Japanese Maple (Acer sp.)
The Japanese Maple is addressed in its own file in this web site because I feel it deserves special attention. While a flowering tree can give you a spectacular display for a few weeks each year, the Japanese Maple can be counted on to provide colorful foliage three seasons of the year and structural beauty all winter. This is a tree that is highly prized for its abundance of delicate leaves that often create a lacy effect that softens the home landscape. It is a tree that can be made into the major focus in the design of your yard.
Most Japanese Maples have red or greenish-red leaves during the growing season. Some varieties have variegated leaves or yellow leaves. In most cases, Japanese Maples show stunningly brilliant red or yellow fall color. After leaf fall some Threadleaf Maples continue to compel attention as their dark, twisted stems show to full advantage. They provide a dramatic element in an otherwise bleak winter landscape. Other Japanese maples have green or red stems that add color to the winter scene.
While many of the native American maples are giant trees over 90 feet tall, the smaller Japanese Maples grow only to a maximum of 30 feet at maturity in about 20 years, and many cultivars will be much shorter. They typically are as wide as they are tall. Some grow upright and others have branches that droop down to the ground. Those with this weeping habit are slower growing and their width may ultimately be 2 or 3 times their height. It may take them 10 years to reach only four feet in height.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Japanese Maples is making a choice from the very large number of cultivars available at the garden center or via mailorder. Because this plant will be a special feature in your yard and because these trees tend to be fairly expensive, you want to be careful about being sure you are buying just the variety of Japanese Maple that suits you. Here are some questions to ask. Do you want an upright tree, a small tree with a wide canopy or a mounding shrub? Will the maple grow in a container or be planted in the yard? What color foliage harmonizes with existing plants in the landscape? Will the maple be protected from the hottest afternoon sun? And if at all possible, try and find a picture of the tree you decide to buy just to be sure it is what you really want.