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How to Care for Japanese Maples

February 8, 2022 Jill Raver
Filed in: Tree Information

Japanese Maples are one of the most popular landscaping trees in the world. Not only are they beautiful and easy to grow, but they have the ability to transform any landscape into something truly magical. Each Japanese Maple variety has a character and charm that is all its own. Are you considering adding one or more of these iconic trees to your landscape plan, but aren’t sure where to start? Japanese maples are stunning trees that are adaptable and easy to care for once they are established. Here we will explore how to care for Japanese Maples and some of the best practices for planting.

Japanese Maple Tree Facts

Growing Zones: 5 to 9
Bloom Color: Varies depending on the variety
Mature Height: Some varieties can reach up to 40 feet. However, dwarf varieties max out at around 8-10 feet
Growth Rate: Slow to moderate depending on the variety
Soil Types: Slightly acidic, fertile, moist, but well-drained soil
Light Requirements: Full sun. However, many Japanese Maple varieties prefer partial shade to avoid leaf scorch on their delicate leaves in summer.
Water Requirements: Drought tolerant

Planting Japanese Maples

When To Plant A Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple trees can be planted at any time of the year. Most gardeners recommend planting in the spring, but that isn’t a rule that has to be strictly followed. What you don’t want to do, however, is plant your tree right before freezing temperatures hit. This is because you want the root system to get established before it experiences the first hard freeze.

Where To Plant A Japanese Maple

If you are planting your Japanese Maple near a house or other structure, be sure that you’re providing enough clearance for your tree to grow to its fullest potential. The size of your tree will vary depending on the variety you choose. For your Japanese Maple to thrive, be sure to choose a planting location where your tree will receive both ample sunlight and adequate drainage to prevent root rot.

How To Plant A Japanese Maple

  1. Once you have chosen your planting location, dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and about as deep as the root ball is tall. Place your tree in the hole and once it’s positioned, we recommend doing a check from every angle to ensure your tree is set in straight. Note: The top of the root ball should be just slightly higher than the soil line. This ensures that you do not plant your tree too deeply.
  2. Backfill with the soil you dug up. Alternatively, you can use a 50/50 mixture of native soil and a good-quality planting mix.
  3. Apply mulch 2-3” thick around your tree and extend it a couple of inches beyond the projected tree’s canopy. Do not pile mulch against the trunk as this can increase the chance of pests and disease. The mulch should be applied about an inch or so away from the trunk.
  4. Water your new tree deeply at the base. Then water once daily for the first week, and 2 to 3 times per week for the first few months. Getting adequate water will help your Japanese Maple root system get properly established.


Note: If you have rich, nutrient-dense soil, you likely won’t need to fertilize your tree. However, if your soil lacks nutrients, or you’re growing your Japanese Maple in a pot, watering in a high-quality granular fertilizer at least once per year will give it a boost and help it thrive.

Japanese Maple Spacing

If you’re planting more than one Japanese Maple, it’s important that you space them at least 6 feet apart to accommodate their full-grown size. This is also an important consideration when it comes to planting one of these trees near any structure, driveway, or walkway. Dwarf varieties will need less spacing than the larger varieties, some as little as 4 feet. Or, if you’re planting in pots or containers, you won’t need to worry about spacing at all.

How To Care For Japanese Maples

Disease and Pests

Japanese Maples are naturally disease and pest resistant. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they will never experience problems. However, it does mean that they are less prone to some of the problems that other trees commonly experience. Proper location, watering, mulching, and fertilization are the keys to keeping your Japanese Maple healthy. But even with the best care practices, scale, mites, and aphids are insects that can occasionally affect Japanese Maples. You can treat your tree for these pests naturally with horticultural oil, neem oil, or insecticidal soap. For severe infections, you can use pesticides like carbaryl, also known as Sevin. Another potential pest of the Japanese Maple tree is the Japanese Beetle. We suggest parasitic nematodes and bacillus thuringiensis for effective, organic control of this pest should the need arise.

Japanese Maple Pruning Tips

Pruning a Japanese Maple is not a necessity. That’s one of the wonderful things about this tree. However, pruning is recommended for anyone who wants to shape their tree, create a canopy, or reduce branch crowding. As a general rule, winter is the best time to modify branch structure, and late summer to very early fall is best reserved for thinning out branches. If you live in a hot and humid climate, you should avoid pruning on hot, sunny days, as it causes considerable shock damage to the tree.

Branch Maintenance

Maintaining and pruning the branches of your Japanese Maple will encourage vigorous, healthy growth. If crowded branches become a problem for your Japanese Maple, there are several types of branches you might consider removing in late summer or winter:

  • Broken, diseased, or dead branches. It’s important that you prune them when you see them, no matter the time of year.
  • Branches growing inward or in the wrong direction. These kinds of branches can potentially cause a lot of problems, so you may opt to remove them.
  • Branches that cross one another. These can damage both the bark and the branches, which can encourage disease and pests. If you find that you have several branches crossing in one particular area, you may want to consider keeping the healthiest branch. Then thin out the rest.
  • Narrow crotches. This occurs when 2 branches meet at an angle of fewer than 45 degrees. While this isn’t a huge concern, removing one of the branches to open up your tree can reduce the potential for breakage.
  • Crowded branches. Removing crowded branches isn’t always necessary. However, it’s most important when it involves the crown of the tree. Removing crowded branches and foliage in this area will increase airflow and help your tree breathe better.


When removing an entire branch, prune at a 45-degree angle back to the branch collar, but not into it. There shouldn’t be much of the branch left after your cut, but you should also never cut flush to the connecting branch or trunk.

Pruning Pitfalls

Here are a few things you should be mindful of when doing branch maintenance:

Avoid pruning unestablished trees unless absolutely necessary. It’s best to allow your tree to grow for a good 10 to 15 years before you do any significant pruning.

If your young tree develops long, thin, whip-like branches, don’t remove them. Be patient. They will eventually fill out. If you cut them off, you are likely to get more of this same branch type.

Pruning Japanese Maples to control height is a fight you won’t win, and you frankly shouldn’t even try. It will only encourage faster growth and thinner, weaker branches. To avoid the need to prune your trees for the purposes of controlling height, make sure that you plant your tree in an area that can accommodate the full-grown size of the Japanese Maple you select.

Never cut off more than ⅕ of the foliage or the crown of your Japanese Maple. It will not encourage healthy growth but instead could stunt or inhibit its growth.

Avoid excessive pruning. That is really the bottom line. While aesthetic pruning of Japanese Maples is a common practice, you should only prune when necessary and on occasion.

PlantingTree has many Japanese Maple varieties to choose from. From the Bloodgood Japanese Maple to the dwarf Red Dragon and the Tamukeyama, shop our premium hand-selected trees anytime at our online plant nursery.

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