Japanese Maple Selection Guide

Walhalla, SC

Since there are around 1000 cultivars of Japanese Maples available, Iíve created this basic guide to help people that are unfamiliar with the trees decide which tree to choose.

The following is a SIMPLIFIED list of characteristics commonly important in selecting Japanese Maples:

Fall Color: Red, Orange, or Yellow

Spring Color: Purple and Red, Orange and Yellow, Green, Variegated

Habit or Shape: Upright and Vase shaped, Weeping, Shrubby

Leaf Shape or Type: Palmatum, Dissectum, Linearilobum, Other

Tree Size: Dwarf, Medium, Large

Type of Bark: Normal, Coral, Rough

If you would like help selecting a cultivar, simply list the characteristics that are more important below.

Also, keep in mind that many of these characteristics can be dependent on environment. If you live in colder or hotter regions this should be addressed. Generally JMs don't do as well in full sun and only certain varieties can tolerate it without some leaf burn. This should be indicated if this will be a problem.

I have included an image that depicts some of these basic characteristics.

This message was edited Aug 1, 2007 6:51 PM

This message was edited Aug 1, 2007 6:55 PM

Thumbnail by mattlwfowler
Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

The only thing I think you left out is obvious to many here and may not be know and that is hardiness. Yes the zone thing is basically STUPID and certain alledgably hardy cultivars are not in every location ...but on the other hand there are some that are definitly tender early budding and unacceptable ...also others that are not good for deep south or farther north and others that are older that atre proven to take extreemes..GTG more ltr ..David

Walhalla, SC

Good point, I just figured we could tell if hardiness and or lack of winter would be an issue by looking at the poster's location.

Stanford, CA(Zone 9b)

Matt - I think that the eventual size of the tree is important and the shape of the tree makes it easier or harder to keep small. Most people don't have the abillity to keep their trees small either. I have just had to move a Koto No Ito because it was too big for the space it was in. The form of the tree is too beautiful to fuss with. I also had to move a Sango Kaku because it's growth is so upright that it would have been a pain to keep 8 feet tall. So it's not only the size but the size and the form together. Mounding plants are so much easier to keep small. Just my two cents.

Walhalla, SC

Another good point. I agree in some cases the size may be the most important factor, especially if the tree is near a structure. I was simply pointing out that the size can usually be worked with, while the spring color is not so easy to change.
Keep in mind that this process won't narrow things down completely for anybody. This just gives us an idea of a few trees to recommend for people when they say "I want a Japanese Maple," rather than 100.

Stanford, CA(Zone 9b)

You are absolutely right that the color can't be changed. I think that it's a good list. Listing the tree size as dwarf, medium or large is just fine.

I don't think that we have a sticky for this forum. This would be a good thread for it, don't you think?

Walhalla, SC

I was thinking the same thing about the sticky. I suppose it could be 'bumped' occasionally in order to keep it near the top. Or perhaps if someone asks for help, someone could copy/paste it as a reply.

Stanford, CA(Zone 9b)

Someone just has to ask Terry to put a stickie up. You're elected!

Newport News, VA(Zone 7b)

I do think this is a good idea, it should help people to narrow down their choices a bit.


Ferndale, WA(Zone 8b)

I absolutely love this list, but missing one thing.
How much sun can the tree handle.

I am trying to move some of my trees into sunnier areas of my garden, and having a heck of a time finding info. Thank God they are in pots still, so I can experiment.

Walhalla, SC

Good point, but like you said info on this is hard to find and goes with the dependent on environment issue. I usually indicate which cultivars are picky about sun, wind, heat etc. when helping people out.

N Middlesex County, MA(Zone 5a)

What about the fact that some fall coloring is affected by the amount of sun/shade? I was recently exploring A. shirawasum (sp?) and descriptions frequently mentioned that fall coloring depends on sun/shade. ALthough, maybe this thread is just for A. palmatum. Does fall coloring variations apply to A. palmaturm as well? probably. not sure.

For freebird: My Acer Emperor I is in nearly full sun and does perfectly fine. Although there is that 5A vs. 8B difference.. Also fairly dry soil, on a slope.

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

Coloring throughout the year depends on sunlight, nutrients, weather conditions and a miriad of outside "if's". A plant will GENERALLY be "this or that' but there are ALOT of variables...Too much sunlight can burn your tree to little can take that crispy brown color from sun burn and show up as too green or pale. all of this is the same basically for all Acer species David

Walhalla, SC

In my experience more sunlight produces brighter colors for parts of the year (usually spring and fall)...but it can also lead to sun burn. Some cultivars fade to green in full sun in late summer, but will hold it better in a little shade if I'm not mistaken.

