Selecting a Japanese Maple

October is a great month for fall color and trees including Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) really shine. While most people have heard of or seen Japanese Maples in the landscape many do not appreciate the range of plants that are included in this species. Read on for information on how to distinguish the plants among this group, and how to select one for your garden.

Form – Upright vs. Weeping


A red upright Japanese Maple (left) and a red weeping Japanese Maple (right).

Japanese Maples can be divided into two different types based on their form – upright and weeping. Upright Maples typically fall into the category of small tree, getting up to 30′ in height with a spread almost as broad. Weeping Japanese Maples tend to reach the size of large shrubs – typically less than 10′ tall and wide. Both can be fabulous in the landscape, but make sure that you are selecting a tree that will fit in your garden in both the short and long term.

Color – Red vs. Green

Green Weeping Japanese Maple Green Upright Japanese Maple

A green weeping Japanese Maple (left) and a green upright Japanese Maple (right).

While most of our clients ask about red leaved Japanese Maples I would encourage you to consider the green leaved varieties, especially when working in a shade garden where red varieties may fail to color up. Green leaved Maples have equally beautiful form, and their fall color tends to be a rich yellow or orange.

Selecting a Maple – Structure, Size, and Reversion

Dormant Japanese Maple

A dormant Japanese Maple with beautiful winter form.

Now that you have decided on the type of Japanese Maple you would like to add to your garden, here are some tips on how to select one at the nursery.

1. Focus on form – Japanese Maples grow surprisingly quickly, so I would always select one with good form rather than one that is larger but with poorer structure. A plant with good form will continue to look balanced as it grows.

2. Don’t worry about burned foliage – If you are purchasing a Maple at the end of the summer don’t be surprised if you see burned foliage, especially on red leaved varieties. This is very common in nursery plants after the heat of the summer, and may continue for the first few years until the plant is well established.

3. Avoid reversion – Japanese Maples are grown as grafted plants – with one plant as the root stock and one plant as the top branching. In some cases the plant will try to revert to its root stock, resulting in 2 types of leaves on the branches. While this reverted growth can typically be pruned out, you may end up with a tree with poor form.

Interested in adding a Japanese Maple to your garden? Contact Bright Leaf Landscaping at (919) 475-1015 or fill out our online contact form. Landscape design and installation are our expertise, and we are always happy to meet with new clients to discuss potential projects!