Japanese Maples: Fantastic Color Spring through Fall

Every landscape deserves a few distinctive sculptural features. Often, these sculptures come in the form of plants, rather than hardscape. While keeping them happy can sometimes be a bit tricky, Japanese maples can be a stunning sculptural element in the garden. Japanese maples offer up year-round interest with unique foliage shapes and colors in spring and fall, followed by distinctive bark and branch shapes in winter.

Japanese maples are popular across the country as fall foliage specimens, both in traditional and contemporary landscapes. Here in Houston, however, they do need just the right location, soil and maintenance in order to thrive. You’ll want to carefully consider your particular landscape before investing in a Japanese maple.

How much sun?

In our climate, Japanese maples should be situated where they will receive afternoon shade, or only dappled sun through the day. Our extreme summer sun can quickly scorch Japanese maples, which can then send them into a cycle of overall decline. You can plant Japanese maples in deep shade, however you may lose some spring and summer foliage color.

Soil Matters

Japanese maples thrive in a somewhat acidic soil that drains well. Our soils here in Houston don’t always cooperate, so when planting Japanese maples you’ll need to amend a large area of soil in the planting area.  Acidified garden soil, compost and expanded shale will all help improve soil structure and drainage.  Because it’s difficult to lower our soil pH for any length of time, you’ll want to feed your Japanese maples in spring and fall with an acidic plant food. Fertilizers that are specially blended for azaleas and camellias are appropriate for Japanese maples.

Thirsty Plants

While Japanese maples need well-draining soil, they also need consistent moisture. They won’t take kindly to drying out for any length of time, especially in summer. If you have a dry landscape or are creating a low-water usage garden, you may want to pass on Japanese maples.

Pick a Size. Any Size.

Japanese maples sizes are available in a wide variety of sizes. They range anywhere from two-feet to 30-feet tall in upright, shrub-like or weeping shapes. So be sure you’ve researched the mature size of your desired variety before you choose. Do you live in a zero-lot home, condo or have only a small amount of shade by your entry? Many varieties grow perfectly in containers. If you’ve struggled with Japanese maples in the garden, growing them in containers may be the best alternative.

Companion Planting

You’ll love all the options you have to choose from when it comes to companions for Japanese maples in the landscape. When choosing companion plants, choose plants that are like-minded. Meaning, they have the sames light, soil and water requirements. Since Japanese maples prefer acidic soil and shade, they’d best be paired with azaleas, gardenias, ferns and hollies for a long-lived and symbiotic relationship.

Planting in containers?

Plant them elegantly on their own with only a topdressing of mulch for a finished look, or surround them with other shade loving perennials such as ferns, coral bells or hostas; and annual plants such as violas, primrose or ivy.

**There are hundreds of varieties to choose from, but here are a few that are appropriate for the Houston area.


Beni Kawa’is perfect for containers or the landscape.  It grows to 15-tall and 12-feet wide with delicate green to bronze leaves in spring that turn golden yellow and orange  in fall.

‘Coral Bark’ is known for its bright red stems in through winter. Clip them to add to holiday centerpieces. Come spring, chartreuse green foliage pops against the red bark making this variety a stunner every season! Grows to 20-tall and 12-feet wide with an upright, vase-like shape.

‘Sumi Nagashi’has rich purple foliage through spring and fall on a graceful form. Foliage turns crimson red in fall. Grows 18-feet tall and wide.‘Bloodgood’ is a classic and popular variety known for it’s dark burgundy foliage. Plants grow up to 20-feet tall and wide, so be sure to give them room to grow. Leaves emerge purple-red in spring but in fall turn vibrant classic red.

Not sure which plants will be best for your landscape?  Contact us here for a consultation.