Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) are probably one of the most commonly planted ornamental trees in gardens. They are prized for their delicate appearance, form and structure, and color spring through fall. They prefer evenly moist, acidic soils rich in organic matter that are well-draining. Full to partial sun is best for growth, and afternoon shade avoids leaf scorch. They have a low wind tolerance, so keep them sheltered, and also a low soil salt tolerance. This article will describe a small selection of Japanese Maple varieties that are suitable for large and small gardens.
I think one of the most stunning varieties that has something to offer year-round is the Coral Bark Japanese Maple (A. palmatum ‘Sangokaku’). The name gives it away – in winter, the coral, orange colored bark contrasts beautifully against the surrounding winter landscape; in spring, newly emerging bright green leaves compliment the vivid bark; in fall, leaves change to shades of yellow, orange and gold. Grown as a small tree, it can reach upwards of 25 feet in a vase shape. Pair it with a Aoyagi Japanese Maple (A. palmatum ‘Aoyagi’) and contrast the pea-green colored bark.
Interesting shape of Japanese Maple through fall and into winter, especially when snow outlines the weeping branches.
Crimson Queen (A. palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’) is the most well-known of Japanese Maples and for good reason – it holds its reddish-purple leaf color well throughout the growing season, and fits small spaces well, growing slowly about 10 feet by 12 feet in a weeping cascading dome similar to an umbrella. Of similar habit but with green leaves is Virdis (A. palmatum var. dissectum‘Virdis’). In spring, the red flowers contrast beautifully with the cheerfully emerging bright green leaves. A lovely structured small tree slightly smaller than Crimson Queen can brighten a shade garden instantly, great as a specimen or integrated into a design. Also consider the Waterfall Japanese Maple (A. palmatum var. dissectum ‘Waterfall’) as another green, weeping Japanese Maple. The fall colors include reds, and leaves are longer cascading – considerably giving credit to the name.
For tight spaces needing a vertical accent, Ryusen Weeping Japanese Maple (A. palmatum ‘Ryusen’) reaches upwards of 20 feet with only a width of six to eight feet. It’s a true weeper – a single central stem with pendulous branching covered in green leaves. This tree is great for small gardens. Use it thoughtfully and creatively, train it over an archway or use it in a container. Fall color varies from orange to yellow. Another selection for small gardens is Shindeshojo (A. palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’), growing to 10 feet tall and about the same width as a shrub or small tree. It is prized for having the best spring color among all cultivars, continuing to offer salmon colored new foliage contrasted against mature greenish-red foliage throughout spring; in summer, it finally turns green, then shades of crimson and orange take the show in fall.
Add a unique plant like one of these Japanese Maples mentioned above to your garden by shopping at Cape Shore Gardens. If a Japanese Maple isn’t your thing or just won’t grow in your yard, don’t worry – there are plenty of great plant selections to choose from that will set you apart from your neighbor and make you love your outdoor living space even more.
Cape Shore Gardens is located at 1028 Rt. 9 S., Cape May Court House. For more information, call (609) 465-5161.
Written by Lauren Popper, horticulturist at Cape Shore Gardens and graduate of Temple University’s School of Environmental Design.