that you have picked) that make for a stunning burst of colors even in autumn.