Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are loved by gardeners for their graceful shape, colorful leaves and striking fall foliage. According to California Master Gardener Carolee James, many of the early named cultivars were lost during the two world wars, but there has been a great effort to produce new cultivars. The trees, which are native to Japan, grow best in USDA hardiness zones 5B to 8.
Plant your maple in a large container with well-draining potting soil that does not contain slow-release fertilizers. James suggests using glazed ceramic pots or foam pots, because clay pots dry out too quickly.
Select a site for your pot with at least six hours of sun. Avoid a spot that receives strong afternoon sun, which can cause leaf scorch.
Water weekly, and water more often during a drought. Japanese maples are only moderately drought tolerant. Drainage is important; never allow the roots to sit in water. Place 1 to 2 inches of mulch below the tree's canopy to retain moisture.
Use only water-soluble fertilizers at half strength in the spring and summer. Slow-release fertilizers will burn the leaves because these trees are not heavy feeders, according to James.
Train the trunks and branches so they will not touch each other, according to the University of Florida Extension. Remove branches with embedded bark (growing in one of the tree's crotches) to keep the branch from later splitting the tree.