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Japanese Maple

September 22, 2018


My cut leaf Japanese maple is well established in a deep planter now for 5 years. It is east facing and gets full sun up until around 2 pm. It gets watered regularly and osmocote twice a year. Lately I have been seeing more and more of what looks like burning at the tips of the leaves and beyond. Can you tell me what it is and if I have cause for worry?


The tip burning can be a bit of sunburn.  I really consider most Japanese maple varieties as understory trees with morning sun or filtered sun.  Getting sun up until 2 pm is exposing it to some bright light.  There are several leaf spots that can affect Japanese maples and our recent storms could have added to the damage.  I would not worry about any spray programs this late in the season.  Rake up the leaves as they fall this year and monitor the tree next spring as it leafs out.


April 14, 2018


We planted some Japanese maples last year. We watered them all summer. One of the three appeared to be dead at the end of summer. The other two put out new leaves this year, but the one only has a few leaves at the bottom and the top still looks dead. Should I trim the dead off or cut the top of the tree off? Any advice will be appreciated.


Give them another few weeks to start growing. It has been a later spring, and this recent cold has slowed things down, but if you don’t see any new growth by early May, I would start pruning.  Newly planted trees and shrubs need more water than well-established plants.  I would also check the soil drainage, since they should not have died the first year in the ground—too much water is also not good.  I hope you continued to water last fall and early winter, since it was bone dry.    As new growth begins, you will have to reshape it into a tree again, which will take time.


April 14, 2018


I purchased a small Japanese maple tree which was about 4 feet tall. When I bought it the leaves were green.  I was told that the leaves would turn red but they never did and the leaves looked burned around the edges as the summer wore on.

AnswerJapanese maples are understory trees which would do best with some protection from the hottest afternoon sun.  Full sun can lead to tip burn on the foliage.  If you bought the tree with green leaves, they rarely turn red later during the growing season until they produce fall color.  Many varieties have red color as they emerge with leaves in the spring and then turn green during the growing season and then almost all have outstanding fall color, but it can vary from yellow, to orange, red or purple depending on the variety. 


October 14, 2017


We have two Japanese Maples in our yard that have wild and "stringy" individual branches growing out of them.  Both have been pruned over the years but, as you can see in the picture, the wild branches never go away. One was a gift from a neighbor when she moved way, and the other was purchased as a seedling at Garvan Woodland Gardens.  Will these trees ever become the graceful Japanese Maples we love to look at?  I've suggested to my wife that we cut them down while they are small enough to deal with and replace them.  She wants a second opinion.



I think cutting them down is an extreme approach.  Some Japanese maples will send up these errant shoots, but when you see one, simply cut it back.  While Japanese maples can develop beautiful structure and form in the landscape, it doesn’t happen totally on their own.  Pruning and thinning cuts help make it happen.  I prefer a more natural look—not something sheared into a ball.  For now, remove the gangly tall sprouts and then do some thinning in late February.  In time you can have some beautiful trees, but they still may send up some wild shoots from time to time.


July 1, 2017

QuestionI've noticed that some Japanese maples are currently dropping seeds.  Will these sprout this summer or are they carried over until next spring before they sprout?



While not all varieties are equal, most Japanese maple seeds will be ripe in the fall and germinate the following spring.  Many gardeners who own Japanese maples often find small seedlings near their trees and can dig and transplant them.


April 8, 2017


We have two 20 year old lace-leaf Japanese maples about 20 feet apart in a shaded area. The one leans over our goldfish pond and a portion of the older branches get some noon time sun for a couple hours. All of the leaves on this tree are wilted.  The other tree is perfect.  Did the cold spell cause this? Is it because of cooler air around the water? Will it revive or is it permanent damage? I hope you have good news for us!



I don't think the pond has any influence on the branches that are impacted.  I would think sunlight exposure has more to do with it than anything. Plants that are in full afternoon sun get more heating and tend to be further along than those in more shade. It has been a weird winter and spring, and let's hope we get no more surprises.  For now, do nothing but see how the plant continues to grow.  If you see wilting spreading to other branches, then I would be worried, but for now, just wait and see. Do you see any wounds, growths, holes, etc. anywhere near where the affected branches are? 



