Carden-Harris Nursery
Azaleas & Japanese Maples

Planting and Care of Japanese Maples

Selecting a Site

Most Japanese Maples do better with morning sun and afternoon shade, but not heavy shade, although there are a few that will take full afternoon sun with few problems. They also prefer a site that is protected from strong winds, especially in the hot summer. Never plant a tree within a few feet of a house on the west or south sides without a lot of shade. It's much too hot and much too dry, no matter how much you water.

Another requirement for Maples is that the site must be well drained. If the site does not have good internal and surface drainage, it must be provided or your Maple will not thrive. Drainage can be provided by planting in raised beds or by using an underground drain pipe to remove excess moisture. If a Maple is planted in heavy clay soil, it is like planting the tree in a large iron kettle with no drainage. The plant will soon drown and die.

Know how large your tree will get at maturity before you select one. Don't plant a tree that will outgrow the area. You will never have a well-shaped tree and it will not be attractive.

Avoid locations where Maples will have to compete with large shallow rooted trees such as elms or native maples. Pine and oak trees provide good background for Japanese Maples, and the filtered light created by the canopy is sufficient light for Maples to do well.

Never plant a Japanese Maple deeper than the root collar. In fact, it is a good idea to leave the root ball a couple of inches above ground level, and mound the soil up to the top of the root ball, no higher.

Do not hoe around Japanese Maples. They are very shallow-rooted and you could cut off enough root to kill the tree. Also, if you are going to plant others shrubs or bulbs around the Maple, plant them at the same time. Don't dig around the maple once it is planted.

Don't plant a Japanese Maple in the middle of your lawn without some kind of edging around it to protect it from lawnmowers and weed-eaters. Also, there needs to be a water supply close to any maple. 

Planting Time

Maples can be planted at any season of the year, if you give them good care during the establishment period. Most people buy maples when they first leaf out in the spring in order to know exactly the color and leaf type of the tree. But planting in the fall and winter are also fine.

Types of Trees

There are many types of Japanese Maples. Some have red leaves, some green, some variegated. Some leaves look lacy, some are large, some are very small. Some trees will get 25 feet tall and wide, others will only get 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide and everything in between. Some are upright growers, and others look more like a shrub. The location in which you plant the tree should determine the type you should get.

Preparing the Soil

Preparing the soil requires the addition of some kind of organic matter, usually 25% of the total mixture. You can use compost, pine bark mix, or chopped oak leaves. The soil should be light and loose, but not so loose that it drains too much. The soil needs to stay slightly moist at all times.


Water newly planted trees every 3 to 5 days(if there is no rain) until their roots become established. Then reduce watering to once a week. Maples need to stay moist not wet or dry. Generally an inch of water a week is sufficient when it is hot and dry. Japanese maples can never be left to fend for themselves as they are too shallow rooted to survive. Watering in the winter is sometimes necessary, if it is very cold and we have little rain or snow. Never over water Maples. Too much water is just as
bad for Maples as too little.


Maples liked to be pruned to keep a good shape. The best time to prune is during the dormant season after the leaves have fallen and well before the sap starts rising prior to leaf production in the spring. It is easier to see the shape of the tree at this time, and figure out what needs to be pruned. You can also prune after the tree has put on leaves in the spring through the summer. Cuts should be made just above a pair of buds on the twig. When removing a larger limb, the cut should be made just above the branch collar.

You must use sharp pruning tools for a clean pruning cut. To prevent spreading disease from tree to tree, you should clean and sterilize pruning tools regularly. Do not use tree-wound paint on cut surfaces. Studies show it does not allow the wound to dry properly. The fine, twiggy growth in some larger maples must be removed, especially from the Dissectum(lace leaf) group. A tree that is too bushy inside invites insect and disease problems. But, more important, is being able to see the plant's cascading and twisting branches. Part of the beauty of Japanese Maples is their trunk and limb structure and texture.


Maples are light feeders and sometimes, if you fertilize too much, the leaves will change size from what is natural or you can get very long and unattractive shoot growth. Just use a balanced all purpose fertilizer like Osmocote 13-13-13, a once a year time released fertilizer. Don't overdo it. You can easily burn a Maple with too much fertilizer. If your soil is fertile enough for most garden plants, Maples will do well, even if you don't fertilize every year.

Insect Problems

Very few insects bother Japanese Maples, so spraying is seldom necessary, but in our area borers can be a big problem with Maples as they are with ornamental fruit trees and Dogwoods. We recommend Bayer Advanced Garden Tree and Shrub Insect Control or Fertilome Tree & Shrub Systemic Insect Drench. They both have the same chemical, Imidacloprid, in them and are good products to prevent borer damage to your Japanese Maples and other ornamental trees, such as Dogwoods. They are both a soil drench not a spray.

Follow these direction and you should have happy, healthy Japanese Maples.

These instructions are for the Northwest Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma areas. They take into account the types of soil and other factors that might not be appropriate in other areas of the country.
Always check with your local nurseries for their advice.

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