Japanese Maples offer great fall color in the garden.

November 13, 2010 at 9:50 AM Leave a comment



Japanese maples deliver kaleidoscope of fall color

By Laurie Casey, Special to Tribune Newspapers

Japanese maples are beautiful, four-season plants that brighten shade gardens throughout the world, especially in Britain and Japan. Though they can be challenging to grow in northeastern Illinois, these filtered shade-loving plants grab attention. They really shine in fall, with vivid, sometimes florescent, colors.

“For fall color, nothing can beat them. You just say, ‘wow,’ ” says Kunso Kim, head of collections and curator at The Morton Arboretum.

Through centuries, Japanese maple lovers have bred more than 250 horticultural selections in amazing hues: yellow, orange, brilliant red, scarlet, burgundy and purple. Some boast multicolored or elegantly striped leaves. “Leaf shapes range remarkably, from tiny kitten paw prints to large, hand-size ones.” Most leaves are deeply lobed, meaning they have fingerlike tips.

At the Arboretum, many types of Japanese maples were planted as long ago as 1926. One of the best performing is “Burgundy Lace,” which grows 20-feet tall by 20-feet wide. Its dark red foliage takes on a bronze cast as summer progresses to fall.

“Crimson Queen” is a delicate 10-foot shrub with cascading branches that show deep red foliage all summer. In fall, leaves turn orange-scarlet.

“Shaina” forms a compact, 10-foot shrub. Young leaves emerge bright red, then turn a dark purple-red in summer, and finally change to bright crimson in fall.

“Japanese maples like light, dappled shade and slightly acid soil,” Kim says. “At the Arboretum, many thrive under high canopies of old oak trees.” Keep them sheltered from wind. Apply granular sulfur to clay-ey, alkaline soil to make it more acidic. Or mix needles, bark or wood chips from pines or other evergreens into the soil each year.

Many Japanese maples are not reliably winter-hardy here. However, that may be changing.

“As climate change gives us longer autumn seasons and warmer winters, we may be able to grow more Japanese maples in our area,” says Kim.

Laurie Casey is a staff writer at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle (mortonarb.org).

"The Garden Nerd"


Entry filed under: Green Information.

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