How To Plant A Japanese Maple Tree

Red Japanese maple leaves

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Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is a small specimen tree that adds elegance to any garden. The fine, feathery leaves can be found in every shade of green, red, and gold, with their colors growing in intensity in fall before the leaves drop. Hardy in USDA planting zones 5–8, they come in forms from the traditional upright tree to weeping or layered, twisting bonsai-like shapes. You rightly treasure your tree, so follow these simple steps to give your plant a good start.

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Step 1: Select Your Planting Site

Step 1: Select Your Planting Site
Photo by: Ralph Anderson

Morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal for Japanese maple trees. Filtered sunlight is best. If you live in the Upper or Middle South, your tree can better tolerate full sun. If your site has poor drainage, improve your soil with organic matter, create a raised bed, or use a large pot. Consider the mature size of trees you like, and choose one to fit your needs.

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Step 2: Dig A Hole

Step 3: Mulch
Illustration by: Ryan Kelly

Dig a hole three times as wide as the root-ball and slightly shallower. Place the tree in the hole. The top of the root-ball should be a little higher than the surrounding soil (as you would plant an azalea). Add a small amount of slow-release fertilizer to your soil. Fill in around root-ball with the surrounding soil, firm, and water well.

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Step 3: Mulch

Hands Holding Mulch
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Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch (pine straw or finely chopped leaves work well) to retain moisture and keep the soil temperature even. Keep the plant slightly moist for the first year as it takes root. A drip system for watering works best. Japanese maples prefer fertile, rich soil, but remember, a little too dry is better than a little too wet.

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