Although Japanese maples are not native to the United States, they are found in all but the more extreme climates of the country. Prized for their vibrantly colored foliage, Japanese maples tend to be brilliant or dark red with touches of green, although some cultivars also become gold. Japanese maples tend to be small, with cultivars available in shapes, sizes and colors to fit just about any garden.
Also known as dissectum, laceleaf varieties have long, feathery leaves that give them a lacy appearance. Laceleaf maples generally stay small, rarely growing above 5 feet, and develop a mounded, weeping shape. Cultivars of laceleaf maples are typically dark red in color, although some cultivars have brighter red and green coloration. Because the tree remains small, it is suitable for smaller gardens and growing under power lines. According to the Washington State University Extension, the laceleaf maple prefers temperate climates, thriving up to hardiness zone 9, and well-drained soil.
Threadleaf Japanese maples are the only variety that has not been found in the wild, suggesting that they developed from cultivated sources or from rare plants that are now extinct. Threadleaf maples differ from laceleafs in that the leaves are not serrated. The threadleaf maple stays small, growing well in small gardens or containers. Because of its resemblance to bamboo, it makes an attractive addition to an Oriental-themed garden.
Dwarf trees generally do not exceed 6 feet in height, while semi-dwarf trees range from 7 to 15 feet, and there may be a degree of variation among the heights of dwarf Japanese maple cultivars. Dwarf Japanese maple trees develop the classic lobed maple leaf shape, so even though laceleaf and threadleaf maples may be smaller, they are not considered part of the dwarf variety. Because of their small stature, dwarf Japanese maples are very popular for bonsai gardens. Because of the high demand, slower growing rate and less grafting material, dwarf Japanese maples may cost more than other varieties.
Upright Japanese maples grow to heights of 15 to 30 feet and assume the spreading shape most often seen in maple trees. Although uprights are larger trees, their size can be reduced by pruning or by growing them in a container, which may restrict their height to half of what is expected for the particular cultivar, and upright cultivars may be used for bonsai. The two best-known Japanese maple cultivars--Bloodgood and Osakazuki--are upright trees renowned for their extraordinary coloration. Upright Japanese maples are found throughout the United States except in the northern and southern extremes. As the U.S. Forest Service notes, the compact size, splendid color and lack of messy fruit make the upright Japanese maple an ideal residential tree.