Equally as enchanting with or without their leaves, Japanese maples may be the perfect garden plant.
Easy to grow and maintain, the hardest part of putting a Japanese maple (its Latin name is Acer palmatum) into your garden is choosing among the hundreds of varieties. Available in a range of sizes suitable for balcony pots to lengthy landscapes (generally from 2 to 30 feet in height), Japanese maples fall into two general categories: upright growers and weeping or cascading varieties. Another consideration is leaf color, most commonly available in shades of green or red that change like mood rings between seasons, often to amazing golds, flaming reds. and bright oranges.
Here are five of our favorites:
Fall brings colorful drama to the red leaves. A small to medium shrub, it grows from 3 to 5 feet in ten years.
Above: A dwarf variety with a rounded form, Acer Palmatum 'Murasaki Kiyohime has light green leaves with red margins in spring. They turn green in summer and gold in fall; a tree in a 1-gallon pot is $38.99 from Mendocino Maples. Photograph by Paul Behrens via Flickr.
Above: The dramatic Acer palmatum 'Orangeola' has orange leaves in spring, which "turn to a rich red-green as summer approaches; $129 for a 15-inch-high tree from Pacific Coast Maples. Weeks later a new flush of orange leaves arrive and continue throughout the summer. As autumn arrives, Orangeola's leaves turn dark red before turning a beautiful orange-red."
Above: If you like the weeping lace leaf shape, but favor green foliage, consider the Acer Palmatum 'Waterfall' that offers brilliant yellows and golds in the fall. A medium to large shrub, it can reach a height of ten feet. It's $42 for a tree in a 1-gallon pot from Pendulous Plants.
Above: A popular hardy upright variety with deep purple red leaves (that become flaming red in the fall) and red stems is the Acer Palmatum 'Bloodgood.' This falls in the large shrub, small to medium tree category as it grows upwards of 20 feet in height. A tree in a 2-gallon pot is $29.95 from Sooner Plant Farm.
Above: Noted for its pink and green variegated leaves, the Acer Palmatum 'Beni Shichihenge' is an upright variety of medium size (grows from 5 to 8 feet). A tree is $150 from Essence of Tree.
Above: For a variegated leaf Japanese maple of the weeping variety, consider the easy-to-grow Acer Palmatum 'Spring Delight,' a small to medium shrub that grows as wide as tall (to a diameter of from 4 to 6 feet). It's $120 from Essence of Tree: "Faster growing and wide spreading than most dissectum maples, this tree will quickly cover the ground with twisting, curving branches unless staked."
Above: Photograph by Whitesnow Yang via Flickr.
Restricted to a small urban garden? Small varieties of Japanese maples are perfect for containers. Or, consider a Japanese maple for your DIY: Grow Your Own Bonsai.