July 2, 2016


I  live in Morrilton, AR. and  I planted a Japanese maple in April in memory of my husband which passed away April 16th,2016  and its leaves have turned brown and have shriveled up and are dry like its dead but there is still some green to the branches when I break them off. I water daily now, was watering about every 3 days at first, what am I doing wrong and what do I need to do to save it?  Also I want to buy an eastern redbud and a dogwood that are on sale for $12.00 but it says to plant in spring. Can I plant them now and will they live?


AnswerHow much sun does the Japanese maple get?  It does not sound promising if the majority of the leaves have died, but see if new growth comes back out.  New trees will need frequent watering to get the roots established, but make sure the site is well-drained.  They don’t like standing water.  You can plant trees year-round, but it makes the job tougher when it is as hot and dry out as it is now. Water, water, water is the key—no fertilizer until the roots get established. I would hold off now and wait until next spring to fertilize if planting now.  Dogwoods are like Japanese maples and would prefer morning sun and afternoon s7hade, or filtered sunlight.  Redbuds thrive in full sun.  


May 7, 2016

QuestionWe have had a Japanese maple for eight or nine years.  It was a beautiful tree until last August or September when a neighborhood vandal sprayed the front of both it and a crape myrtle with some kind of poison.  The front leaves on both trees turned brown, and those on the crape myrtle dropped off.  We did not know if either would put out leaves this spring but were hoping for the best.  Unfortunately, the best didn't happen.   Only leaves in the back came out on the maple; it is too early to know what the crape myrtle will be like after some pruning last month.  Is there anything we can do for the maple besides dig it up and plant another?  We invested in security cameras immediately after the incident and hope our property will be safer from now on.  


How awful that someone would do such a thing!  I think you have a few options. You can prune out all the dead branches and gradually retrain/reshape the tree, but as slow as cut leaf dwarf Japanese maples can be to grow, that may take a while.  You could replant a whole new tree, or try to find a variety that is similar and plant a smaller tree on the front of the old one to help fill the void left from the dead half. 


February 13, 2016 


Our beautiful, full Japanese maple looks like it needs a trim. Is the timing right and if so how much to trim for its health and shape. It is about 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide.

Picture of Japanese Weeping maple in front of house     


Japanese maples may be pruned to control shape and size.  In your picture, the issue is not that it is too large, but that it is too close to the driveway.  If you don’t do a little pruning, you will be brushing against it as you come and go.  Unfortunately, I think it was planted a bit too close to the driveway. I always say you need to be able to answer three questions before you start pruning—one is why are you pruning, when should you prune and lastly how.  For you, the reason why is it is beginning to interfere with car movement.  The when is now, or late February before new growth kicks in, and the how, is to thin as little as possible to retain the natural grace, but keep it in bounds.  If it were not in the way, I would not prune at all.


December 2014

QuestionCould the hard freeze in early Nov have killed my huge Japanese maple? The leaves generally turn brilliant red but this year shriveled brown and still have not fallen? So worried


Answer I do not think your tree was damaged (at least by this freeze), but the early freeze hit before the Japanese maple had completed its life cycle and dropped leaves—so you missed the fall color too. I have one that did the same thing this year—and last year.  Many Japanese maples retained their foliage last year as well until the new growth pushed off the remaining leaves.  Deciduous plants form an abscission layer which causes their leaves to fall off.  If we have an early freeze, the abscission layer doesn’t get finished, and leaves remain on unless wind knocks them off.  We saw a lot of our deciduous plants with messy, dead leaves on them after our early freeze.  Just wait for spring, and keep your fingers crossed that we don’t have a wild and wooly winter! 


January  2014

QuestionI live in Bella Vista, Arkansas. I have a Japanese Bloodgood Maple that stands about 10-12 feet tall. It was planted in the summer of 2010.The tree is clinging to most of its dead leaves now. Is this a bad omen? Should I be concerned?

