Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) make beautiful focal plants for the garden. Many cultivars have fine, almost fern-like leaves and brilliant fall color. They range in size from small specimens suitable for containers to trees up to 25 feet high and wide.
Japanese maples are hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8 -- basically all but the coldest or hottest areas of the U.S. Individual cultivar hardiness may vary, however, so check with your agricultural extension office that the plant you're interested in is reliably hardy in your area.
Japanese maples do best in light shade in a sheltered site. Red or purple cultivars require some sun to develop their full color, but variegated forms need protection from hot afternoon sun to prevent sun scald. Trees with finely divided leaves need more shade than larger-leaved varieties, and all types appreciate more shade the farther south your garden is.
Japanese maples grow best in moist, well-drained soil with lots of organic material. They need supplemental watering during drought periods.
Growing Japanese Maples in Containers
Smaller Japanese maples make ideal container specimens for shaded patios. Use a container with good drainage and good quality all-purpose potting mix. Feed in the spring. Keep the soil evenly moist. Move the container into a sheltered position in winter, wrapping in burlap if necessary to protect from winter winds.