The Joys of a Japanese Red Maple

I stood, mouth agape, admiring my Japanese red maple (Acer palmatum) today. The sun was shining through the intensely red leaves and it was silhouetted against my neighbor’s barn. Fantastic, I thought. My native maples have lost all their leaves by now, but this stranger in our land is holding its leaves and showing off. 

I should have planted this farther from the road. But back in 1970 I didn't know much about planting trees - or what the snowplows do in winter.

I dug up that maple at my parent’s home in Connecticut as a seedling in 1970. I planted it much too near the road I live on, and I have always wondered why the town snow plows spared it when it was just a little thing. Now it is 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide, and the plows can see it. But then? I’m amazed it wasn’t leveled.

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The Japanese red maple comes in many named cultivars. The best for northern New England is called ‘Bloodgood’. I don’t know what kind mine is, probably that one.

The kind with very finely divided leaves, a group called ‘dissectum’ is less hardy here, though I know of one fine specimen here in Cornish, NH. They are commonly used in Portland, Oregon and I ooh and aaah over them whenever I go there.

This note card was made from a dissectum type Japanese red maple.

The mother tree of mine is huge – I haven’t seen it in many years, but remember it as a fine climbing tree perhaps 40 feet tall and even wider than that with strong, wide branches. But our climate here is discouraging for the Japanese red maple, and they rarely get much bigger than mine. In Boston, or in Rhode Island, they get much bigger.

Full sun is best for a Japanese red maple, and slightly moist, rich soil. Even if you get a small one, remember it will eventually get to be 10 feet tall and 12 feet across - assuming the snow plow doesn’t get it! 

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