A Planting Guide for Japanese Maples
Japanese Maple Trees are among the most desirable of trees for the garden. With their all-year beauty and grace they bring a special spirit to any garden. They have some special needs too, so now that your Japanese Maple Tree has arrived and you are about to plant it, this guide will give you directions, tips and ideas for giving your tree the best start in its life with you.
In a Nutshell
- Remove all packaging
- Water the tree in its pot
- Choose a suitable planting site for the needs of your tree
- Prepare the soil
- Dig a hole the depth of the pot
- Put the tree in its hole and replace most of the soil
- Water well, let the water drain and put back the rest of the soil
- Put a mulch around your tree and water regularly
Remove your tree from the box
The very first thing to do is un-wrap your trees. Remove all the wrapping materials, remove the trees from the box and remove any wrapping around the trees themselves. Leave the tree in its pot until you are ready to plant.
If you receive your trees in winter – which is a great planting season as long as the ground is not frozen – then of course they will have no leaves on them. That is normal – as soon as spring comes your tree will send out its fresh, new leaves and begin to grow.
Move your plant around by picking up the pot – do not lift it by the trunk or stem.
Care Before Planting Time
Your trees have been on a journey and they will be a little stressed, so place them in a shady part of your garden and give them a good watering. Do not put them in the garage, a shed or in the house, even if it is cold outside. Your tree will live happily in its pots for some time as long as you care for it. Remember to water every day or every second day, depending on how warm the weather is – do not let the pot become completely dry. If it does become very dry, place it in a bucket and half-fill the bucket with water so that the soil can soak completely.
Choosing a Planting Location
Once your tree has been planted it is best not to try and move it again, so spend some time deciding exactly where to plant it. A Japanese Maple is a beautiful tree that deserves a special place where it can be seen and admired. You may have chosen an upright variety, in which case it will grow into a small tree, often almost as wide as it is tall, so leave enough room around it for it to mature without needing trimming or pushing itself against a wall or fence. If you have chosen a weeping form, then it will form a broad mound, wider than it is tall, so again leave plenty of room for it to develop. Weeping forms look especially beautiful on a slope, by a pond or falling over a wall, so perhaps you have a suitable spot like that.
Remember that if you plant right on your property line your neighbor has a legal right to cut back your tree to the property line, which may not look very nice, so plant well inside your property so that you have control over the growth and pruning of your tree.
Your Japanese Maple will do best in a location where it receives some sun, but not too much. Shelter from afternoon sun is ideal, since this will protect the leaves from burning, so a position with morning sun is ideal. Some varieties are more sun-resistant than other ones – you will find more details in the tree description on our web-site. Red-leaved Japanese Maples will have stronger color if they have some sun during the day and fall color for all types will be stronger too.
Preparing the Planting Site
Good soil preparation is the key to the success of your tree. Japanese Maples do best in soil rich in organic material and which is well-drained but does not become completely dry. Whatever your soil is like, use it. Do not try to dig a hole and fill it with soil you bought somewhere else. If your soil is poor, just use extra organic material.
You goal is to make a large area of looser soil that the young roots can penetrate easily, getting food as they go and establishing quickly. You need to have an area at least three times the diameter of the pot, dug as deep as your spade will go. Add plenty of organic material to the soil as you dig. Almost any kind of organic material is good, among the best are well-rotted cow, sheep, or horse manure (if you can obtain them); garden compost; any ‘top-soil’ from a garden centre; or if you have nothing else, peat-moss. A bucket or two per tree is about right.
In addition, trees need fertilizer to help develop their roots. This can be rock phosphate or bone-meal or any kind of superphosphate. There are many ‘tree planting’ fertilizers available too and they all work well, so whatever is available will be fine. Fertilizers for acid-loving plants are best, although Japanese Maples are not bothered much by alkaline soils.
Remove roots of weeds from the area and any stones bigger than your fist. Smaller stones can be left and it is not a good idea to sieve the soil to remove smaller stones they are best left in and can help with drainage.
