In Your Garden with Jenny Watts Lovely Japanese Maples

Japanese maples are beautiful in every season, from the new growth emerging in spring to the wonderful leaf textures through the summer to the bright fall colors and finally the artistic arrangement of their bare branches in winter.
While most small trees are grown for their fleeting flowers, Japanese maples are grown for the beauty of their leaves, which come in a great variety of shapes and colors. For hundreds of years, the feudal lords of Japan bred and selected trees to find ever more beautiful specimens. Today there are hundreds of cultivars of both Japanese and Western origin.
The leaves of the most familiar cultivars look like stars because they are divided into five to seven sharply pointed lobes. On some trees, the lobes are further divided giving the leaves a lovely feathery or lacy appearance.
Leaf colors range from yellow-green to dark green, and from bright red to deep blood red. There are also trees with variegated leaves that are green outlined with white or gold. Red-leaved trees are the most prized. In an otherwise green landscape, a red Japanese maple makes a stunning accent.
Japanese maples are divided into groups based on the shape of their leaves. But generally speaking, they grow either as trees or shrubs.
'Bloodgood' is a vigorous lawn tree with deep, dark red leaves that hold their color well. It grows to 15 feet tall and wide, turns bright red in the fall, and is a dependable, sturdy tree.
'Sango kaku' is a popular tree for its bright coral red bark in the winter, pale yellow-green leaves in spring and apricot and gold fall color. It can grow to 20 feet in the landscape or be kept at 8 feet in a container. Many of the smaller mounding types have finely dissected leaves. Typically they grow to 6 feet in the landscape, or 4 feet in a container. 'Garnet' is fast-growing with a rich red-orange color that develops best with some sun. 'Inaba shidare' is a more upright grower with a cascading form. The deep purple-red leaves retain their color better than others in the hot summer months. Fall color is a brilliant crimson red. 'Tamukeyama' has a lovely weeping habit and deep purplish-red leaves in the summer. It does well in hot situations. 'Viridis' has green, finely dissected leaves that will burn in hot sun. The golden fall leaves are touched with crimson.
Japanese maples thrive in moist but well-drained, slightly acid soil in sun or part shade. The red-leaved cultivars need ample sunlight to develop their best color. Shade from afternoon sun and protection from drying winds will keep the leaves looking their best. Occasional watering, once a week in dry periods, and a light fertilizing in the spring will keep them healthy and beautiful.
Good under oaks, as background for ferns and azaleas, or as a small tree for patios and entryways, Japanese maples are beautiful landscape trees.

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