Care and Maintenance of Japanese Maples  

Japanese maples can handle hot climates with adequate water and protection from hot drying winds. Even with adequate water during the first summer your maple may show leaves with brown spots or tips.  Over watering is not the answer and it can actually be detrimental to the health of your maple. The reason for the burned, dry leaves is because your maple has yet to establish new roots which will allow more water to be absorbed.  So please don’t freak-out over brown dried leaves that first summer. And definitely don’t over water. If your maple begins to show wilting leaves it means you are drowning the roots. The first instinct when a plant wilts is to give it more water. Just the opposite for maples. When too dry the leaves ‘crisp’ and fall off. I recommend SuperThrive when planting maples in hot climates. This is a rooting hormone and not a fertilizer. It will help the roots grow faster and thereby help the maple to absorb more water. More information on SuperThrive is available in Planting Japanese Maples and in a separate document regarding this product, please see SuperThrive.

Cold winter climates pose a risk for maples unless they are protected from extreme cold temperatures. Care should be taken to protect young maples and container grown maples when outside temperatures drop into the teens or single digits. If the roots reach 16 degrees F then the maple may die. Maples planted in the ground for several years are safer from cold temperatures because once the ground freezes it does not get much colder than freezing – 32 degrees. During the coldest winters with temperatures in the single digits or below zero mulching the base of the maple with 3″ or 4″ of material such as bark chips is recommended. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Maples in containers should be moved to an unheated garage or garden shed for protection. With extreme cold temps I recommend wrapping your containers in addition to placing them in a protected shelter.

All Japanese maples like consistent watering. Japanese maples prefer a loose well-drained soil. Good drainage is critical. When a maple does die, root rot from poor drainage is usually the culprit. Gardens with clay soil require, not only that the soil be amended, but that the tree be planted higher than the surrounding soil. Mounding the soil and planting the maple so that the roots can stay above the clay soil is important. Remember, no matter how large a hole you dig in the clay–you are basically creating a bathtub. Water will run along the surface of the clay and end up filling the bathtub, which will drown your maple. It may not happen the first or second year, but it will happen. Please take the time to provide an environment where the tree roots can stay on the dry side. I cover the topic of good drainage under planting instructions, but I cannot over emphasize this important factor so I have written a separate document. Please see Mounding Japanese Maples.

Ground watering from a hose or drip irrigation system is recommended rather than overhead watering from sprinklers. However, even if you have an overhead sprinkler system I recommend using a trickle from the hose or a bucket of water poured on the root ball at least once a month during the summer months to direct the roots down. A bucket of water with SuperThrive is recommended periodically on newly planted maples.

Once the maple is planted a watering schedule should be developed and followed. In hotter areas watering once a week may be needed. I recommend every two weeks during the first summer with the hose on a trickle to direct the roots to grow down and not on the surface. In the hot afternoon sun, overhead watering can cause the leaves to burn because the water on the leaves acts as a lens to focus the hot burning rays of the sun. If you must plant your maple where an overhead sprinkler will provide the source of water, do not water during the heat of the day – early morning is best or late in the evening. If the leaves of the maple do burn or begin to crisp and fall off, it does not mean that your maple is dead, though it may look like it. In time the leaves will grow back. Stripping the dead leaves off will help rejuvenate the maple to grow new buds.

For more information about caring for Japanese Maples or advice on an existing maple please call or email me.

Sam, the Maple Lady


Phone 360.263.2662 Pacific Time – Please check the time.

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