To figure out which maple is right for your garden, consider these four factors:
Zone: Most Japanese maples do well in zones 5 – 8. They can be grown in warmer zones, but can suffer from leaf scorch and require ample regular summer irrigation and protection from hot afternoon sun. In Zone 4, most Japanese maples (except for Velvet Viking™) are not reliable in the garden. It’s possible for them to survive a year or two if the winter lows aren’t too severe, but sooner or later, they will succumb to weather. They can, however, be grown in containers and, once dormant, overwintered in an unheated garage or other cool, sheltered location. A better option might be a Korean maple which is lovely and hardy to zone 4.
Size and Form: Choosing the right one means knowing how you want to use it. Japanese maples range from 2 to 30 feet tall in forms that can be weeping, rounded, dwarf, mounding, upright, or cascading. Are you looking to create a grove of Japanese maples? Maybe create a spotlight with a solitary specimen? Do you want to fill a large container? Or perhaps a taller Japanese maple as the main attraction?
Leaf Shape: Decide which type of foliage appeals to you. Once you’ve got the size and form figured out, think about foliage. Japanese maple foliage is primarily divided into two types: either palm-shaped (Acer palmatum), or delicate and lacy (Acer palmatum var. dissectum). There are fans of both types, and the choice is often informed by the style of the garden or the surrounding structures.
Leaf Color: What color of foliage appeals most? With a range of foliage colors–red, green, orange, purple, white, and pink depending on the season–Japanese maples are among the most colorful of trees. Some leaf out in brilliant reds in spring, change to green by summer, and finish the fall in yellows and oranges. Others start red and stay red till autumn. Do you want a sequence of changing color from spring to fall or do you just really love rich, dramatic red throughout the seasons?
Once you have a handle on these considerations, it’s time to see some options! It’s always best to visit your local garden center to get the best possible information on what grows very well in your specific region.
To get you started here are some of our favorite Japanese maples divided by size and suggested ways to use them as well as care and planting info.
This is a considered purchase, so if you have questions or need more specific advice, please use the comments section.