Japanese maples can make great signature trees

By Allen Owings

LSU AgCenter horticulturist

Japanese maples have the potential to be one of the most outstanding small trees for specimen plantings and focal-point use in residential landscapes in the Southeast.

Normally Japanese maples do best in Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5-8. Louisiana is in zones 8 and 9, so being located in the southern edge of the recommended planting region can present some challenges. With proper planting and site selection, however, Japanese maples will do well in Louisiana.

When planting Japanese maples, select a partial-sun to partial-shade location for best results. Full sun will result in leaf burn on many varieties during summer. A little more sun than shade will, however, result in enhanced leaf color.

Protection from windy conditions also needs to be considered. Soil should be well drained but maintain some moisture. A slightly acid soil is recommended. Japanese maples are very shallow rooted. Winter is a great time to add new Japanese maples and other trees to the landscape.

Variations in leaf color and shape are a unique horticultural characteristic of Japanese maples. You can find green-foliaged and red-foliaged varieties. Most of the green-foliage varieties have reddish or yellow fall foliage color.

Red-foliage varieties are most susceptible to sun scald during summer and early fall. Some of the finer-textured-foliage species are referred to as threadleaf forms.

Japanese maples have a slow growth rate, and most varieties will mature to a height of about 15 to 20 feet. Average width is 10 to 15 feet at maturity. Dwarf types also are available. Spreading forms grow wider than tall, and some varieties have a cascading, umbrella-shaped canopy.

Japanese maples need little care once established in the landscape. Prune them lightly in winter as needed the first five years to maintain the desired shape and to remove competing branches. Light applications of a slow release fertilizer every couple years in early spring is desirable. Mulch with pine straw to protect the shallow root system from excessive drying out. Irrigate only as needed. Soil drainage is essential, so be sure to select an ideal planting site.

There are many varieties of Japanese maples. Bloodgood, Fireglow, Crimson Queen and Burgundy Lace are some popular ones at garden centers in Louisiana. The LSU AgCenter has a recent planted collection of 35 Japanese maple varieties in the gardens at the Hammond Research Station.

To see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by viewing the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website at www.lsuagcenter.com/hammond. Also, like us on Facebook by going to www.facebook.com and typing Hammond Research Station in the search box.

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