Japanese Maples are some of the most beautiful and hardy trees in the world. Most Japanese maples can handle a fair amount of heat, cold, sun and drought. The biggest factor that determines the health and well being of your Japanese maple is how you plant your Japanese maple tree. This article will teach you how to properly plant your Japanese maple in 7 easy steps.
Decide where to plant your Japanese maple
The first step to properly planting your Japanese maple is deciding the best place in your yard to plant your tree. There are over a thousand different varieties of Japanese maples and they each have different sun requirements. Do your research on the Japanese maple you have to determine how much sun it can handle in your climate. A general rule of thumb is that red Japanese maples can typically handle more sun than their green counterparts, but you can usually find much more specific and detailed sun requirements for each individual Japanese maple. Also note that while some Japanese maples can handle a lot of sun in cooler climates, they might not be able to take the heat in a hotter climate. If you have plenty of space, then Acer palmatum 'Red Emperor' is a great option!
Dig the hole for your Japanese maple
Apart from proper placement, digging the proper hole is the most important step in planting and caring for your Japanese maple. My general strategy is to dig a hole that is about twice as wide as the tree's rootball, but only about 2/3 the depth of the root ball. This elevates the tree above ground level ensuring that the tree will have proper drainage and not sit in soggy soil. Japanese maples hate to have "wet feet". You can adjust the depth of the hole up or down depending on the location of the tree. If it is a dry area where water may be hard to come by you can plant your Japanese maple a little deeper in the ground as long as you still keep the root ball slightly elevated. In wet, soggy areas I will sometimes dig an extremely shallow hole and almost plant the tree above the ground by bringing in extra dirt to surround the root ball.
Amend the soil only if necessary
Japanese maples do a fantastic job at adapting to just about any type of soil. Soil amendments often do more harm than good when it comes to Japanese maples. Amending your soil with anything too rich can lead to the roots of the tree circling the nice soil, eventually choking itself. Therefore, we typically do not recommend any soil ammendments unless you are planting in hard, compact soil such as dry clay. Even still, the only amendments we recommend are top soil or pine bark soil conditioner to help with the plant's drainage.
Position your Japanese Maple
Once you have your hole, the next step is to position your Japanese maple in a way that sets it up for success and is aesthetically pleasing to you and the rest of your yard. This is mostly based on personally preference, but there are some things to consider. Japanese maples do grow phototrophically, meaning they grow toward the sun. Its something to pay attention to when trying to figure out the best position for your tree. You also want to position your tree at the proper angles to ensure that it grows properly. Something to remember, you do not have to place the root ball straight in the ground. If that is not the best position for your tree, the adjust it a little bit to find the perfect position. Your trees focal point also does not have to be straight toward the street. Decide where you want the best view to be and position it toward that spot.
Fill the hole with original or amended soil
Once the tree is positioned to your liking, you can then fill in the hole around the root ball with the original dirt from the hole. If for what ever reason, you do not have enough of the original dirt to fill in, then you can fill in with top soil or pine bark soil conditioner. As you fill in the hole, make sure to pack in the soil by stomping all around the root ball. You want the dirt to be packed tight so that the tree doesn't shift around at all while the planting is still fresh. Because of the elevated rootball, you will fill in dirt around the rootball above ground level. This will create a mound around the tree and give your Japanese maple the proper drainage it so desperately desires.
Spread mulch around your Japanese maple
Once you have filled in all the dirt, packed everything tight, and smoothed the ground, then you can place your mulch of choice around the tree. Mulch is highly recommended as it helps insulate the roots of your Japanese maple, thus keeping them warmer in the winter time and cooler during the summer. Pine straw or pine bark both work great as mulching options. The one thing to avoid with mulch is piling it too thick around the trunk. Keep the mulch thin around the trunk and consistent everywhere else and mulch is an excellent addition around a freshly planted Japanese maple.
Water your Japanese Maple
The last step is to water your freshly planted Japanese maple. This especially important when planting in the hotter summer months. You want to water your tree soon after planting to give it a good quick start at getting settled in and established. It is good to mulch before watering so that the loose dirt does not wash away. Japanese maples do not like to stay wet, but when you water your tree you do want to give it a good soaking until the ground around the tree is thoroughly saturated. The frequency of your waterings after the initial watering will vary quite a bit depending on your location and the time of year. When planting in late fall to winter, you shouldn't have to water at all after the initial watering as rain water should provide enough water over the next few months. When planting in the spring or summer months, you will want to water about 3 times per week for the first month after planting. Lower the frequency to twice per week for the second month, then once per week after the second month in the ground until the tree goes dormant. After the first summer in the ground, rain water should be able to take care of your tree going forward. The only reason to water your tree again at this point is during times of extreme drought.
Fertilize your Japanese Maple
Feeding your young Japanese Maple is very important, but you need to use the right Fertilizer. Happy Frog Japanese Maple Fertilizer is 100% organic, low in Nitrogen, and the only option we recommend for Japanese Maples.