Beginner’s Guide To Japanese Maples
Do you own a coveted Japanese Maple tree or are you thinking of getting one for your garden or yard as a beautiful focal point? When my father retired, our cousin, Cindy Morgan offered him Japanese Maple trees for his retirement gardening project. She specializes in raising and breeding Japanese Maples and invited us to her beautiful home, where she had several trees left over from her nursery. Through our informative conversation during our visit, she offered an impromptu Beginner’s Guide to demystifying the Japanese Maples.
In 1986, while in college taking horticulture classes, Cindy took a field trip to the nursery of Shorty Allen. He was a master graftsman and well-known for his work. He demonstrated how to graft Japanese Maples and she was hooked. He taught Cindy a lot about grafting and gardening in general. Today, Cindy has 50 types of Japanese Maples planted throughout her huge garden. There are over 200 varieties of Japanese maples. Some are weeping and some grow upright. Palmate leaves are typical for trees; or they can have variegated, or thread-like leaves.
Angela: How should I care for a Japanese Maple?
Cindy: Japanese Maple varieties can be weeping or upright in growth habit. The leaves can be palmate – much like the native Big Leaf maple in shape but smaller in scale, or the leaves can be dissected and thread-like. Some varieties are green, some mottled in green, white and pink, and others are shades of red or orange.
- Plant Japanese Maples in a well-drained area. Slow draining and puddling around the tree can promote root rot. Take the tree out of the pot and place into the planting hole. Don’t disturb the root ball. Cover with soil and water well to get all the air bubbles out of the planting hole.
- Water the new planting with B1 or fish fertilizer (which has B1 in it) to promote root growth and ease transplant shock. Water the rootball only. If you have an irrigation system, water the tree in the early morning about 3 a.m. so it has time to dry the leaves off before the sun hits them. Watering the leaves mid-afternoon, during a hot summer day, will defoliate and kill the plant. Water deeply, at least once a week, during the summer for the first growing season.
- Japanese Maples grow in zones 5 through 8 in sun to partial shade. They like a ph of 4 to 6.5 (acid to garden loam). Japanese Maples also do well in containers on a deck or patio.
Angela: Wow! That’s a lot to take in. Do you graft Japanese Maples too?
Cindy: Yes. I started a wholesale nursery in 1988 and grafted Japanese Maples until I closed the business in 2011. My son also grafts. Together we would graft between 8,000 and 10,000 trees a year. We sold them as tree ‘liners’ locally and across the country. Liners are trees grown from seed to about pencil thick in small 4” or 2.5 x 2.5 x 4.5” pots.
Angela: Why did you graft them and not just raise the trees from seed?
Cindy: Grafting is a form of asexual propagation. I can’t be sure what the parents are – of a seedling tree. It might end up being a nice tree, but when I graft a ‘scion’ of an existing tree to an ‘understock’ tree, I am going to get an exact clone of the tree I took the scion wood from. When I graft, I’m connecting the cambium of one tree to another. Think of the center wood (called the pith) as the bones of the tree. Surrounding that is a little super highway of cells (cambium) that carry food and water from the leaves and from the roots, up and down the tree for growth. The cambium layer is just under the bark of the tree.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to try a Japanese Maples in your garden and/or yard, and thanks for taking a tour of my gardens.
Cindy’s Personal Accent