However, normally a red variety will be a shade of red whether in sun or shade. Some varieties can have yellow to orange to red fall colors depending on environmental conditions, and this would have to be mentioned on a case by case basis. An example would be A. p. 'Omureyama': I have seen images of clear yellow fall colors on this tree, but the small tree I have has shown red colors in one year and orange+red the next. On the other hand, some varieties are more likely to remain their designated fall color like 'Bloodgood' even in different environments.

So basically, people have to consider that the environmental conditions will likely affect the appearance of the tree. We should just recommend a few good cultivars and give them a description that is as accurate as possible with the information that we have.

This message was edited Mar 15, 2007 9:36 PM

Eden Prairie, MN(Zone 4a)

Are there any Japanese Maples that are hardy enough for zone 4 or do I have to wait till global warming makes my area zone 5 or 6? :)

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

You may get a bloodgood or seedling tree similar tree and there are some psuedo JM's ( Korean or Chinese I belive) that may live but your winters are unpredictable. If I were you I would containerize what ever you get and store in an unheated shed or garage during the winter ...that way you can grow just about any JM ...you can talk to local nurseries and see if any have had luck ...you can try to plant out and mulch the heck out of it and place in a totally protected area fence it and straw it but as I said i'd put it in a pot it may be less work and less heartbreaking in the long run....David

Walhalla, SC

I may be mistaken, but I think 'Emperor I' will be slightly more cold hardy than a 'Bloodgood'. I think I read that it was an 'improvement' because of hardiness.

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

That is the scuttlebutt Matt whether it has actually been tested in a scientific double blind type experiment over several winters is doubtful...MOST such claims I think are mainly popycock...but it could be so ...but even if it is "more" hardy i'd still opt for containerizing unless a thorough checking of local scources has found good experience planting out certain cultivars in that area...that info I DON'T know but can be locally checked into.... David

Walhalla, SC

Yeah I am somewhat skeptical as well (hence the quotes over improvement). Supposedly it was developed in pennsylvania or somewhere nearby. It probably just leafs out later and therefore is less likely to get frostbit.

N Middlesex County, MA(Zone 5a)

Correct on Emperor I leafing out later. However, it may also be hardier than Bloodgood in general. The past 6-7 years that I have had E1, we have had some brutal winters. There were 2 years in a row with winters containing several stretches of -20 F weather and it didn't miss a beat. Lost a couple of hollies those years. And mine is not in an especially protected location. I never get summer browning. I think Emperor 1 is great!

North West, OH(Zone 5b)

Hey all You JM Pros!

I'd like to reconstruct a landscape picture in which someone had underplanted hakonechloa beneath a beautiful weeping maple. I believe the tree was a dwarf and very bushy with fire red leaves. Anyone have any ideas? Of course I don't have to have the exact same tree, but do you have any suggestions that might work in my zone?

Thanks in advance,

Walhalla, SC

I replied in the other thread you created :)

Kyle, TX(Zone 8b)

I have purchased 5 each of Crimson Queen, Garnet, & Tamukeama in order to see which one will be best suited to my Texas heat. I was told that Tamukeama was hands down the best choice. Anyone have any comments on their adaptability to zone 8 Texas heat. Austin TX area. Geneivy
P.S. I know they can't take afternoon sun so they will have to go on the east side of the house or as an understory planting.

This message was edited Jul 28, 2007 4:29 PM

Walhalla, SC

The Tamukeyama would be best, then probably the crimson queen, then the garnet I think. I have each of the three here in S. Car. and they all get a little scorched if in too much sun (I have left all three in full sun all day to see how much they burn). But there will not be much difference between the garnet and crimson queen in how much they will tolerate the heat I don't think. All of them should be fine if you keep them a little protected like you mentioned.

