Monday, November 5, 2012

Japanese Maples in the Mid-South

Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen'
For magnificent color, delicate foliage, dramatic form, and adaptability, Japanese maples can’t be surpassed. One of the best adapted small trees to our area, they excel in specimen, accent, border, and mass plantings. They do well in containers and are also valued as bonsai. With proper drainage and aeration, they majestically frame water features. Their shallow root system makes them well suited for rock gardens. Michael  Dirr says Japanese maples lend “an artistic and aristocratic touch” to the landscape.

Our slightly acid soil, so beneficial to azaleas, provides an excellent culture for Japanese maples. Michael Dirr reports that he has been “amazed at Japanese maple performance in zones 7 and 8.”  Many perform well in less than perfect soil, but plant Japanese maples in good organic matter with excellent drainage. Over- fertilizing is detrimental. For the best coloration, plant red cultivars in dappled shade. Deep shade will reduce red coloration while too much sun will burn foliage. Green cultivars can take more sun. Morning sun with protection from harsh afternoon sun is preferable. Since Japanese maples have a shallow root system, mulch (1 to 11/2”) around the root zone to protect roots from weed & grass root competition. Mulching also provides protection from water loss in the summer & from root damage in the winter. Water requirements are moderate, but be sure to provide adequate water in drought periods.

There are thousands of Japanese maple cultivars. According to J. D. Vertrees, the majority of cultivars are from Acer palmatum. Other cultivars come from Acer japonicum.  Still other Acer species are classified as ‘Maples from Japan.” The classification of Japanese maples can be, as Michael Dirr  points out,  “a taxonomic nightmare.” Two resources that I have used and recommend are:  

Japanese Maples: The Complete Guide to Selection and Cultivation, Fourth Edition, J. D. Vertrees and Peter Gregory 

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Sixth Edition (revised), Michael Dirr

Below are three (of the many) Japanese maples that flourish in the Memphis area.  

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku'
Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’ :  During winter, the coral bark of the ‘Sango kuki’ provides striking color accent. ‘Sango kuki’ means “coral tower.” The opposite simple bright green leaves have five or seven lobes. Leaves are up to 5 cm long & 6 cm. wide. In the spring leaves have a reddish margin that fades into light green by the summer. Fall foliage has bright yellow with apricot accents. Maximum height is 35 ft, with maximum width 20 ft.

Acer japonicum f. Acontifolium 'Dancing Peacock'
 Acer japonicum f. Acontifolium ‘Dancing Peacock’:  Prized for its striking scarlet tones in autumn, this japonicum cultivar has deeply incised, multi-divided leaves with 11 to 13 sharply toothed lobes. The foliage is often described as fern-like.  Maroon red samaras compliment the dazzling red foliage. Reddish petioles intensify the colors.  During the summer the 3 to 6” deep green leaves adorn sturdy horizontal branches. With a strong upright multi-branching habit, this round topped tree can reach 16 ft.

Acer palmatum f. dissectum
Acer palmatum f. dissectum: This graceful lace-leaf variety located in the area SE of the red bridge in MBG’s Japanese Garden is one of my favorite trees to photograph. During the fall, its 7, 9, or 11 lobed finely cut leaves turn brilliant crimson. In contrast to the dramatic red foliage, the strong twisted dark trunk and branches provide an elegant natural sculpture. The f. dissectum trees reach up to 15 ft. and can live for a 100 years.

Jan Castillo
MG '05

1 comment:

  1. I believe the Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) could possibly be added to this list as an annoyance tree. Ever try to walk in an area where the spiky debris,the fruit or seed drops in abundance?! If you do opt to plant this tree then perhaps best to look for the sterile version(Liquidambar styraciflua 'Rotundiloba) which eliminates the sputnik like seeds.No more gumballs!


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