The early Japanese maples

I am uncertain of the cultivar name of the red leafed Japanese maple that borders the driveway. Certainly, it is a dissectum type, and taking a guess from the time it was purchased thirty three years ago when there were many fewer varieties available, it is most likely ‘Crimson Queen’ or ‘Ever Red’ (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ or ‘Ever Red’, below). And of course, it hardly matters. Both are fine trees deserving of better treatment than this maple has been given.

When first planted the maple was along the front walk, but within a few years it was clearly too close and beginning to obstruct traffic. Two nearby ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maples (Acer palmatum ‘Seriyu’, below) partially obstructed the walk for a while, but this was done knowingly, with the plan that both would grow tall enough to walk under. Apparently, the pendulous, dissectum maple was planted with little thought , which is not so unusual in this garden except that when it was planted there was abundant space and little excuse.

In any case, at some point it became obvious that the maple must be moved since pruning a Japanese maple will almost always ruin its graceful form. By then, the tree was quite large, and part way through the slow process of digging to move it I became impatient. A long, nylon strap was obtained which was then wrapped around the half exposed ball of roots. The strap was hooked to the frame of our car and the Japanese maple and roots were ungracefully snatched from the hole and dragged thirty feet to the new planting hole near the driveway. Amazingly, and this is a testament to the toughness of Japanese maples, it barely dropped a leaf.

Yes, there is a house back there, behind the Japanese maples and dogwood.

And so the situation is clearly understood, I am unquestionably slow to learn from mistakes, and within a decade the wide spreading maple was growing into the driveway. I know, I should be ashamed, but another decade later it’s still here, but with some artful pruning to elevate driveway side branches. Today, I cringe every time a delivery driver decides to back down the short drive, but miraculously they are quite careful and no more than a few small branches are ever broken.

Conveniently, the maple’s elevated branches have opened planting space beneath for hellebores and several seedlings of the red leafed spurge ‘Bonfire’ (Euphorbia polychroma ‘Bonfire’) have popped up despite shallow roots and reflected heat from the driveway.

Meanwhile, in the decades since the two ‘Seriyu’ maples were planted they long ago grew tall enough to walk under. I like it, but my wife scoffs when I say this was planned all along, I suppose since little planning ever takes place. What was not thought out so much was that the two green leafed maples and a red leafed ‘Bloodgood’ (Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, above) just beyond the front door almost completely block any view of the house when they’re in leaf (along with a huge purple leafed European beech) . It is a nice enough house, and I suppose good design should frame a house rather than hide it. But, what the heck, I’m happy with all the maples and who cares what good design thinks?

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa M says:

    I love Japanese maples. I have no trees in my front yard. None. We have a good sized lot, but most of it is our backyard. I have been enviously eyeing my neighbor’s JM for years. I’m assuming they like sun as all of the homes on my side of the street get sun the majority of the day. Thus, keeping my tall fescue lawn watered (without much help from Mother Nature the last couple years) is a part time job. I’m seriously thinking of buying one for a bit of shade if nothing else . If I do, I will be sure to keep it away from the driveway and sidewalk.

    1. Dave says:

      Most Japanese maple would prefer a break from the late afternoon sun. Ones with red leaves will fade less, and yellow and variegated leaf maples prefer less sun.

  2. tonytomeo says:

    Pruning should not compromise form, and can actually enhance it and make it more visible. However, pruning them downward from the exterior is not so simple, and can very easily be done improperly. Sometimes, there are not many proper options for pruning, especially for specimens that were disfigured earlier. Our only pendulous red laceleaf maple has a high graft union, above a straight trunk. Such trees present well in nurseries. However, as they mature, their straight trunk looks weird below all those gnarly limbs with bark of a different color. I would prefer such trees to be grafted at ground level (since I sort of ignore a basal graft union), and staked loosely, for a more curvaceous trunk that leads into the gnarly limbs above. It might be better if they were not staked at all, but then, they might just sprawl on the ground for too long.

    1. Dave says:

      I have many more upright than weeping maples. At the time this red leafed weeper was purchased 33 years ago the tall grafts were rarely seen, so this was unique at the time. The other weepers are low grafts that are more unusual now.

      1. tonytomeo says:

        High grafts seem like a cop out. They only make production easier for growers. They really are sill for home gardens.

  3. James says:

    Dave….like yours, our Japanese Maple arches over the walkway to the house because it was planted too close to the walkway. When it snows, low-hanging branches smack you in the face. So I’ve pruned them to give some headroom. Professionals would probably have a stroke, but it’s the best I can do. This year, I’ve counted 15 volunteer sprouts ranging from 2″-4″, in the surrounding mulch or in the leafy, unkempt area nearby. Three years ago, I transplanted one of these and it’s now a healthy 3-foot “tree” in a pot on our deck. Not sure yet if I want to leave it there, or transplant it into a forever home in a gently-shaded area out in the yard. Hopefully I can get a few more “trees” out of these little volunteer seedlings.

    1. Dave says:

      I’ve recently planted a handful of dwarf maples, bur there is no room to plant full size Japanese maples. So, seedlings will remain in pots until they’re overgrown. Years ago, when nieces and nephews visited I sent them home with a small maple, but now no one wants seedlings.

  4. The English Gardener says:

    I love Japanese maples and never tire of your Japanese maple posts! My yard is full of Japanese maples and I cannot have enough. Mostly full sun though the green ones are planted with some afternoon shade. They’re doing very well. Unfortunately some of them were grafted very poorly, and at the time that I purchased them 5 years ago I was not aware of the importance of proper grafting. I still love their little idiosyncrasies and prune them to prevent them keeling over. I don’t get into the technical aspects and they still continue to thrive. That is what gives me pleasure. Right now they are spectacular! Thank you Dave.

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