Hime Shojo Japanese MapleAcer palmatum ‘Hime-shojo’
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Acer palmatum ‘Hime-shojo’
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Hime Shojo Japanese Maple is a superb newer variety, with a dense, compact form, growing into a low dome of stems to 5 feet tall. The small leaves are divided into 5 narrow fingers, and new leaves are a bright cherry red. Summer leaves are dark burgundy, and this variety holds that color well throughout summer. It is perfect for smaller gardens, on walls and in rock gardens, and of course for growing in a pot or developing into a wonderful bonsai tree.
Full sun or some afternoon shade is best for the Hime Shojo Japanese Maple, which grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil. It is not very drought-resistant, so water regularly during the summer in particular, and feed container plants with liquid fertilizer in spring and early summer. Normally free of pests or diseases, in a suitable location, with some attention to watering, this tree is not difficult to grow.
For lovers of Japanese maples, it’s always exciting when a new variety arrives from Japan. Although known there for more than 25 years, the Hime Shojo Japanese Maple is relatively new in the US, but it’s already catching the attention of aficionados of these lovely trees. A rounded, compact, bushy tree that’s perfect where you want a dwarf plant, it has exceptional spring and summer red coloring on the leaves. Red varieties are always the most popular – they are such wonderful garden eye-candy – and this is one that really pops with cherry-red on new growth, while the mature leaves are the classic deep burgundy we all love. Not only perfect wherever you want a smaller tree, it is wonderful for growing in pots too – perfect decoration for a courtyard garden or terrace. As well, the leaves are small too, in perfect harmony with the size of the tree, and they make it a wonderful subject for bonsai – whether you are an experienced artist in that medium, or a newbie. Lovers of everything Japanese in the garden are going head-over-heels for this beauty, and so will you.
The Hime Shojo Japanese Maple is a deciduous dwarf tree, growing no more than 6 inches a year and reaching perhaps 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide in about 10 years. It will continue to add a few inches each year after that, but stay compact and shrubby, and always broader than it is tall, like a rounded bun. The young stems are deep red, and older bark is light brown, with small lines on it, perhaps like miniature calligraphy.
The leaves are small, usually no more than 1½ long, and divided into 5, or sometimes 7, narrow lobes, cut almost to the leaf stalk. They are like fingers on a tiny hand, each lobe tapering to a graceful point, and with fine serrations along their edges. New leaves are bright cherry-red, most noticeably in spring of course, but also continuing with the new leaves produced during summer. As they mature they turn to the classic deep burgundy we think of as ‘red-leaf maple. That color holds well all through summer in all but the hottest zones, where some green may develop. It brightens again in fall, adding to that glorious season. Older trees may produce some miniature red maple keys, but they are not profuse in this variety.
This variety is perfect if you want a beautiful Japanese maple but don’t have much room. It would be lovely in a smaller shrub bed, on terracing, or at the edge of a path. Plant it in a rock garden, or beside a Japanese stone lantern. In zone 6 or warmer it could be grown in a pot left outdoors all winter – in colder areas bury the pot for the coldest months. And of course, the small leaves and compact growth make it perfect for a bonsai tree – remove some of the central stems to give it a more mature look, and perhaps wire some branches to accentuate the horizontal form. It would look superb in a glazed dish on a table.
The Hime Shojo Japanese Maple is hardy in zone 5, and reliable into all but the hottest zones. It is easier to grow in regions with cooler and damper summers, but with a little extra care it can be grown all through zone 8.
If you plant your Hime Shojo Japanese Maple in full sun it will have the strongest leaf colors, and stay redder through summer, but that has to be balanced against your climate. If you have hot and dry summers then the risk of leaf-burn is higher in full sun, so some afternoon shade is probably better. Leaves turning green is as much related to high temperatures as to shade, so light shade is often preferable. This plant is not drought-resistant and grows best in rich, moist but well-drained soils. Avoid hot, dry areas and very wet areas. It grows in all soil types except for heavy clays and very alkaline soils, and enriching the soil with organic material, and using it every year or two for mulch over the root-zone, is going to give the best results.
Regularly watering, especially during dry weather, is always appreciated by Japanese maples. Compost or rotted leaves spread over the root-zone (avoid the trunk and any low branches) is a great way to conserve moisture and feed your tree at the same time. Trees in containers should be fed regularly in spring and early summer with liquid tree fertilizer, or an all-purpose balanced plant food. This tree normally won’t suffer from pests or diseases and is not difficult to grow.
The Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, certainly has more varieties that any other tree we grow. The earliest ones were developed in Japan, where an appreciation of the beauty of this tree is centuries old. New varieties continue to be discovered, and it seems that the variety called ‘Hime-shojo’ was found as a novel dwarf branch on a tree of an older, larger red-leaf maple called ‘Shojo-namura’. That variety dates back to 1967, while ‘Hime-shojo’ was released in Japan in 1994. It has only recently made its way to America. Shojo in Japanese is used to indicate red-leaves on maples, and while hime can mean ‘small’, referring to the leaf size, hime-shojo means a ‘virgin princess’, both a clever word-play and a reference to the ‘perfect’ nature of this small tree.
Since its introduction into the US a few years back, the Hime Shojo Japanese Maple has been catching a lot of attention. It has become one of the most desirable dwarf varieties available, and it’s widely featured. So order your tree now, because these plants will soon all be gone, and we wouldn’t want you to miss out.