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How to Transplant a Japanese Maple Tree

By Kathleen Sonntag ; Updated September 21, 2017

Japanese Maples are colorful garden accents. Their red, yellow and variegated leaves create a beautiful focal point. There are more than 700 varieties of Japanese maple trees. They can be small (six to eight feet), large (15 to 30 feet), or somewhere in between. A good companion is an evergreen shrub that will provide winter color when the maple drops its leaves.

Japanese maples can be transplanted any time in mild climates, although fall or spring is best in a zone with cold winters. Plant when the first leaves are budding in the spring. In the fall, plant the tree just after the leaves have fallen. The idea is for good root growth to start as soon as possible. In Mediterranean climates with with winter rains and dry summers, transplanting in the fall can be a good choice.

Japanese maple trees like a partially shaded location with loose, moist soil. If you are planting a young tree, remember to allow for growth. The plants around the tree should require similar water and sunlight conditions. If you are using a container, find a space for it and put it in place before planting the tree.

If you are planting the tree in the ground, dig a hole at least three times as big as the root ball and mix fresh planting soil or soil amendment with the existing soil. The roots will need to adapt to your soil conditions, so be sure not to surround the tree with only new soil.
When using a container, be sure it is large enough to accommodate growth. Add soil, leaving space for the tree. Japanese maples do very well in containers. Water the soil in the ground or the container before planting your tree.

When digging up a Japanese maple to transplant it, start well away from the trunk to avoid damaging roots. The less you disturb the roots, the better the tree will do. If you are moving a tree from a container to the ground, tap the container lightly until the whole root ball comes out.

Gently spread the roots and loosen soil that is clinging to the roots. Place the tree in the hole or container. Add soil around the roots and support the tree with a stake that is attached to the trunk. Continue to add soil until the hole or container is filled. Water the tree by placing a hose at the base of the trunk.The water should trickle slowly into the roots for an hour or so to saturate the soil after planting.

Surrounded by plants that compliment their foliage, they are a welcome feature in any garden. Select plants that are evergreen and low to the ground with similar water requirements.


Things You Will Need

  • Garden space or large container
  • Shovel
  • Planting soil or soil amendment
  • Tree stake


  • A small tree is easier to transplant and more likely to take off quickly in its new location.


  • Placing a Japanese maple in a hot, full sun location can burn the leaves. If the leaves have brown tips, the tree will survive. Be patient and let it recover.
  • Avoid placing a Japanese maple in a windy location.

About the Author


Kathleen Sonntag lives in Carmel, California, where she is a writer, teacher and editor. She is a Master Gardener and writes articles for gardening publications. Sonntag has written and edited reading test passages and has edited children's books, cookbooks and memoirs. Her articles appear on GardenGuides.com. Sonntag holds a Bachelor of Arts from University of California, Berkeley.