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Designing with Japanese maples

By: Garden Gate staff
Japanese maples are so varied in size, habit and leaf color, they can go almost anywhere in the garden! Try a few of these ideas for designing with Japanese maples.

designing-with-japanese-maples-pv: Like many Japanese maples, ‘Red Filigree Lace’ above keeps its deep purple-red color all summer and turns bright crimson in fall.

Japanese maples are beautiful in every season

Just what makes Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) so versatile in the landscape? They grow in many different forms — weeping, rounded, mounding or upright — so you can choose the right plant for any situation in your garden.

Japanese maples are multiseason marvels. Choose the right variety, and beautiful, delicate foliage will emerge in spring, show off in summer and transform to flaming colors in fall. But that’s not all! In winter, many varieties have a unique architectural form that’s a great addition to a garden. Some even have colorful bark. Like many Japanese maples, ‘Red Filigree Lace’ above keeps its deep purple-red color all summer and turns bright crimson in fall. Others turn orange or gold-yellow. This graceful beauty fits well into any style garden, and Japanese maples are wonderful companions to azaleas, hydrangeas and shade-loving perennials. Many of these trees grow slowly and top out at 10 to 15 feet tall, so they fit into beds, borders, foundation areas and even containers.

Look ahead for a few perfect places to showcase these stunning trees.

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designing-with-japanese-maples-great-for-entries: Rounded shapes of Japanese maples add balance next to the hard lines and squared shapes of the house. Placing them next to the house also protects these cold-sensitive trees from drying winter winds.

Japanese maples are great for a front entry

Because they don’t have deep roots that grow into the foundation, Japanese maples are a great fit for front entries. Many of these trees grow slowly and stay more the size of a large shrub, so they won’t quickly outgrow their space. Even so, if you start with a small specimen, be sure to give it a wide enough space when planting to accommodate the tree’s mature size.

The entryway planting in the photo above uses contrast to draw visitors toward the front door. The red Japanese maple foliage stands out against the lighter colored brick, highlighting the form of the trees. If you have a darker home, you could choose one of the varieties with light green foliage to achieve a similar eye-catching effect.

Rounded shapes of Japanese maples add balance next to the hard lines of the house. Planting them next to this structure also protects these cold-sensitive trees from drying winter winds.


designing-with-japanese-maples-pair-with-an-ornament: A focal point like this will have more multiseason appeal if you prune your Japanese maple to emphasize an architectural branching structure.

Pair Japanese maples with ornaments

Japanese maples are so varied in size, habit and leaf color, they can really fit in almost anywhere. In an open spot in the yard, like above, balance is established by combining a delicate dwarf Japanese maple with a small statue. This creates a pretty focal point in this Asian-inspired garden.

A pairing like this will have more multiseason appeal when you prune to emphasize an architectural branching structure.


designing-with-japanese-maples-combine-with-other-plants: The bright red foliage of ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple at the end of a winding creek or a path draws the eye up and opens your view to more of the garden.

Combine Japanese maples with other plants

Japanese maples combine well with other plants and each other, too. The large, bold foliage of hostas (Hosta spp. and hybrids) and grassy leaves of hakonechloa (Hakonechloa macra) provide nice contrast for Japanese maples in the partly shaded garden above.

Let weeping varieties, like ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Crimson Queen’, cascade over a stream bank or even a retaining wall, and add height with upright types, such as ‘Bloodgood’.

The bright red foliage of ‘Bloodgood’ at the end of a winding creek or a path draws the eye up, opening the view to more of the garden.

Check Out More Plant Combos for Your Garden


designing-with-japanese-maples-great-in-containers: Move the Japanese maple in it's pot indoors once the foliage drops in fall if you live in zone 6 or colder.

Japanese maples are low-maintenance container plants

Have a corner of the patio that could really use some drama? Let a container-planted Japanese maple be the solution! It’s one tree that will thrive in a pot.

For the best results, try a dwarf cultivar that’s slow growing and only reaches 6 to 8 feet tall. Plan to prune more frequently than you typically would if it were planted in the ground, and it’s likely you’ll need to repot into a larger container every couple of years. Or, to keep it in the same pot, shear off some of the roots and refresh the potting mix once every few years. ‘Sangokaku’ in the photo has brilliant coral bark that intensifies to deep red in winter, adding to its multiseason appeal — perfect if you live in a mild climate and can enjoy it year round.

See More Container Garden Ideas

Container tips

  • To keep the tree healthy without promoting too much growth, use potting mix that doesn’t have fertilizer mixed in and apply a dose of water-soluble fertilizer once in spring. Make sure the soil stays evenly moist but not soggy.
  • Move the pot indoors once the foliage drops in fall, if you live in zone 6 or colder. Inside an attached garage, porch or basement is fine because the tree doesn’t need light when it’s dormant.
Published: Aug. 20, 2019
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