Uniquely beautiful, the many different Japanese maples bring so much to our gardens, and their diversity and variety make them an endless source of inspiration. Beyond the more common types there lies a world of unique and gorgeous plants, whose transitions through the seasons make them always fascinating. If you want to explore that variety to the full, it pays to move away from the usual varieties of Japanese maple, into other, rarer forms that the Japanese themselves revere. Right at the top of that group is the fullmoon maple, whose rounded, fan-shaped leaves give it a very different look, while it is just as easy to grow. Among the varieties of fullmoon maple, the one called ‘Ruby’ has a unique character, and a sequence of stunning color changes through the season.
The Ruby Fullmoon Maple is a joy to see as soon as growth begins in spring. The new leaves emerge like tiny hands, spreading slowly wider. They are a deep, deep red, almost black, and that dark color draws our attention to the soft silvery hairs that cover the new leaves and stems like the down on a baby’s head. As the leaves expand the silver hairs become less conspicuous, and the color of the leaves develops into a glowing rich red all through spring. Notice how different the leaves are from those of the ordinary Japanese Maple. They are rounded and full, like an open fan, with between 9 and 13 broad lobes making points around the edges. Compare that the Japanese Maple, which usually has just 7 lobes, tapering and slender, like fingers, or a bird’s claw. That fullness in the leaf shape is why the Japanese name this maple after the roundness of the moon when it is full.
As the season progresses, those red spring leaves soften to a bronzy-green, while keeping a charming reddish margin around their edges. All stays calm and gentle until the temperatures drop in fall, which brings your tree to life, as the leaves become a riot of color, turning orange red and purple, blazing out across the garden with a fiery glory. So eager is this tree to take on its brilliant fall colors, that it is often among the very first trees in the garden to color for fall.
All this takes place on a tree that will grow quite rapidly, adding 9 to 12 inches a year to its main stems, and so reaching as much as 10 feet in height after 10 years. At that point its crown will be 3 to 5 feet across, depending partly on what pruning you have done, and the location. The growth rate will slow to perhaps 6 inches a year, but in time your tree could reach 15 or 20 feet in height, with a 10-foot spread. The young stems are shiny green, maturing to brown, and the main trunk may in time become more textured and ridged. Trees grown in more sunny locations as specimens will be broader than trees grown in partial shade among other plants. Once your tree has matured a little it will flower. The tiny red flowers appear in clusters among the leaves in spring, and you will probably see little more until the leaves drop, revealing clusters of small maple keys, whose rich red adds interest and color to the tree in the early winter months.
Grow the Ruby Full Moon Maple as specimen in your garden. Plant it on a lawn, or in a bed above lower plants. Use it as an accent near your home, perhaps with a clear view from a window. It is as perfect in a courtyard garden as in a woodland one, and of course if you have a Japanese-influenced area, nothing could be better. It also grows well in a container, and it is a popular subject for bonsai training.
In cooler zones in rich soil, a location in full sun is ideal, and that will give the best fall colors. In warmer zones some afternoon shade will prevent any possible scorching. Areas on the edge of woodland gardens are often ideal. The soil should be rich and moist, but well-drained, and regular mulching with organic material will keep the roots cool and moist. Water regularly when newly planted and avoid periods of dryness. Pest and diseases are rarely problems, and with the right soil and light conditions, the Ruby Full Moon Maple is easy to grow. If you have a garden which is too dry, then consider growing this plant in a container. Use a blended soil for trees, with coarse sand or fine gravel in it, for long-term good drainage, and make sure your container has drainage holes. Growing the tree in a container also allows you to move it around for ideal light conditions and bring it into the perfect spot for enjoying its special moments through the year.
The Ruby Full Moon Maple is a selected form of the fullmoon maple, Acer japonicum. The hairy young stems distinguish it from the similar Acer shirasawanum, which is also called the fullmoon maple. We don’t know the origin of the variety called ‘Ruby’, and it may be the same as one called ‘Ruby Red’, and close to an older Japanese variety called ‘Aka Omote’. Wherever it comes from, it is a real treasure, and we just love that we have a supply of beautiful examples of it. We have many customers who come to us just for our selection of Japanese maples, and we know that plants of this quality sell out very fast. Order right away, or they will be gone.