When it comes to show-stopping ornamental landscape trees, Japanese maple trees are at the top of many homeowner's lists.
They offer a great variety of leaf colors, shapes, and textures, and there are dwarf sizes that can fit in most spaces. They even offer upright forms or cascading ones, fitting in with a variety of landscape styles.
With a bit of attention given to the right planting location and some minimal care, Japanese maples can thrive, giving your home a unique highlight that dazzles in your garden.
Let’s learn more about types of Japanese maple trees and Japanese maple care, so you can choose the right species for your yard and ensure it remains a healthy addition to your space for years to come.
How to Identify a Japanese Maple
The Japanese maple tree is a member of the maple family. Just like the name implies, the tree originated in Japan, but these trees are known to grow wild across Korea and Mongolia hillsides, as well.
In the wild, these trees can grow upwards of 20 to 35 feet, but in the home landscape, they stay in that 15- to 25-foot height and 20-foot spread. It thrives in partial shade, needing some protection from the harsh afternoon sun.
Japanese Maple Leaves
The stars of the Japanese maple tree are its leaves.
You can separate Japanese maple leaves into two shape categories: palm-shaped or delicate and lacy. And the foliage ranges from red to green to purple or burgundy and orange, depending on the season. Some leaf out in spring in ruby red and then become green in summer, turning orange or bronze and gold in fall. Others begin and maintain a red color and then deepen to burgundy in the autumn.
Japanese Maple Bark
The Japanese maple tree usually has several trunks rather than a single, central trunk.
Its smooth bark can be greenish to gray in color. The more green or even pink color will signify younger shoots, while the gray color is visible on older limbs.
Types of Japanese Maple Trees
While there are hundreds of different Japanese maple varieties, there are only a few major types that we can separate by leaf shape and design, as well as color.
When it comes to Japanese maple tree identification, knowing how you want to use your tree can help you pick the right variety for you. Their forms can be weeping, rounded, dwarf, mounding, upright, or cascading. Next, you have the two different types of foliage discussed above, and, finally, leaf color preference.
These major categories of Japanese maple can give you some ideas of what’s out there to help you make a more informed selection.
Amoenum - This tree has bright green leaves with seven distinct lobes. In fall, the foliage turns bright scarlet. It reaches 15 feet tall and wide.
Atropurpureum - This tree is upright with red foliage. Its leaves are deeply lobed with five fingers. A popular one is the ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple tree. It reaches 20 feet in height with a 15-foot spread.
Aureum - This Japanese maple has bright gold leaves in spring that turn lime in summer, fading to a chartreuse or orange in autumn. Leaves have seven or nine pointed lobes, and the tree can grow to 20 feet tall and wide. ‘Golden Moon’ and ‘Autumn Moon’ are popular varieties.
Convexum - This one has deeply lobed, maroon leaves that grow on a structure that reaches less than 20 feet tall.
Corallinum - This one draws attention with pink foliage in spring that becomes bright red and then dark red with bits of green or entirely green in summer. Its leaves have five or seven lobes and turn bright red or orange in fall. You can expect this type to reach 15 feet tall and wide.
Dissectum - The deep reddish-purple foliage of this tree looks lacy due to deeply lobed leaves and a weeping growth habit. Usually around 10 feet tall, foliage turns vibrant red in fall. Try ‘Crimson Queen.”
Linearilobum - Green foliage in summer on deeply lobed leaves shine on this tree with a narrow, upright growth habit. Leaves become golden orange in fall and varieties usually grow less than 10 feet tall.
Matsumurae - In this group, you’ll find trees with seven to nine lobed leaves and serrated margins. A 15-foot tall variety with a cascading form would be ‘Omurayama,’ which has green foliage in summer that turns red, orange, and gold in fall.
Marginatum - This group has variegated foliage and a sharp contrast between margin and leaf center coloring. Leaves have five lobes, while the tree can grow to 12 feet. Some varieties are green and white variegated, while others are red with light pink margins that turn greenish red as the season progresses.
Palmatum - These compact Japanese maple trees have five lobes. You’ll see green foliage with pink and white margins on this tree, which grows to roughly 3 feet.
Pinebark - This Japanese maple stands out with rough bark that looks like pine tree bark versus traditional smooth bark that you’ll find on most other Japanese maples. Foliage varies depending on the species.
Redwood - This Japanese maple is also defined by its bark with bright red, coral, or orange branches that pop out behind its green leaves.
Reticulatum - The Japanese maples here have leaves with veins that are a different color than the rest of the leaf. For instance, ‘First Ghost’ has creamy white or pale green leaves with deep green veins.
Variegatum - Pink and white centers with spots of deep green make these leaves stand out. In cooler climates, variegation will pop versus in warmer climates. Most of these stay under 10 feet tall.
Witches’ Broom - Some varieties in this category have bright pink leaves in spring that shift to dark burgundy in summer and fall. Other varieties have bright red foliage during the growing season that turn bronze in fall.
Japanese Maple General Characteristics
- Grow zones: Japanese maple trees grow best in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8.
- Bloom/Flowering: Small, reddish flowers are borne from umbrella-like clusters in May and June.
- Height/spread: Depending on the variety you choose, Japanese maples can range from less than 10 feet tall to 25-feet tall. Spreads range based on specific varieties as well.
- Sunlight: This tree grows best in partial sun, which is approximately 4 hours of direct sun, and it prefers morning sun to afternoon sun.
- Best time to prune: Winter is the best time for modifying the tree’s branch structure and summer is the best time for thinning branches or minor trimming.