AnswerThere are leaves still attached to many normally deciduous plants—from Japanese maples to oakleaf hydrangeas, deciduous azaleas and more. We had an earlier than normal hard freeze this year, and some of our plants had not completed their normal life cycle. The abscission layer that normally forms on deciduous plants which causes the leaves to drop didn’t have time to form on some plants, so the freeze caught them unawares and the leaves were killed, but are still attached. I have had some old leaves come down in the heavy winds we have had recently, but it may take the push of new foliage this spring to get the rest of them off. In a normal year, we say that if dead leaves stay attached it can mean damage to your plants, but for this unusual situation, I think we will be fine.  That doesn’t mean we may not have winter damage to some plants, but I think for now, your Japanese maple should be fine.  


November 2012

QuestionI have three Japanese maple seedlings that I planted in pots in June. They have done well but when do I need to transplant them in the yard and how should I winter them. They are from 12" to 24" tall now.

AnswerJapanese maples are fairly winter hardy. You have two options. If you know where you want them to be planted, plant them now in their permanent location. If you want them to grow a little more before you plant them in the yard, then sink the pots in the ground, up next to the house. This will protect their roots better than being left above ground in a pot and will help prevent them from drying out too quickly.



QuestionWe have a 7 foot tall Japanese lace-leaf maple by our front door and another by the house. The one by the door I've kept somewhat thinned out and trimmed up so its graceful branches are visible. It's grown nicely and filled out in a pretty irregular branch style that I really enjoy. I thin out some of the tiny branches in the spring. The other maple has a rounded, helmet shape since I have left it alone. Is there a preferred way to let them grow? I have only seen my tree shaped like this and wondered if I am harming it. I would appreciate your thoughts on "do or don't" thin the branches.

AnswerFor the Japanese maple, there are many different opinions as to how they should be pruned. Many like them thinned out to expose their graceful branching. Others like the more natural shape of the tree, so I think it is your preference. I do not like to see them shaped into an artificial ball shape or topped, but thinning them out or removing wild branches is perfectly acceptable.



QuestionI have three Japanese maple seedlings that I planted in pots in June. They have done well but when do I need to transplant them in the yard and how should I winter them. They are from 12" to 24" tall now.

AnswerJapanese maples are fairly winter hardy. You have two options. If you know where you want them to be planted, plant them now in their permanent location. If you want them to grow a little more before you plant them in the yard, then sink the pots in the ground, up next to the house. This will protect their roots better than being left above ground in a pot and will help prevent them from drying out too quickly.

July 2012

QuestionI was recently on vacation and thought my sprinkler system was set, but when I came home my Japanese maple looked pretty crispy. Do you think it is dead, or if I water it light crazy now, it might come back?

AnswerThe drought, coupled with high temperatures has really taken its toll on many plants, but trees in particular. If the leaves on your tree are falling off, that is a better sign than if they are brown and shriveled, but still attached to the tree. Water and keep your fingers crossed. I am appalled at how many trees are dying along the roadsides and in yards that are not watered. Two years in a row is tough on plants.

May 2012

QuestionWe have four large (20 feet tall) Japanese maple trees in our front bed. They are 15-20 years old and have seemed very healthy. Last week, my across the street neighbor cut down one of his Japanese maple trees in his front yard because it had died. Seemed like it died fairly quickly, just a year or two and it was gone. He has another one also in his front yard that is has some dead major branches. Then, I took a closer look at my trees and discovered that they all have many dead branches, although they are small branches, no major ones. I am concerned that there may be some kind of disease. What should I do?

AnswerJapanese maples were hit hard by last summer’s extreme heat and drought. If they weren’t watered, they may have died or had some major damage. My neighbor had a large old Japanese maple that is totally dead this year. Plants that were stressed would be more susceptible to insect and disease attacks. Check out the trees, looking for any holes or splits in the stems or leaf spots on the foliage. Remove any dead branches. A little thinning never hurt a Japanese maple. Water when dry and hope for the best. If you do see signs of insects or diseases, take a sample in to your local extension office.

February 2012

QuestionI have a large Japanese maple in my back yard that is starting to take over the whole area. It is wide and low to the ground. My husband is afraid for me to prune it because he thinks I will kill it. When and how is the correct way to prune this type of tree?

