The Japanese maple tree (Acer palmatum) is a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub. It grows to a height of approximately 20 feet or smaller, depending on the variety. The tree produces a wispy canopy of foliage. A few cultivars feature weeping habits. The tree's width usually measures between 15 to 20 feet wide, depending on the variety.
The Japanese maple tree's canopy limbs produce a layering effect. The branches are smooth in appearance and often twist or distort, giving the tree a unique look. The trunk and bark are smooth and light gray. The tree either grows with a singular trunk or multiple small trunks.
The foliage of the tree measures 2 to 5 inches in length. Each leaf has five to 11 distinct lance-shaped lobes. Foliage appears in green, variegated, purple or red. The fall colors appear yellow, orange, bronze or red. Leaves will often suffer scorching in extremely hot weather with direct sunlight according to the U.S. Forest Service. Tiny flowers appear in shades of red or purple in the spring.
The Japanese maple enjoys partial shade. Dappled sunlight is ideal. In areas with cool summers the tree can successfully be planted in direct sunlight. Purple varieties must be planted in direct sunlight to maintain their unique leave color, or they will turn green. The tree grows well in zones 6 to 9.
Plant the Japanese maple in well-drained soil. It will withstand a wide range of soils, and even grows in clay-based soil if it offers drainage. The tree prefers acidic soil with ample organic matter.
Offer ample wind protection if planting the Japanese maple in windy areas. The tree is brittle and will break easily. The foliage is quickly removed from the tree in high winds. Plant beside a house, building or fence line to offer protection.
The Japanese maple requires moist soil to survive and is not drought tolerant. Apply at least 3 to 4 inches of mulch around the tree to help the soil retain moisture. Use bark chips or peat moss for best results.