Peace, Love and Japanese Maples

Peace, Love and Japanese Maples

One of my favorite trees is the Japanese maple.

I have a 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple in my landscape. Its new foliage is bright red in spring and darkens to a beautiful reddish-purple in summer. In my partially shaded side yard it maintains this color, but in full sun it would show greener leaves. Its fine, delicate leaves are seven-palmed, and the fall color is an extraordinary crimson.

Among gray and beige stone steps, green shrubbery and turf and white blossoms, the burgundy Japanese maple leaves bring extraordinary texture, color and contrast. A Japanese maple typically has a height and spread of 15 to 25 feet, a muscular trunk and branches and a symmetrical canopy. It's a strong addition to a garden without being overpowering.

Growing up, I remember my parents had a weeping variety of Japanese maple. When it was full of leaves in the summer and the foliage draped down to the ground, my friends and I would play hide-and-seek under this living umbrella.

Another place I love to go admire the Japanese maples is at our local botanical gardens. They have a 33-year-old Japanese garden that is very tranquil. As you enter the space, the plantings and hardscapes work together to represent a stream flowing through a mountainside. They use three styles of Japanese gardens - dry landscape, tea garden and stroll garden. The dry landscape style, perfected by the Zen Buddhists, is represented in a dry stream bed of stones that mimic water flow. The entry shows the tea garden style via a stone lantern, an element that was traditionally placed along a path to light the way to the tea house for an evening tea ceremony. The deliberate placement of stones along the path forces you to slow down so you can appreciate the garden, representing the stroll garden style. You can see why a Japanese maple would fit perfectly into this serene setting.

Japanese maples grow best in partial shade (where they won't suffer scorched leaves in the heat of summer); are moderately drought tolerant; like well-drained, slightly alkaline soil; and respond well to several inches of mulch placed beneath the canopy. Turf does not do well in the dense shade of a Japanese maple canopy.

The Japanese maple is quite hardy. The only insect pests that bother them are aphids and scales. Neither insect causes death, but they can cause some tan, dead areas and leaf drop. If borers infest the tree, it typically means the tree is already unhealthy. The tree is quite susceptible to verticillium wilt, which causes dieback of major branches.

The Japanese word "momiji" has been used to describe this tree. It means two things - baby's hands and crimson leaves, both of which adequately represent the Japanese maple.

Legends say passing a young child through the branches of a maple tree is thought to encourage good health, longevity of life, success and abundance. After years of playing under Japanese maples as a kid and sitting beside them as an adult, I should be full of good luck for quite some time!

What's your favorite tree? Let us know at

  • The Tree Doctor June 26, 2014 >Hi, Mary! It's most likely a fungus has caused the leaf spot. If you choose to treat the tree, treatments should begin shortly after bud break in spring next year. You may send samples to your state extension service to identify the fungus and determine the timing of applications. We hope this helps you. Thanks for reaching out!
  • Mary Sanders June 26, 2014 >Hi, I have a japanese maple tree about 12 foot now and it gets white spots on the leaves. the leaves in later summer curl up brown and die. Yet the next year it starts off as beautiful as ever. Is this something of which I should be aware to take care? Thanks for any input. Mary
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