AnswerI think the natural growth habit is quite graceful and effective in a landscape but if you need to be able to walk underneath it, you can selectively prune to do so. Don't try to shape it into a ball or box, but make selective cuts now to alleviate overall size. Try not to remove more than one third of the limbs, and do so at the branch collar or at a node--where there are buds that can start to grow and fill back in. I will say that Japanese maples have not had the easiest go of it during our miserably hot, dry summers, or the cold up in the NW last winter.

January 2012

QuestionI have always loved the Japanese maples and I just planted a young 4' tall one outside of my daughters window(partial sun, shaded in the morning) . Apparently my errant puppy of 8 months shares the same affection for the maple as I do. He chewed through the bark about 12" to 14" up. The tree has since been protected from the wayward canine. What (if anything) can I do to help this tree recover?

AnswerIt all depends on how deeply the puppy ate into the trunk as to whether it survives or not. If it is only on one side of the tree, and he just gnawed on the outer bark, cleaning up the wound by scraping off any loose bark and then waiting is all you can do. If he chewed completely around the tree, it could girdle the tree which will kill it. Only time will tell, but tree paints or wound dressings won’t help. Making sure the wound is clean and protecting from further damage is really all you can do.

February 2011

QuestionWe have had a terrible time this year with squirrels eating the bark off our large, specimen Japanese maple tree (Bloodgood variety). They have stripped several large branches bare; we are concerned the tree may not survive. Is there anything we can do to ward them off or stop this? They may not actually be eating the bark, as we find lots of pieces of bark on the ground under each branch, but they do chew it off. Just in the last few days they have discovered a new smaller weeping Japanese maple elsewhere in our yard. The trunk of this one is now half bare.

AnswerFrom time to time squirrels, and occasionally raccoons will strip the bark off of Japanese maples. Usually the damage is more superficial, but it still looks pretty bad and is more damaging on young trees. For some reason this bark stripping tends to occur more in late winter to early spring. One theory—and that is all it is, is that female squirrels do this prior to giving birth to relieve the pain—I guess it takes their mind off of it! Another theory is that they use the bark in their nests or they are searching for food. Whatever the reason, once they start, they often come back and do more damage—much like a woodpecker has its favorite tree. Using a tree wrap in the area, hanging scare devices or spraying with a repellent can all give limited help. Using live traps and relocating the squirrels is another option. For the damage to the tree, clean up any loose bark and monitor it this growing season. If they have gone into the cambium layer it can cause some dieback on those branches and pruning will be needed. But wait and see what happens this spring.


QuestionCould you tell me what is wrong with my Japanese maple? It has suddenly begun having curled leaves and some are dropping. One section is affected so far, but I am worried it could spread. Is this some type of disease or is it the weather? We have had the tree a little over a year and it stands about six feet tall. It is planted in a flower bed in full sun. Help.

AnswerFrom examining the leaves there is no disease. It is not unusual for Japanese maples to get a little sunburned or stressed if they are planted in full afternoon sun—especially those leaves at the southwest side of the plant. Japanese maples prefer morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled light all day. This leaf burn and curling will happen annually when it gets hot and dry, when planted in full sun. Last year was a mild growing season with ample rainfall—not the case this season. You have a couple of choices—move it this fall to a new location or plant some other plants nearby to help shade it from direct sun in the afternoon.

September 2009

My red Japanese maple has grown to almost five feet tall, and I would like to prune it back to about three feet and then keep it that height, allowing it to branch it. Would I ruin it to prune it at this time of year?

AnswerPruning a tree now is not going to hurt the tree, but I think you need to assess what the tree will look like. First of all, the natural shape with a bit of corrective pruning is preferable for a Japanese maple. If your tree is not a true dwarf, pruning it annually to keep it at the three foot height is going to ruin its shape and turn it into a “meatball”. You might consider planting a different species that stays short, and requires less pruning. Some choices include: Acer palmatum: ‘Beni Himo’—mature height 1-2 feet; ‘Chishio’—mature height 3-4 feet; or 'Goshiki Kotohime'—mature height 2-4 feet and 'Shishi Yatsubusa' which grows 3-5 feet in 10 years.

