Our expedition today will focus on a prized plant. Easily grown in most landscapes, it’s native to Korea, China and Russia, but most pointedly, Japan. Some species grow as small trees, others grow as large shrubbery.
Scientifically classified under the wood family, this plant is common worldwide. Cultivated extensively over the past few hundred years, due to its beauty and nostalgia. It’s a go-to choice for many bonsai fans.
Did you take a guess?
I bet you nailed it!
Let’s discuss the Japanese Maple, a truly stunning plant!
Not listed as invasive for most states in the US, Japanese maples are certainly on the watch list. They have characteristics similar to invasive species. Seeds breaching the forest can bully out native plants and take over. It has yet to pose a real threat, or show serious decline of native wildlife, so we don’t see it on our invasive list.
Throughout the 1800’s, cultivars (hybrid versions of a plant) migrated west from Asia, into Europe. Hundreds of hybrids were cultivated as it continued west and into America. Quickly becoming the decorative plant of choice for many enthusiastic horticulturists.
At full maturity, Japanese maple trees peak out between 15-25 feet, making them a great understudy tree. If you want to purchase one, I recommend buying the largest one possible. Although pricey, I have found the bigger, the better chance it has at reaching maturity. It will grow roughly one or two feet per year and have a lifespan over 100 years.
The best time to plant your new Japanese maple is early fall. This allows the roots to establish, even while the plant is dormant. Just make sure you’re in the clear from any frost, newly planted trees are not fans of frost and could lead to it’s demise. If not early fall, then spring is best, just steer clear of that frost.
Japanese maples require a great deal of water when first planted. Soil should be kept moist, but well drained. I do not recommend planting them in full sun, or hot climates in general. They can endure mild dry periods, but prolonged drought conditions will spell the end. Regular intervals of watering will be needed in order to survive.
Pruning your Japanese maple is not completely necessary. Many people like to attempt their own designs. In my opinion, letting nature take its course is the best practice for your plant. Most trees make their own creative, natural designs. If you do feel so inclined, here are a few helpful pruning tips.
- Trim off lower limbs.
- Thin out small branches that chunk up the core or interior part of the tree. This helps shape a canopy top.
- Summer months are good for pruning out small core branches.
- Winter is best for larger branch modifications.
Root systems do not plunge deep into the soil. Generally they stay shallow, no deeper than maybe 2 or 3 feet. They extend horizontally and extend well beyond the leafy branches at the top of the tree.
Japanese maple foliage, simply put, is exquisite. Leaves range from green and red to yellow and orange. They are thin, paper-like leaves that resemble hands or a claw.
Have you ever tried fried maple leaves? I have not, but I reckon they are delicious. Yellow leaves are used and they must be picked off the tree in order to use them. The yellow leaves are fried, but only after submerged in salt water for one year. The red leaves are no good for this process.
As seasons change, the Japanese maple grows a fruit called samara. They look like a pair of wings and they spin around as they fall to the ground. These wings, aided by the wind, allow the fruit to spread its seeds far and wide.
The seeds from the fruit are edible but only during early stages of growth while still on the tree. As seeds age and dry out, they grow a cotton around them, rendering them unpalatable.
Few insects or diseases will impact the Japanese maple. However, they are prone to physical damage. Young shoots do not recover well from a spring frost. The bark on the trunk is thin so be careful when mowing the lawn or using the weed whacker around them. Also, animals could cause harm, like a deer rubbing his antlers against the bark.
Japanese maple trees are symbolic in Asian cultures. These beautiful trees stand as a symbol of grace and elegance. It is obvious to see why. All the different structural variations and intrinsic colors.
As we approach our finish line, we end with a few fun facts.
Momiji is the Japanese word for Japanese maple.
Never give a horse dried or wilted leaves from a Japanese maple. Wilting leaves produce a cyanide causing harm to the red blood cells of a horse.
Japanese Maples are pricey, but keep in mind, you’re really get your bang for your buck with this plant!