Japanese maples thrive here

On GardeningNovember 20, 2013 

The third week of November is when maple leaves remind us all why the season is called Fall. It is also the time to be thankful that we live in the Pacific Northwest — Japanese maples grow better here with less care than any place else in the world. Japanese maples have an advantage to the home gardener over the more common big leaf maples, because the smaller leaves won’t smother the lawn or suffocate the shrubbery.

A few words about variegated maples:

All maples are members of the Acer family, but this large group of trees also includes what is commonly called box elder trees — weedy, messy natives that also harbor the box elder bug. Now that I have shared the garden gossip about the trashy box elder, I must remind you not to judge the entire family because of the bad behavior of a few members.

There is one box elder that is so dainty, well-behaved and lovely to look at that she belongs in every garden. The Variegated Box Elder (Acer negundo ‘Variegatum’ ) has white and green leaves with hanging clusters of sterile seeds in a creamy white. It is much smaller than the species box elder and much easier to grow than other variegated trees such as the rather demanding diva known as the “Wedding Cake Tree” or Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). If you have a lot of dark, green evergreens in your landscape, a variegated tree or shrub will help to lighten up the palette.


When it comes to having a fiery personality plus a great figure the Blood Good Japanese (Acer palmatum var. atropurpurea) is the go-to small tree for growing in a lawn or as a back-ground tree in the corner of a small yard. Easy to find at area nurseries, the red summer foliage turns fiery orange every autumn and at 15 to 20 feet tall, this is one tree that won’t outgrow its welcome after planting. All Japanese maples do best when protected from the hot afternoon sun and strong winds but the gracefully arching branches of the Blood Good Japanese maple make this the perfect focal point tree underplanted with pink evergreen azaleas, white-leaved bruneras and hostas and the purple foliage of heucheras to echo the color of the overhead leaves of the tree.


Look for grafted Japanese maples with the distinctive waterfall form if you want to enjoy all the glory of these beautiful trees without the height. Grafted Japanese maples do especially well in large containers and are perfectly happy in a half whiskey barrel for a decade or so as long as you remember to keep the soil moist. My favorite bedmate for these weeping maples is to pair them up with the winter blooming Snowdrop bulbs (Galanthus). Check for snowdrop bulbs now and get them into the ground this week — you’ll enjoy cheery winter blooms for years to come as they spread and multiply. What makes this a marriage made in heaven is the fact that the snowdrops bloom before the maple puts out new foliage.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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