June 2010

QuestionI have what I thought was a Japanese maple tree, but decided I don't know the difference between a Japanese maple and a Chinese maple. Mine is green all summer then red in the fall. My neighbor’s tree is red all summer. They are both cut leaf types. Also do you have any advice on pruning?

AnswerI think you both have a Japanese maple. While there is a Chinese maple (Acer discolor) it is fairly rare and the leaves are not cut leaf. As to the difference in color, there is a difference in variety. The term Japanese maple includes a whole host of different species and then different cultivars within the species. Acer palmatum is the most common tree called Japanese maple. A. p. dissectum is the cut leaf form. Many of the Japanese maples that are red in the spring turn green throughout the summer then have great fall color. A few have been bred to hold their red color all season, while others are variegated or have yellowish tinges. The red forms include ‘Bloodgood’--(but if it gets too much sun it too can turn a bit green) with a standard leaf. ‘Crimson Queen’ and 'Ever Red' are cut leaf types which should hold the red color. Regardless of the color during the growing season, they are beautiful trees and all have outstanding fall color. As to pruning, it all depends on the type of tree you are growing and its mature size. Some get no taller than three feet and cascade, while others can get 20 feet or more in height. Selective pruning to maintain size or to open them up can be done, but don't try to shape them into a ball or box. Pruning can be done now if it is light pruning.

December 2009

I have one very lovely, large Japanese Blood Maple and another smaller Japanese Laceleaf Maple. Both are covered with scale. I sprayed both with a dormant oil recommended by my local gardening store twice at a weekly interval. I then treated the soil around the tree trunks as prescribed with Bayer Advanced Tree & Shrub Protect and feed solution. The smaller tree has lost all its leaves and still has the ugly white droppings on its' branches. The larger tree has some leaves curled up and still attached to the branches. So of the limbs look like they may be dead. And this tree also still has the ugly white droppings all over the branches. Both trees are strikingly beautiful and I really would hate to lose either one. Is there any additional action I should take to get and keep these trees healthy?

AnswerIt is quite possible that you have killed the scale--you definitely treated with the right products. Once scale insects die, they don't fall off and disappear--but they are no longer causing damage. For now, do nothing. Wait until spring and see how the plants leaf out. Then monitor the new growth and twigs for signs of scale. The imidacloprid in the Bayer product you used should give you good protection. Usually one application in the spring can cover you for the year.


May 2007

QuestionDue to incredibly poor and rocky soil, I have planted several large containers of Japanese maples. One of my Crimson Queens is in a container on my elevated deck, and when we had our little bout with freezes in late March, the elevated container had burned leaves on the side facing away from the house. I've watched it carefully and see now that it is starting to leaf out again. Some of the burned leaves appear to still have life on the portion closest to the stems, but they look really ragged. Should I prune the old burned growth or will the new growth push the older leaves off the stem?

AnswerYou can actually do either one. If the damaged leaves are unsightly and over half the leaf is intact, lightly shear them off, as they probably will not fall off on their own. The leaves that were totally burned are being replaced and pushing off the damaged ones. Be glad that yours are sprouting back at the tips of the limbs; some reports from northern locales are not as encouraging with some dieback.

September 2006

QuestionI have a Crimson Queen Japanese maple about 11years old. Last year the leaves turned brown and a lot of them fell off. It is in direct sun all day. The planter it is in is on asphalt with 14"-15" of soil. Is there something I can do to save this tree? I also have an American holly standard that is under severe stress. It gets 1/2 day of sun. Do you think the asphalt is the problem?

AnswerWhile there are a few species of Japanese maples that may tolerate full sun, most prefer an under story planting with afternoon sun protection. Often you will see those in full sun with sunburn or leaf scald by late July through September. Yours are doubly compounded with the asphalt. Can you consider moving it to a more moderate location this fall? The holly should tolerate the full sun conditions, provided they get the necessary moisture when dry.

