The Q&A Archives: Japanese Maples

Question: Can you tell me which variety if all of Japanese Maples will do well in the Colorado clay soil conditions? What if any, are the additional preparations that would help give the best possible chance of flourishing? Additionally, The area will have full to partial summer exposure to the sun. Location is Longmont, Colorado, evelvation 5050.

Answer: Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are a bit difficult to grow in Colorado because of our climate, high sunlight intensity and alkaline soils that are low in organic matter. Japanese maples prefer part sun to filtered shade and acidic soils (pH < 7.0) with higher levels of organic matter. Because they leaf out early, young leaves are prone to cold damage from our inevitable frosts in April.

There are a few around Denver that look pretty good, usually in protected spots. If your site for the tree is in an older, long-established neighborhood where some garden cultivation has taken place over a long time, the soils may be less alkaline or even slightly acidic. There are hundreds of cultivated varieties, of these many are lacey or cutleaf varieties (dissectums). Size varies at maturity from 8-15 feet, leaf color is either green or purplish in the growing season, yellow to orange and red in fall.

To be honest, I think you'll have better success with Tatarian Maple (Acer tatarium) than a Japanese Maple. Tatarian maple is a multistem shrub or single stem smaller tree with greenish-white flowers followed by red samara fruit in July-August. It appears more adaptable to our clay soil with higher pHs than the Japanese maples.

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