The Basics on Japanese Maples

Master gardener Paul James describes Japanese maples in detail.
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Japanese maples are valued in the landscape for their brilliant colors and forms.

Japanese maples are unbelievably beautiful, especially early in the season. Master gardener Paul James describes why these small trees are so interesting.

Japanese maples are available in two basic forms--those that grow upright and those that cascade. The upright forms rarely grow taller than 25 feet, while the cascading forms are typically begin weeping at heights ranging from three to six feet.

Leaf colors vary, although green and red are the most common. Variegated cultivars are available. The red-leafed varieties color up best when exposed to some sunlight. However, Japanese maples prefer shade or protection from afternoon sun, especially in the South.

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Leaf shape is perhaps the most interesting variable of all. While five-lobed (palmate) leaves can be stunning, threadleaf varieties are even more spectacular, often having leaves dissected into seven to 11 lobes. Leaf texture can vary as well, from smooth to crinkly.

Japanese maples are quite easy to grow and are hardy to USDA Zone 5. They need a good, moist, well-draining soil and won't thrive in heavy clay soils. They don't require supplemental fertilizer and are rarely bothered by pests and diseases.

Because they're such standouts in the landscape, Japanese maples are excellent specimen plants. They can also be used quite effectively in containers.

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