July 2006

QuestionI moved to a condo about six years ago. The focal point of the front flower bed was a beautiful, large, healthy Japanese maple. Recently, the tree has changed. Many of the branches are bare, and the leaves are a rusty brown color. A sprinkler system supplies water to the tree. Please help me know what to do to restore/save this once beautiful tree.

AnswerHave the leaves just fallen off, or did it leaf out thinner this season. Usually with tree problems, it is not a matter of something happening overnight, it is more a slow decline. If the tree had an early attack by a leaf spotting disease, it could have defoliated and may be trying to leaf back out. Investigate a bit further. Do you see any holes in the tree trunk, any wounds or growths? Are there leaves littering the ground underneath, or did the branches not leaf out this spring. Get all the information you can. For now, keeping it watered should help.

May 2006

QuestionI relocated from Michigan to West Little Rock in January and my new home has a Japanese maple in the landscaped area in the front yard. About two weeks ago I noticed what looked like a yellow fungus or mold growing on top of the mulch. On closer inspection, I also found a similar fungus surrounding the trunk of the maple. The growth reached approximately 6 inches above the mulch up the trunk and was a dark gray or black in color. I cleaned it from the trunk and bagged some of the residue in case I needed to have it inspected, but I'm concerned that there's something going on in the bed itself that I need to address.

AnswerNow that you have cleaned it up, pay attention to the area in the next few weeks to see if it returns. It could be a simple slime mold or even one of the organisms which helps the mulch decay and break down—neither of which is cause for concern. They are both common, especially during periods of high humidity. Do try to keep the mulch away from the trunk of the tree to allow for good air circulation and allowing the bark to dry.

March 2006

QuestionI have two Japanese maple trees that need some pruning (limbs too low to the ground, and several too wide) for shaping/appearance purposes. Can I do it now or do I need to worry about sap running? For some reason they never dropped their leaves last fall, but they are shriveled and brown. I've noticed the same is true on others' trees in the area. Any idea why it happened?

AnswerYou may prune them now. The bleeding that occurs in the spring will not hurt the plant, but if it bothers you, you can wait a few extra weeks. Many of our trees didn't drop their fall foliage this year, especially Japanese maples. The extremely dry weather during the first frost had something to do with it. Somehow the mechanism that drops the leaves (the abscission layer) shut down early and the leaves stayed attached. Normally as the days get shorter, the cells in the abscission layer become more dry and corky. The abscission layer is found where the leaf is attached to the stems. This corky layer of cells slowly begins to block transport of materials such as carbohydrates from the leaf to the branch as fall sets in. It also blocks the flow of minerals from the roots into the leaves. Normally this connection between cells becomes weakened, and the leaves break off with time. Somehow this didn't fully occur this year. As the new foliage emerges this spring, it should push the old leaves off.

January 2006

QuestionThe front of our home faces southwest and receives full afternoon sun in the summer. There is a raised bed that contains a crepe myrtle surrounded by compacta holly. I recently removed a Japanese maple the previous owner had planted in the same bed. Size wise it was dwarfed by the crepe myrtle and temperature wise it baked all summer. I considered another crepe myrtle but wanted something evergreen to provide some winter color / interest and shelter for birds. There is good but not deep soil in the bed and it is irrigated. The plant would be in front of a brick wall that radiates heat from the summer sun. I would like something that would grow to 15 to 20' and not more than 10-12' in diameter. I have considered several tree form hollies. Is there a particular variety you would recommend or some other type of ornamental tree / shrub that thrives in full sun and heat?

AnswerYou were wise to move the Japanese maple. They don't thrive in afternoon sun, especially during a particularly hot summer. There are several options for you. A multi-trunked yaupon holly can be nice, or the deciduous holly--while not evergreen, the berries give good winter color. A Little Gem southern magnolia is a nice smaller evergreen plant with fantastic white summer blooms. If left unchecked it can grow taller, but it is a slow grower and quite compact when young. A large shrub which if left to grow could become tree-like that is gaining in popularity is the Loropetalum. It is evergreen with purple foliage year-round, loves the sun and has bright pink spring flowers.

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