Designing a Japanese Maple Tree Garden
Credit: Heng Wang via Wikimedia Commons

Japanese maples are a great way for the novice to get started in gardening. They are surprisingly easy to grow and maintain once they are established and are hardy enough to survive harsh winters down to about 20 degrees F.  

These maples do not have any common pests or diseases that attack them regularly throughout their lifetimes, so the long term maintenance is very low and does not require any routine pesticide sprays or any other controls to keep them healthy. It is one of the easier plants or trees to get started with for your DIY landscaping ideas. And it just so happens, it also happens to be one of the most beautiful trees.

Japanese maple leaf trees come in so many varieties, you can create a unique garden design complete with different colors, textures and heights. Professionals love them because of their versatility and the many shapes, sizes and colors.

Even the textures of the tree leaves vary depending on the species. Some are feathery, or silky colors of scarlet, crimson and burgundy. There are even more exotic species that have orange, yellow, purple green and white leave.

Some thrive in the spring while others bloom out full in the summer and even the fall creating a wide diversity of colors. Others start red and stay that way until their leaves drop off in the fall.

Japanese maple trees can grow straight up or spread out depending on how they are pruned. Some varieties can reach height of 25 feet while other smaller species top out around four feet.

How to Plant a Japanese Maple

Japanese maples do best in well-drained soil, but with plenty of moisture and full to partial sunlight. Once they have established themselves, they require very little maintenance other than the occasional early year pruning to keep their shape.

Japanese maples work great as a focal point to any garden and undoubtedly will steal the show from your other plants.

Pruning a Japanese Maple

Designing a Japanese Maple Tree Garden
Credit: mjpyro

It is best to begin pruning your trees in the spring time after the leaves star to emerge. However, you can prune Japanese Maples even in the winter without issue. In fact, if you have a lot of undergrowth, it might be wise to prune in the winter when the leaves are missing.

Start from the center of the tree and work your way out which will have the trees more open allowing you to see through gaps.

However, never remove more than 1/5 of the maple’s crown. As a rule of thumb, you should also avoid pruning a branch that is more than half the diameter of the parent stem. Finally, do not remove more than a quarter of a limb’s foliage. The limb receives its nutrients through the leaves via photosynthesis and cutting too many off with starve it.

Furthermore, do not try to cut it down at the top to restrict the height. It won’t work. It is going to grow as tall as it wants to and constantly pruning limbs off the top will eventually damage the tree.

However, you can manage the width of the tree without issue. Just remember the tips about pruning amounts listed above.

Designing a Japanese Maple Garden

Designing a Japanese Maple Tree Garden
Credit: Derek Ramsey via Wikimedia Commons

Create a Focal Point

If you are interested in designing a garden with maple trees, start out by creating a focal point. This can be brightly colored leaves that draw the attention of the public. Next, work out from the center mixing in interesting varieties of maples as well as contracting low growing greens.

Compliment with Evergreens

Too compliment your maples, use plants with strong shapes or colors nearby such as lush greens or variegated versions of low lying plants. Remember, the idea is to compliment, not overwhelm.

The many colors of Japanese maples go great with evergreens such as junipers cedar and cypress trees.

Other low lying options include nandinas and hosta with add fiery and luscious green contrasting colors.

Create a Water Feature

Water makes any location great, and that includes a backyard garden. Consider adding a water feature such as a small pond using a mold or a flexible PVC pond liner which allows for more creativity.

The pond does not have to be huge to generate interest and add value to your garden. It can be a tranquil setting or a slight trickling stream, just be sure to plant several maples around its banks for the contrast and the reflections the water will create.

Designing a Japanese Maple Tree Garden
Credit: Opensource

Combine and Contrast Texture

Your maples trees should be surrounded by evergreens or other plants with rounded, pointed or feathery leaves. Red or purple leaves on maples go great with variegated types of low lying plants with yellows and greens.

Also, do not shy away from pairing your maples with plants of the same color, but with a different texture. Red maples look great with purple loropetalums.

Finally, mix various types such as dwarf maples with larger versions. Dwarf maples generally only grow about 10 feet tall, while regular maples can get as tall as 20 – 25 feet.

Five Varieties of Japanese Maple

Designing a Japanese Maple tree Garden
Credit: Trevor Rickard via Wikimedia Commons


Dissectum Atropurpureum - feathery red-purple leaves that turn bright crimson in fall.  Grows about eight feet tall and eight feet wide.

Coonara Pygmy - dwarf maple with pinkish leaves that fade over the summer. In the fall they turn a bright orangish red. Grows about eight feet tall and wide. These are a great choice for small spaces.

Green Cascade - fullmoon Japanese maple has finely cut green foliage which turns reddish orange in the fall. and a delicate weeping habit. Grows to about 10 feet or more.

Autumn Moon – similar to the fullmoon maple, this variety has golden leaves with a pinkish tone which turn to red, orange and yellow in the fall. Grows about 25 feet tall and 25 feet wide if not kept in check.

Emperor 1 – dark purple and red leaves which blooms in the middle of spring making it a great choice for those that live in the northern latitudes of the United States. The leaves turn scarlet red in the fall. This maple grows to about 15 feet wall and 15 feet wide.

FoxFarm FX14055 FoxFarm Happy Frog Japanese Maple Fertilizer
Amazon Price: $29.99 $6.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 14, 2015)