A few (too many?) Japanese maples

I am distressed that a long established Coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-Kaku’) has been lost in the swampy lower garden (along with two dogwoods and an assortment of shrubs), but this is far from my favorite maple, so the loss is not heartbreaking. Since we’re up seven inches of rainfall for the year (and plus thirty-five last year), it appears the area might remain soggy forever, so instead of another Japanese maple I’ve planted a Bottlebrush buckeye ( Aesculus parviflora) in its place. I had to move quickly while digging the hole to keep from sinking to my knees in the muck. No matter how smitten I might be with Japanese maples, there are parts of the garden where they are not best suited, and this new swamp is one of those.

Today, Orange Dream grows in a pot on the patio beside the koi pond, but in another year it will be large enough to fill a spot in the garden. Or, it could be bumped into a larger pot and remain on the patio.

If there’s a plant in the garden that some folks (my wife) could legitimately argue there are more than are necessary, the easy answer is Japanese maples, though this is strictly an outsider’s view and unquestionably not my own. I have no intention of providing further evidence for my wife’s benefit by providing an inventory, but there are somewhere north of thirty in the garden, which of course, does not include dozens of seedlings that are occasionally dug up and transplanted or given away, but usually are weeded out.

Two Butterfly maples are slow growing, one in shade and the other is sun. The foliage color differs only slightly in the varying exposures.

While red leafed Japanese maples are most popular in garden centers, I am quite certain an inventory would reveal more green and yellow leafed maples in this garden, and while none could be considered rare, there are a number that are at least uncommon. As with many collections, and probably with most gardeners who are easily distracted to favor whatever is flowering today, I have trouble selecting a favorite, though a few maples were procured with a bit of difficulty and this endears them somewhat above others.

After waiting years to find a Golden Full Moon Japanese maple of decent size, this has become as clear a favorite as is possible. The Full Moon maple prefers a break from the hottest sun of the day, and on the southern edge of a summerhouse the leaves do not burn at all in the summer sun.

A Golden Full Moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’) was left behind by an Oregon maple grower with bark on the lower trunk stripped by rabbits, and considered too damaged to sell. That is, except for a buyer who had the tremendous good fortune to stumble upon a tree he had long searched for, a Full Moon maple six feet tall, and and for an excellent price. Long ago, the injury healed, which I didn’t question from the start since Japanese maples are quite forgiving. I think a Lion’s Head maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigarshira’) also came out of this field, and a second Floating Cloud maple (A. palmatum ‘Ukigumo’) to add to the first that was a scrawny newcomer at the time, though now all have gained in stockiness.

The crinkled leaves of Lion’s Head Japanese maple are the first to open in early spring.
Leaf coloring of the Floating Cloud maple is significantly less colorful in my Virginia garden than on trees I see in the Pacific northwest.

After a decade, I wonder if Floating Cloud maples in varying degrees of sun and shade will ever attain the leaf coloring that I see in the cooler, and less humid environs of Oregon, where I was first attracted to the tree. I don’t expect they will, but in any case, after long lusting for both Golden Full Moon and Floating Cloud maples, there are now two or more of each in the garden.

While flowers of Japanese maples are usually insignificant, flowers of the Fernleaf maple are quite prominent. This maple also has marvelous autumn leaf coloring.

I notice today that the Fernleaf Full Moon maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) is spreading wider than I imagined, and how could I miss it? I walk under the tree a thousand times, examine foliage, flowers, and dangling seeds close up, but rarely do I stand back to look. Good thing it has plenty of room, except for a holly that is mostly wrapped in its branches. While many maples were planted at six feet and taller, this was much shorter, though stocky from the start. I suppose that the Fernleaf maple is frequently overlooked with its atypical maple foliage, but it has grown to become a personal favorite (depending on the day). Below, you’ll see a few more of the garden’s maples, but certainly not all.

