Top 6 Japanese Maple Varieties
Expert grower William B. Shell shares his favorites, whether you’re looking for continuous color or sculptural foliage.
Small, upright form; black-red, straplike leaves.
A timeless classic, this ribbon-leaf Japanese Maple Variety is native to eastern Asia and features red, hand-shaped leaves divided into spindly, finger-like lobes. The graceful tree has gray bark and is beautiful throughout the year. This Japanese maple tree grows best in moist, well-drained soil with acidic or neutral pH and when exposed to partial shade. Luckily for Southerners, this deciduous maple is humidity tolerant. Atrolineare maples require average water fall, and produce different colors depending on the season. In the spring and summer, expect leaves to be purple, burgundy, dark red, and bronze. In the fall, purple fades to bronze and deeper shades of red.
Medium, upright form; beautiful variegated leaves in white, pink, and green.
Difficult to pronounce but easy to grow, the Beni Shichihenge variety of Japanese maples have spectacular foliage color from the early Spring to late autumn. The name “Beni Shichihenge” means “red and changeful.” When Beni Shichihenge leaves bloom in the early spring, they develop deep, pink-red edges on their light, creamy green leaves; they are known for having the most intense pink spring color of any maple variety, and the most long-lasting, too. In the autumn, they turn a vibrant shade of red orange. These trees are easy to grow in an urban setting, too – they can keep for over ten years in a large pot.
Medium, cascading form; deep red-purple leaves.
These low-maintenance maples are easily grown in moist, organically-rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soils. They prefer partial shade and thrive when watered regularly, as their foliage easily scorches in hot, dry areas exposed to full sunlight. This Japanese maple is low branching; during the spring, expect a few reddish purple flowers to bloom. Even when it reaches its full height (around 15 feet tall and 20 feet wide), this slow-growing, round tree remains small and is best grow as an accent under larger trees. Fall colors are where this tree sets itself apart – Inaba Shidare leaves tend to be a brighter shade of red than other selections.
Small to medium, cascading form; lacy green leaves, bright gold fall color.
Waterfall Japanese maple trees are in the “laceleaf weeping” family of Japanese maple. In the spring, the leaves of this low-maintenance shrub turn a very vivid shade of bright green, and require regular waterings, along with, organically rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soil in full to partial shade. Waterfall Japanese maples slowly grow up to 6 feet tall over the first 10 years, and then mature over time to reach as high as 10 feet tall. The lace-like leaves of Waterfall maples turn gold in the fall, with vivid streaks of orange and red.
Dwarf, rounded form; yellow-green leaves with red edges in spring, turning green in summer and gold in fall.
Murasaki Kiyohime Japanese Maples are most known for their prismatic leaves, which display bright green centers surrounded by deep red margins in the spring. By the late summer, the bright green deepens to dark green and the red deepens to purple. This type of Japanese Maple is small and will grow much wider than tall, and is perfectly suited for containers and bonsai displays. Fall colors range from bronze to orange. As Murasaki Kiyohime grows (which is quickly, compared to slower-growing Japanese Maples), it begins to thicken and grow wider, and falls less upright. Like other types of Japanese maples, Murasaki Kiyohimes grow best in dappled light, well-drained soil, and under regular watering conditions.
Small, rounded form; bright red leaves in spring and fall and deep red leaves in summer.
Small, rounded form; bright leaves in spring and fall and deep red leaves in summer
Shaina Japanese maples are a new variety; this type of Japanese maple tree was invented in the United States in 1960. These dwarf Japanese maples are dense, and compact shrubs. Shaina grows into a globe-shaped tree that typically does not reach more than five feet tall. The leaves first emerge in the spring as bright, vibrant red; they fade to a deep, purplish-red in the summer, and then turn a bright crimson-orange in the fall. Like other types of Japanese maples, Shainas grow best in dappled light, well-drained soil, and under regular watering conditions. These round maples are great for container gardening or as a colorful garden accent.
Japanese Maple Handbook Japanese Maples: The Complete Guide to Selection and Cultivation by J.D. Vertrees & Peter Gregory (amazon.com)
Published in 1978, Japanese Maples is the most comprehensive collection of information regarding the many varieties of Japanese Maples out there. There are over 150,000 copies in print, and it has been printed in three editions. Currently, Japanese Maples is in its fourth edition, and over the years, the authors have added over 150 new pieces of information, updates, and insights into cultural favorites. This handbook teaches gardeners how to identify maples through color photographs. If you’re interested in growing your own Japanese maples, this book will help make planting Japanese maples easy.