Japanese maple trees have various cultivars, the largest of which grows to between 15 and 25 feet high and wide. Leaves can be red, green or even variegated. Some of the trees look delicate; however, they are quite strong and hardy in USDA planting zones 5 through 8. Japanese maple trees have a fall interest of brightly colored yellow, orange or red leaves. The trees can also be used for bonsai, container planting and patio accents. Preparing the soil for planting is essential, but once established, care is minimal.
Choose a location that has partial shade. In USDA gardening zones 7 and 8, shade is more important because Japanese maple leaves tend to suffer from sun scorch rather quickly. The area should drain well and all other trees and shrubs should be at least 10 feet from the center of the planting hole.
Remove the top layer of turf grass and weeds with a shovel in at least a 3-foot diameter around the tree. Add 2 inches of compost and 2 inches of sphagnum peat to the disturbed area and till it into the soil well. Water the area and allow it to sit for two weeks, keeping it moist. Hand-pull all weeds that grow in the area to prepare for planting.
Dig a hole in the middle of the disturbed area that is twice the width of the container. Dig a depth the same as the container.
Gently remove the tree from the container and place in the center of the planting hole. Untangle the root ball as best you can with your hand and cover with soil. Water the soil to settle it around the roots. Continue to fill the planting hole until it is level with the surrounding ground and tamp down by stepping on the loose soil.
Water the tree thoroughly immediately after planting and every three days for two weeks after. Do not allow the soil to become soggy, but keep it moist. Cut back to once a week for the next two months, then only when the soil is dry to an inch in depth for the rest of the growing season. For the following seasons, water only when it hasn’t rained for more than a week or when it is very hot and dry.
Place a 4-inch layer of shredded bark mulch in a 3-foot diameter around the tree. Keep the mulch 4 inches away from the trunk. Expand the area of mulch as the canopy of the tree enlarges each year. Additional mulch will also need to be added because it decomposes each year.
Apply a water-soluble fertilizer cut to half strength each spring and summer. Do not use slow-release fertilizers because they will burn the roots; Japanese maples are not heavy feeders. Follow manufacturer’s directions on the use of the fertilizer.
Apply another 2-inch layer of compost over the mulch in late summer. Regular watering will leach the compost into the soil and provide needed nutrients.