Kyle, TX(Zone 8b)

Many thanks mattlwfowler. I am slow at this because I just joined DG last week and still trying to find my way around. I got the Acers from Carter's Nursery in TN. 1 year old grafts on 2 year old root stock. He said those three had the best chance of making it in zone 8A/B in Austin. Thanks again, Gene

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

Gene he may be right on those 3 (??)...but he sold you REALLY young trees.YIKES!!.. No way I would ever consider planting those out especially in your area...keep them containerized no larger than a growers gal (3 quarts) or smaller and keep them in shade probably thru next one or two summers or longer. Those are just too young period IMHO for a non jm friendly area and will have to be constantly babied... which of course you can do.... but buying that young of tree severely limits your chances of success in JM border areas...which I think you are in. Good luck (you may need it) but if you are careful and careing you may do just fine with them. David

This message was edited Jul 31, 2007 4:08 PM

This message was edited Jul 31, 2007 4:09 PM

Kyle, TX(Zone 8b)

myersphcf, thanks for the heads up but I know it is going to take a lot of TLC. He sells his grafts for $4 so I won't break the bank in any event. I put them in 4" pots and they are in dappled shade 24/7. I figure I have at least 2 seasons to amend the soil in the very protected areas I have picked out. May grow out a couple for resale later but I am already in love with the Tamu. The house is to the west and a fence is to the north, a little morning sun and no icy wind from the north. Really hope they make it. Gene

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

I've been trying to decipher JM info and I still don't know anything.

I'm looking to add a few to my plant sales next summer. Is there a cultivar that is hardy to zone 6. If there is, is there one that's not such a slow grower? One I read about said it would grow to 10' in 50 years. I'd like a faster growing variety. I'd like to find one that grew to 12' - 15'.

Thanks, Robin

Forgot to add, I prefer the red.

This message was edited Aug 1, 2007 4:37 PM

Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

You will have to narrow it down a "bit" ;>) virtually all jm's are zone 6 worthy and should do fine in your area ... suggest you get JD vertrees book ( amazon) or the eastwoods cd at eastwoods nursery ( web) There is no way anyone here can do more than shoot off a bunch of trees they like.and for every one ogf us that will likely be differnt ;>)..remember there are hundreds of named JM cultivars maybe thousands and all should do well in KY. and at least half are red at certain times of the season if not all season depending on weather conditions and probably 2/3 would be within your size parameters... even those speced as larger most likely wont ever get that size except in JM perfect areas under perfect conditions like Doss has and they don't get that way even in her area overnight ...Do some reserch give us a bunch of "I like these" and I'm sure then you'll get honest feedback as to the variuas plusses and minuses of those trees ..david

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

Thanks...gonna go bury myself in more JM info to try to figure this out.

Gaithersburg, MD(Zone 6b)

I must be really dense...where is the guide?

Walhalla, SC

The guide is the text in the first post coupled with the simplified image shown. The idea is to figure out which characteristics are most important to potential buyers so we can help narrow down the search to within 10 or so cultivars instead of a thousand.

New Hampshire, NH(Zone 5b)

I'm in the market for a new JM. I currently have three: a green dissectum "waterfall"; red dissectum (weeping form), and an upright, vase-like palmatum (I think). I want something different for my fourth... the spot I want to put it will receive hot afternoon sun, but it really can't be considered full sun as it's only about 4 hours (12-4pm or so). I'm in zone 5. I don't know a whole lot about JM's - just know I love them. I know there are many experts here, so I'd love to hear your suggestions for favorites that might do well in these conditions.


Springfield, IL(Zone 6a)

No JM will do great with sun in that period but maybe ok ...if you want something differnt from what you got that is super hardy and a beauty try a Beni Otaki it is a lineralobum lead form bright red and super hardy.it "should" do fine there. Maybe 8-10 feet in as many years...David

Mona in Metcalfe, ON(Zone 5a)

just remember that they like lots of water in the leafing out process

Sacramento, CA(Zone 9a)

I had some rare free time last night so I sat down with JD Vertrees' book and did some data entry. I took the 320 cultivars that he has "observed" and entered all his listed characteristics into an Excel chart so now I can sort cultivars based on their height, form, color, group, effect, light requirments, and whether they are suitable for containers, bonsia, rock plantings, or companion plantings. It's not an in-depth list (for example, it just lists variegated as the color pattern not green/white or green/pink)

I guess Plant Files does this too, but I wanted to have something a little more specific to JMs and something that is quick and easy to sort through. If anyone wants me to narrow down a list of trees based upon desired characteristics, I'd be happy to see what I can come up with. I don't mind sharing the program either. Just D-mail me your e-mail address and I can send it to you.

Ceres, CA

I live in Central California and I am looking for a JM that would grow to a height of 8 feet, and would prefer a fall color of red or purple??? The trees will be in a planter that faces east and would only get morning sun. Can anyone suggest a variety that would be trainable in shape and not too bushy? Thanks in advance

Mona in Metcalfe, ON(Zone 5a)

the can all be trimmed and kept at any desired size I love the dark red one

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