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Everything You Want to Know About Growing Japanese Maples

Everything You Want to Know About Growing Japanese Maples

With their weeping branches and intense colors, Japanese maples are some of the most stunning ornamental trees for SoCal landscapes. Now that their planting season is here, we reached out to you to find out what you really thought about these incredible plants. Not only did we hear some great questions about planting and caring for your Japanese maples, but we also heard some touching stories that show how special these elegant outdoor plants can truly be!

How to Grow Japanese Maples
Cool weather, shelter from the afternoon sun, and acidic, fast-draining soil are your best friends when it comes to planting these extraordinary specimen trees. Watch horticulturalist Sarah Smith explain the best way to plant Japanese maples in Orange County!

You Asked, We Answered
Like anything worth loving, Japanese maples do require a little devotion! We asked you for your burning questions about these fiery trees, and you delivered. Here's what you wanted to know, and what we had to say!

"Are they easy to grow in OC?" - Carolyn H.
Roger's Gardens (RG): Caring for Japanese maples in Orange County is simple enough; you just need to know what your tree needs! The main things the tree struggles with in our region are the hot climate, soil alkalinity, and salt buildup in the soil.

Make sure your Japanese maple is planted in sandy, acidic soil, such as an azalea planting mix or a blend of 30% peat moss, 40% sand, and 30% native soil. When you feed, fertilize your maple with an organic acid mix fertilizer to maintain the soil acidity. Plant in a location that gets shade in the afternoon and has a little bit of shelter from high winds.

To counteract the effects of salt buildup in the soil, mix in about 2% gypsum into the soil and top dress with gypsum, which helps to absorb the salts that can burn your maples' roots.

Finally, add some organic mulch around the base of your maple, ensuring it doesn't touch the trunk. The mulch will keep the roots cool and regulate moisture between waterings.

"Is it possible to transplant one that I've planted in too much sun? I love the tree but it quickly gets fried each year." - Gloria R.
Roger's Gardens (RG): This is a great question! If your Japanese maple has been in its place for many years, transplanting it might be more difficult. First, make sure transplanting is the right answer. If the leaves are crispy all throughout the tree and not clustered where the sun hits, check the soil before you dig—alkaline soils (pH of 7 or above) may also be causing stress to the tree. Ideally, the soil should have a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.

If you've decided that transplanting is the only way, make sure to transplant the tree to the north or east sides of your property, and replant it while it's still dormant—that is, before it has broken bud. You've still got a little time right now!

"I have one. I'm having a hard time keeping it alive through these winter months—any suggestions?" - Jennifer T.
Roger's Gardens (RG): Our mild winters can be both a blessing and a curse! Japanese maples are prone to coming out of dormancy prematurely during a heat spike in the winter, so your best bet is to try to keep the tree cool.

Wrap the trunk with tree wrap and apply mulch around the root area to keep the tree as insulated as possible from the effects of the sun. This will help your tree sleep, which helps it tolerate fluctuations in the weather!

"How drought tolerant are they?" - Denise F.
Roger's Gardens (RG):Once established, Japanese maples are moderately drought-tolerant and can be conditioned to thrive with waterings every 7-10 days. However, new plantings need to be watered consistently every two days to help their root systems settle. A layer of mulch at the base of the tree (but not touching the trunk!) can be extremely helpful for regulating moisture, so you're not watering more frequently than necessary!

"Are any of these suitable for a large pot on a patio? I absolutely love the look of them, but have no actual yard space." - Denise F.
Roger's Gardens (RG):Great question! Large yards are becoming less and less common in Orange County, but fortunately, there are many "dwarf" varieties of Japanese maple that work well in containers or small spaces! Here are a few of our favorites, all available in our online plant store:

"Mini" Japanese Maples (Size 1)
Ideal for containers.
Japanese Maple' Rhode Island Red' 6" (Acer palmatum 'Rhode Island Red')

"Extra Small" Japanese Maples (Size 1)
Ideal for larger containers and small landscapes.
Japanese Maple 'Jordan' (Acer shirasawanum Jordan)
Japanese Maple 'Sangokaku' (Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku')
Japanese Maple' Rhode Island Red' (Acer palmatum 'Rhode Island Red')

"Small" Japanese Maples (Size 2-3)
Ideal for very large containers and small landscapes.
Japanese Maple 'Atropurpureum' (Acer palmatum 'Atropurpureum')
Japanese Maple 'Crimson Queen' (Acer palmatum' Crimson Queen')
Japanese Maple 'Autumn Moon' (Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon')
Japanese Maple' Rhode Island Red' (Acer palmatum 'Rhode Island Red')
Japanese Maple' Sharp's Pygmy' (Acer palmatum Sharp's Pygmy')