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How to Grow a Japanese Maple Tree in Australia

There’s nothing quite like a Japanese Maple tree in autumn when the leaves turn bright red and blanket the ground in a sumptuous carpet.

Japanese maples have a lovely structure which means they even look attractive in winter after the leaves have dropped. And, they make ideal shade trees over the warmer months.

Although not native to Australia, the Japanese maple can be grown in most areas except the tropics or subtropics. It makes a perfect specimen tree and can reach a height of 5 metres.

There are even grafted weeping forms that will add another dimension to your garden,

Here’s how to grow a Japanese Maple tree in cold and temperate areas around Australia.

Light requirements

Plant your Japanese maple in a sunny spot in the garden. However, in warmer areas, ensure the tree has some protection from the hot afternoon sun.

These trees also need protection from strong winds. Hot and dry winds will cause stress to the tree and the edges of the leaves will burn and dry.

Temperature and humidity

Japanese maples prefer cooler temperatures and can handle cold temperatures down to minus 10 degrees Celsius. In fact, exposure to cold winter temperatures will improve the colour of the foliage both in spring and autumn.

Japanese Maple Tree 1 | Plant care

A Japanese maple does like a little moisture in the air as dry, hot air will often scorch the leaves. That’s precisely why this tree should be protected from strong and hot winds.

Soil requirements

Japanese maples prefer deep soil that has been enriched with plenty of organic matter. The soil also needs to be free-draining and slightly on the acidic side.

These trees do not really like heavy clay soils so if that’s what you’ve got to work with, you’ll have to improve the soil by applying some gypsum to break up the heavy particles.

Alternatively, consider growing a smaller variety in a large pot filled with premium potting mix.

Japanese Maple Tree in pot | Plant care

Water requirements

These trees need to receive adequate water during the warmer months, especially during long, dry periods. However, ensure that the soil does not become waterlogged.

Ideally, your established tree will need a good soaking once the top 5 to 10 cm of the soil become dry.

RELATED: What Does a Full-Grown Moringa Tree Look Like?

Fertiliser

Once your Japanese maple has become established, you only have to supply an annual dose of controlled-release fertiliser if the soil is depleted of nutrients.

However, if you mulch around the base of the tree and top this up regularly, this should provide enough nutrients as it breaks down.

You can also leave the fallen autumn leaves as mulch around the base of the tree as these will break down and provide nutrients as well. 

Pruning

These well-shaped trees do not require any pruning. However, dead or damaged branches can and should be removed in winter while the tree is dormant.

If you want to create a certain shape, you can prune your young tree into the growth form that you’re after.

Young Japanese Maple Trees | Plant care

Problems, pests and diseases

Luckily, Japanese maples are rarely bothered by any pests or diseases. Especially if they’re kept well-watered and protected from the harsh afternoon sun and hot, drying winds.

However, in less-than-ideal conditions, you might notice some leaf burn. This normally happens during summer when the tree has received too much afternoon sun or has been exposed to hot, dry winds.

If this happens to your tree, either move it to a better location or provide some shelter on the western side of the tree.

Maple trees that are constantly being stressed by lack of moisture or too much sun, may be prone to borer attack. In this case, you should cut out the infected branches and give your tree better growing conditions.

RELATED: Plants That Like Afternoon Sun

How to grow a Japanese maple tree in a pot

Thanks to their compact root system, Japanese maples are ideal for growing in large pots. This makes them perfect for growing in a courtyard garden or similar smaller spaces.

Japanese Maple Tree in pot 1 | Plant care

Select one of the smaller varieties and use a pot that is around twice the size of the rootball of the tree you want to grow in it. 

You just need to remember that this tree really doesn’t like to dry out too much. Therefore, ensure that your potted specimen receives a constant supply of water.

But, make sure that the pot has good drainage and that you don’t allow the roots to sit in water as this may cause them to rot.

Japanese maples are slow-growing, so they won’t need to be repotted too often. However, you should provide nutrients in the form of slow-release fertiliser pellets.

It’s also a good idea to place a layer of small rocks or pebbles on top of the soil in the pot and around the base of the tree. This will help to keep the soil cooler and also to retain moisture.

Popular Japanese maple varieties to grow in Australia

There are numerous varieties and cultivars of the Japanese maple. These exhibit different growth habits and a variation in colours of their leaves.

Here are just some to consider:

Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’

This stunning cultivar has brightly coloured leaves in autumn from pink right through to a vibrant red. It’s a beautifully shaped tree with a clean trunk and spreading canopy.

This is one of the most popular varieties grown in this country. It can reach a height of 5 metres and a spread of around 4 metres.

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’

This is another popular cultivar that is prized for its dark purple leaves in late summer. These turn a bright crimson in autumn. 

This tree will also reach a height of around 5 metres but only a width of 3 metres, making it ideal for smaller spaces.

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’

This is a smaller growing cultivar that will only reach a height of 2 metres but with a spread of 3 metres. It features deep purple to red leaves in summer. 

These leaves are quite fine and turn a bright scarlet colour in autumn. The canopy of the tree produces a cascading effect of branches and leaves and is truly stunning.

FAQ

Are Japanese maples deciduous?

Yes, Japanese maples are deciduous and will delight you with their gorgeous autumn colours as well as the new growth in spring.

Where is the best place to plant a Japanese maple?

Japanese maples make excellent specimen trees and can be planted anywhere in the garden that gets protection from strong winds and the hot afternoon sun. The roots are non-invasive so these trees can be planted near your house or any other structure.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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