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Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (photo courtesy of Monrovia)
Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (photo courtesy of Monrovia)

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Zones A3, 2-10, 12, 14-24, 31-41
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Full, Partial
Regular Water

Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’

Japanese Maple (Dissectum Group)
Deciduous, Trees


Maples are a varied group. They may be large and midsize shade trees; smaller trees; and dainty, picturesque shrub-trees. Leaves range from simple ovals to deeply lobed and finely dissected shapes. One element common to all maples is the fruit (seed capsule), which resembles a hardware store wingnut.

Many maples have beautiful fall color. Look for one that colors well in your locale; visit nurseries while the foliage is changing hue.

The larger maples have extensive fibrous root systems that take water and nutrients from the topsoil. The great canopy of leaves calls for a steady, constant supply of water, not necessarily frequent watering but constantly available water throughout the root zone. Occasional deep watering and periodic feeding will help keep roots deep.

Medium to large maple species need little pruning. On smaller types, prune to accentuate the natural shape. To minimize sap bleed, make any cuts in summer or early fall in mild-winter areas, from summer to the end of January where temperatures remain below freezing.

Acer palmatum ‘Bonfire’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Acer palmatum ‘Bonfire’ (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Acer palmatum

Native to Japan and Korea. Slow growing to 20 ft. with equal or greater spread. Normally many-stemmed. Most airy and delicate of all maples. Leaves 2–4 in. long, deeply cut into five to nine toothed lobes. All-year interest: young spring growth is glowing red; summer leaves are soft green; fall foliage is scarlet, orange, or yellow; slender leafless branches in greens and reds provide winter pattern.

Grafted garden varieties are popular, but common seedlings have uncommon grace and usefulness: they are more rugged, faster growing, more drought tolerant, and they stand more sun and wind than named forms do. Japanese maples thrive everywhere in the Northwest, where they make good small street trees. They can be grown with success in California if given shelter from hot, dry, or constant winds. Filtered shade is best, but full sun can be satisfactory. In California, consider the local soil and water; wherever azaleas are difficult to grow and suffer from salt buildup in the soil, Japanese maples will show burn on leaf edges. Resistant to oak root fungus.

Used effectively on north and east walls, in patios and entryways, as small lawn trees. Attractive in groves (like birches) as woodland planting; for natural effect, set out plants of different sizes with varying spacing. Good under oaks, as background for ferns and azaleas, alongside pools. Invaluable in tubs and for bonsai. Japanese maple is inclined to grow in flat, horizontal planes, so pruning to accentuate this growth habit is easy.

The grafted garden forms are usually smaller than seedlings, more weeping and spreading, brighter in foliage color, and more finely cut in leaf.

Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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‘Crimson Queen’

Small, shrubby, 9-ft. mound with finely cut leaves that hold deep red color all summer, turn scarlet before dropping off in fall.

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