Planting  Japanese Maples 

The best soil for your Japanese maple is a fast draining sandy loam and the worst is clay. Japanese maples do not like ‘wet feet’, a term used for poor drainage. In my opinion 99% of the maples that die are from poor drainage or root rot which can leave the maple weakened and unable to ward of diseases such as Pseudomonas or Verticillium Wilt.

If you have clay or heavy soil that does not drain well – please see Mounding Japanese Maples. If you are fortunate to have rocky or regular soil and not clay, dig a hole larger than the rootball and backfill the hole with mulch, bark chips, potting mix or compost so that the maple, when planted, is even with the surrounding ground. Do not bury the trunk. When planting your maple in the ground or in a container, be careful not to disturb the rootball any more than necessary. Root bound maples will require you to loosen the roots a little.

Transplanting on a hot summer day is not recommended. Cooler weather will be less stressful on the maple. I recommend using SuperThrive to prevent transplant shock and to help the roots get established. I have been using it for 4 years now and I am a believer. For this reason I have provided more information in this link – SuperThrive

SuperThrive is a rooting home and not a fertilizer. It helps the roots grow faster. This is important to help the maple get its root system established to be able to absorb more water, if needed. Please remember that nearly every maple shows some leaf burn during the first summer. It is OK, do not over water.  Leaf burn can also happen if you have too much sun on a maple that needs shade in the afternoon – so make sure you are planting your maple in the right spot for it to thrive. Most maples prefer morning sun and afternoon shade.  Red leaf cultivars need direct sunlight to keep their leaves red in the summer. Green leaf cultivars can also handle more sun, but the lighter colored leaves and the cultivars with variegated leaves often need some afternoon protection from the hot summer sun.

The best method for watering your maples that are planted in the ground is a drip system or hand watering using a hose that is left to gradually spread water over the rootball. You want the roots to grow down which protects them in both summer and winter from extreme temperatures.  Sprinkler systems that water a little every couple of days keep roots on the surface – which means that in hot climates the roots dry out more quickly and you have to water more often which is not the best practice. Maples do not want their roots wet all the time. You need to provide time for the roots to dry out to prevent root rot. I use a hose and a small sprinkler to place around each maple and water thoroughly for an hour or more during the hottest days in the summer. This is only necessary for newly planted maples. Those that have been in the ground 5 or more years generally do not need this extra water.

Very important – Do not plant the base of the trunk below the soil line and if planting in the fall or winter reduce watering or don’t water at all because of rain. When the maple is dormant it needs less water or none at all. Do not over water!

If you decide to plant your maple in a container (they make wonderful container plants) care should be taken to use a planting mix with adequate drainage so that the roots do not become water logged.  The container must have drainage holes then add a small amount of gravel at the bottom to help with drainage. Again the soil mix should be loose, so add some bark chips to your potting mix and water as needed depending upon time of planting.

Lastly, Japanese maples do not like a lot of fertilizer. In fact, variegated maples may even loose their color variegation if over fertilized. A slow-release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, is recommended. Do not use potting mix that has fertilizer in it when first planting your maple. Fertilize once in the spring for your container grown maples. When planted in the ground maples do not need any fertilizer. Do not fertilize in the fall or winter as the maple requires a dormant period, which would be jeopardized by applying fertilizer. When in doubt or if you have questions not answered in this section please call or email me.

Planting a Japanese Maple the right way will help to avoid problems in the future. 

Sam, the Maple Lady.


Phone 360.263.2662 Pacific Time – Please

Article Name
Planting Japanese Maples
The do's and don'ts for planting Japanese Maples. Pay attention to the details when planting your maple. Doing it right in the beginning will make sure you have a happy maple.