Viridis is a wide spreading maple with pendulous branching. Folks who plant a Japanese maple expecting it remain a dwarf would be quite surprised to see twenty and thirty year old trees in this garden.
Shaina is an upright, spreading Japanese maple with good color, but the very small tree is appropriate only for collectors, I think.
Two Seriyu maples were planted inside the front walk. For several years lower branches arched too low over the walk, but now al branches are comfortably over head so that visitors walk to the front door under a canopy of Japanese maples.
Shirazz, or Gwen’s Rose Delight is splendid when it first leafs out, but it fades in summer. Perhaps it would be best planted in part shade.
Twombly’s Red Sentinel was planted near a path with the expectation that its upright branching would not encroach on the path.
I will be moving the potted Higasayama Japanese maple around this spring to keep its coloring.
Trompenburg is one of several red leafed, upright growing maples in the garden.
There are several green and red willow leafed maples (here Hobb’s Red Willow) in the garden.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Benjamin says:

    Wow, what beautiful specimens! I’m in agreement with you: no such thing as too many Japanese Maples. Cheers, Ben

  2. Linus says:

    Agree, no such thing as too many JMs.
    So what pots do you use? Having a hard time finding large, strong lightweight pots (mostly for roses, but also for JMs).
    How do you prevent verticillium wilt in the JMs? I received 5 JMs 2 weeks ago, and 2 have succumbed to v wilt (Pung kil and Mikawa nishiki)

    1. Dave says:

      I’m using both ceramic and fiberglass pots that are not overly large for the small trees. These were empty at the time, so there was no particular reason for one or the other.In the next year or two I’ll have to figure how to get the Japanese maples out without damaging roots, and hopefully not breaking the pot, but I’ll worry about that then.

      I rarely worry about diseases or bugs on any plants, and though occasionally something hits, I’ve experienced few problems. So, I’ve done nothing to prevent verticillium wilt. I lost two maples due to last year’s rainfall, the Coral bark and Oridono nishiki, which was always a disappointment.

  3. Yvonne Manu-Tsikata says:

    Simply beautiful. How deer resistant are your maples?

    1. Dave says:

      I’ve never had a problem with deer and Japanese maples, not even with low hanging branches. I spray a deer repellent on select, vulnerable plants, but have never thought to spray the maples.

  4. Terry Hall says:


    On Thu, May 9, 2019 at 9:57 AM Ramblin’ through Dave’s Garden wrote:

    > Dave posted: ” I am distressed that a long established Coral bark Japanese > maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-Kaku’) has been lost in the swampy lower garden > (along with two dogwoods and an assortment of shrubs), but this is far from > my favorite maple, so the loss is not hear” >

  5. Bonnie C. says:

    Dave – may I ask why you mentioned your Coral Bark JM wasn’t a favorite? My husband & I came across a couple over at Lowe’s the other day, & both of us found the orange bark very interesting.

    1. Dave says:

      I find the dull green foliage of Coral Bark maples particularly unexciting, and if stems are not cut back older stems are not a vibrant red. I will never cut back stems just for this purpose, so the tree was nothing special for me.

  6. tonytomeo says:

    I used to grow Japanese maples on the farm, but NEVER like them. The reason is that they are so trendy in the Santa Clara Valley, where they are not happy. There are certainly some nice specimens about, but the climate is too arid for many types to be happy there. The laceleaf sorts often get roasted. Furthermore, there are no gardeners left who know how to maintain them. The so-called ‘gardeners’ who are here now just shear them like common shrubbery. It is so abhorrent.

    1. Dave says:

      Japanese maples are not sheared here, well, nothing is. I do have a problem with people who prune the lower growth of weeping dissectum types so that they look like mushrooms on a stem, but I suppose that makes my gracefully branched maples look better by comparison.

      In our heat, red leafed Japanese maples fade in the early years after planting unless they’re given shade from the late afternoon sun, but maples grow like weeds with our year around rain. They don’t mind (too much) clay soils, but they do not tolerate prolonged saturated soils like we’ve had for the past year and never before.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        Goodness! EVERYTHING here gets shorn! My colleague and I sometimes try to outdo each other with plants that we have seen shorn, including redwoods, Canary Island pines, coast live oaks, and even pampas grass. If they can reach it, they will shear it.

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