Native to Japan, Korea and China, Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) include a rich variety of deciduous shrubs or small trees with graceful habits, elegantly cut leaves and extraordinarily colorful foliage, particularly in fall when the leaves warm up to dazzling shades of golden-yellow, red-purple and bronze, before shedding to the ground.
Japanese Maples create striking focal points in the garden in most seasons and are particularly breathtaking when draped in their brilliant foliage. They are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, from small gracefully cascading shrubs, usually suitable for containers and small gardens, to upright medium-sized trees like the highly popular Acer palmatum 'Sango-Kaku' which can reach 25 ft. (7.5m). This diversity means that there is a Japanese Maple for almost every garden situation.
A single Japanese Maple placed in a prominent place attracts attention from every part of the garden. Some cultivars are famed for the dramatic effect they bring to the garden, such as 'Bloodgood', 'Trompenburg', 'Katsura' or 'Aka Kawa Hime'. While all Japanese Maples are beautiful and provide a fabulous architectural presence, some enjoy particularly outstanding features such as dramatic foliage, long-lasting striking leaf color, unusual leaf shape or striking winter bark. The eye can never pass lightly over the dazzling color presented by their flaming foliage across seasons or the graceful outlines of their brilliant coral twigs and branches. Here is a list of Dramatic Japanese Maples.
Japanese Maples look equally fabulous in mixed plantings.
Combine Japanese Maples for long-lasting color impact
While we generally do not think of Japanese Maples as flowering trees (although they do flower in spring but their blossoms are not showy from a distance), their incredibly colorful foliage and interesting leaf shapes more than offset their lack of blossoms. They display their tremendous bold greens, brilliant reds, glowing oranges or burgundy colors for weeks, adding breathtaking beauty to the landscape.
- Some varieties of Japanese Maples enjoy terrific spring color with their lush, bright new leaves emerging in a variety of hues we usually expect in fall. These cultivars are extremely useful as they create a welcomed spectacle of vibrant leaf color in the bleak landscape. Here is a list of terrific Japanese Maples for spring colors.
- If you have room for another Japanese Maple in your garden, you may want to combine spring cultivars with fall cultivars to obtain a bold effect through multiple seasons.
- Combinations of forms (weeping, upright) or leaf shapes are encouraged to avoid a monotonous planting and create an ever-changing canopy season after season.
- Another great possiblity to extend the season of interest of your Japanese Maples to winter is to add a Japanese Maple belonging to the 'Coral Bark' group. As the leaves of these Maples fall, they expose the bright, coral red bark on their young twigs and branches, adding a much needed splash of color in the winter landscape. These Japanese Maples are outstanding four-season trees that are treasured by all gardeners as they grace the landscape. A must for those who appreciate winter bark interest!
Other Companion Plants for your Japanese Maples
- Japanese Maples are exceptionally beautiful in mixed borders or underplanted with companion plants. They can adapt to a wide range of cultural situations, are shallow rooted and not serious competitors with companion shrubs.
- Japanese Maples are easily grown in moist, organically rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soils. Great companion plants are those sharing the same cultural requirements. Among the acid-loving plants are Rhoddendrons, Azaleas, Kalmia latifola (Mountain Laurel) and dwarf conifers. Hellebores (Helleborus) are great Japanese Maple partners since they share the same growing conditions. The most popular Hellebore varieties are the Lenten Roses (Helleborus x hybridus or Helleborus orientalis) which are available in a rich array of colors including pink, purple, red, white, green, apricot and yellow. Flowering a month or so earlier are the Christmas Roses (Helleborus niger) with their pristine white to pink-tinged white blossoms.
- Low-growing spring bulbs such as Crocus, Cyclamen, Scilla (Squill), Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow), Erythronium (Dog Tooth Violet), Anemone blanda (Grecian Windflower), Iris reticulata (Dwarf Iris), Leucojum (Snowflake), Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite) and Narcissi (Daffodil) will create a flowering carpet and provide eye-catching color to your garden at a time when it is still dormant.
- Add foliage plants such as Heuchera (Coral Bells), Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' (Black Mondo Grass), Ferns with their graceful fronds, Hostas with their smooth leaves, Carex (Sedges), ornamental grasses with bright golden foliage such as Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (Hakone Grass), to carry the display over the year.
- Complement with groundcovers such as Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese Spurge) or Tradescantia (Wandering Jew).
Find below several plant combination ideas with Japanese Maples.