Turn over the soil, mixing the organic material and fertilizer into it and then level it off and get ready to plant. Save some of the organic material you used to mulch your tree after planting.
Preparing the Tree
The evening before you are going to plant, give the pot a good soaking with water. If the root ball is dry when you plant, it may stay that way and cause your tree to suffer from dryness even if the surrounding soil is damp.
Digging the Hole
Now dig a hole in the exact spot where you want your tree to be, making it twice the diameter of the pot, but only just as deep. If you have dug the soil deeper than that, use your foot to press down the soil in the bottom of the hole, to form a firm base beneath the tree. This is to prevent it from sinking deeper than you want in the hole after you have planted it.
Removing the Pot
Take your tree to the planting hole and slide the pot gently off. You may need to tap the edge a couple of times to release the roots, but it should slide out pretty easily. Usually there will be plenty of roots filling the pot and the root-ball will stay together and not fall apart at all.
If it looks like the soil is going to fall off the roots, don’t worry, that is easily dealt with. If you tree is dormant, with no leaves, then just let any extra soil fall into the planting hole. If your tree is growing, with green leaves, then leave it in the pot, take a sharp knife and cut around the bottom of the pot and remove the base. Then get someone to hold the pot together while you cut down the side of the pot. Tie a piece of string around it to hold together while you plant.
Planting the Tree
Now place the tree in the centre of your hole, checking that the top of the root-ball is level with the soil around it. Replace about three-quarters of the soil in the hole, pressing it down around the roots of your tree. If you have left the pot on, do the same thing, but when you have finished, cut the string holding the pot together and gently work the cut pot out of the soil. Finish firming down the soil – a gentle foot pressure or firm hand pressure is about right.
Watering the Tree
Now fill the hole with lots of water, letting it soak down into the ground and into the root ball. Use plenty of water and then wait until it has all drained away. This will give plenty of water around the roots, where it is needed.
Finishing the Planting
Now put back the rest of the soil, firming it gently down. Make sure you have only covered the top of the root ball with a very little soil, no more than one inch. If you can still see the top of the root ball, that is fine. Make sure the soil is not sloping away from the tree, but flat, so that when you water it will stay around the tree, not run away. Some gardeners like to make a low wall of soil around the tree, at a spot about twice the diameter of the pot, to retain water. This is a fine thing to do, but not absolutely necessary. Put a layer of organic material over the root area, about three inches deep and then water the whole area thoroughly.
Planting in a Container
Japanese Maples make lovely trees to grow in pots or planter boxes, since their root-system is not large and they will live well for many years in a large pot. Make sure the container you choose has drainage holes, this is vital. Use a soil for outdoor planters from your local garden center and make sure your container is large enough for there to be soil beneath and around the root-ball. Water the container thoroughly after planting and then whenever it starts to become a little dry on the top layer. Apply a tree fertilizer each spring. Leave your tree outdoors in the winter; it needs a period of cold weather. If you live in the coldest zone recommended for your tree it is a good idea to bury the pot in a corner of your garden for the winter to protect the roots from becoming too cold.
Normally staking is not necessary. Modern arborists prefer to let the wind strengthen the tree, and stakes often cause breakage of the upper part of your tree.
If you have a weeping variety of Japanese Maple, you can use a stake to make it taller if you wish by attaching a branch to a stake and leading it upwards. This branch will produce weeping side branches and develop into a taller tree. You can even train two or three branches in this way.
Follow-up Care of the Tree
Until your tree is established and has spread out its roots, it will need regular watering. How often depends on the weather, but a good, slow soaking twice a week is usually best, or three times a week if the weather is hot. Soak the whole area around the tree, not just up against the trunk.
Replace the mulch over the roots each spring and never let your tree become completely dry or the leaves will burn. The only trimming necessary is to remove any small twigs that may die as your tree grows and develops.
So that is it. Your new Japanese Maple is set for a great life and will reward you with greater and greater beauty every year as it develops into a perfect specimen. A little care really pays off.