Fertilizer for maple tree

Plant of the Week: Japanese Maple

Common Name: Lace leaf Japanese maple

Type: tree

Family: Aceraceae

Zone: 5b to 8b Find Your Zone

Height: 10 to 15 foot

Width: 10 to 15 foot

Bloom Color: red (not showy)

Sun Exposure: partial

Soil: well drained

Leaves: Deciduous

Fertilizer: Vigoro Tree, Shrub and Evergreen or Miracle Gro Evergreen Tree Spikes

With so many color and texture options available with these trees, the possibilities are endless. Japanese maples are known for their beautiful colors and textures. They are a slow to moderate growing, medium sized deciduous tree that will become the primary focal point in any landscape. The lace leaf Japanese maple (dissectum etropurpureum) is also a brilliant, lower growing option, for smaller spaces. Lace leaf is a much slower grower. Some of the more popular cultivars include Inaba shidare and Crimson Queen.


STEP 1: Digging the hole

  • Find a location that has suitable sun exposure for your particular type of plant.
  • Dig your hole an inch or two shallower than the rootball of the plant.
  • Dig the hole twice the diameter of the rootball.
  • Scuff up the sides of the hole with a shovel to help roots break through the native soil.

STEP 2: Putting plant in hole

  • When removing the plant from the pot, check to see if the roots were circling the pot.
  • If the plant is rootbound, gently break up the roots with your hands until loosened up.
  • Set plant level, in the center of the hole.
  • Make sure the top of the rootball is just above soil level.

STEP 3: Amending the soil and filling in the hole

  • Amend the soil with proper amendments for your soil type.
  • Incorporate 50% native soil with 50% amendment soils like garden soil, composted manure or soil conditioner.
  • Make sure dirt clods are broken up or removed from hole along with rocks.
  • Fill the hole with soils to the soil level and pack down. Do not cover top of rootball with dirt.
  • Water in thoroughly to remove air pockets.

STEP 4: Mulching and fertilizing

  • Cover the planting site with at least 2 inches of the mulch of your choice (pinestraw, cupress mulch,etc.)
  • High Phosphorus root stimulator fertilizers like Quick Start from Miracle Gro are great to use at time of planting.
  • When planting trees, a tree stake kit may be required to prevent the wind from blowing over or breaking our newly planted tree until it becomes established.

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Japanese Maple Feeding Habits – How To Fertilize A Japanese Maple Tree

Japanese maples are garden favorites with their graceful, slender trunks and delicate leaves. They
make eye-catching focal points for any backyard, and many cultivars delight you with fiery fall displays. To keep your Japanese maple happy, you’ll need to site it correctly and apply fertilizer appropriately. If you want to learn when and how to fertilize a Japanese maple tree, read on.

Japanese Maple Feeding and Care

A Japanese maple brings such beautiful texture and color to your garden that you’ll want to take top care of the tree. It isn’t as picky as you might think, but it does have some definite preferences.

Finding a good site for your Japanese maple is the single best thing you can do to keep that tree healthy. The placement of your tree will determine how attractive and lush it will look and even how long it will live.

Japanese maples require well-draining soil and will do poorly in clay or wet soil. Most of the trees thrive in a site that gets some sun in the morning but shade in the afternoon. Both strong winds and hot sun can stress or even kill a maple. Maple species are understory plants in the wild, and excess sun can be very wounding to your tree. Protect your tree at least until it has established a mature root system.

Fertilizing Japanese maples is an important part of the nurturing process. However, a little Japanese maple fertilizer is enough, so exercise discretion in Japanese maple feeding.

When to Fertilize Japanese Maples

It’s important to apply fertilizer to plants at the appropriate time. The first rule to keep in mind is not to start fertilizing Japanese maples too early. Don’t think that a newly transplanted tree needs feeding immediately.

Once you plant the trees, wait at least until their second growing season before fertilizing Japanese maples. You’ll want to give the plants ample time to adapt to their new conditions. When you do start feeding Japanese maples, do so in late winter while the ground is still frozen. Alternatively, start Japanese maple feeding after the last freeze in spring.

How to Fertilize Japanese Maples

When you start fertilizing Japanese maples, your goal should be to maintain a constant low level of fertility. This moderate fertilization practice will keep your maples healthy. Do not apply high levels of nitrogen to the soil around your maples. Japanese maples look best if they grow at a slower speed. High amounts of nitrogen results in excessively fast growth that will weaken the plant.

What to use for Japanese maple feeding? Try a controlled release type fertilizer. If you want to use slow-release fertilize pellets, don’t just scatter the Japanese maple fertilizer on the soil surface since this results in sporadic releases. Instead, bore holes around 6 inches (15 cm.) deep into the soil around the tree, about half way between the main trunk and the drip line of the branches. Divide the fertilizer between the holes and tuck the pellets into them. Fill the rest of the holes with soil. Irrigate well.

Japanese Maples Online

Fertilizing Japanese Maples

Proper fertilization of healthy trees

Proper fertilization is one of the keys to successfully growing Japanese maples. Although Japanese maples don’t require a high amount of fertilizing, maintaining a low level of fertility throughout the season is necessary to keep your trees healthy and happy.

Fertilizing Japanese maples at the proper time is also important. Fertilizing at the wrong time can cause damage to your tree. Avoid this common mistake at all costs. See TIP 3

Should you use controlled-release or liquid-type fertilizer?

See my answers below to these common questions about fertilizing Japanese maple trees.

Tip 1 Maintaining a constant low level of fertility will keep your trees healthy throughout the year. Applying high levels of nitrogen (N) is not recommended. Avoid using high N lawn fertilizer on Japanese maples. Japanese maples look best and develop thicker stems when allowed to grow at a slower speed. Applying high amounts of nitrogen will cause excessively fast growth that will weaken the plant. Weak branches can lead to damage if you are located where icing during winter is a problem.

Tip 2 Fertilizing your Japanese maple with the proper type of fertilizer should be done either in late winter while the ground is still cold (frozen?), or after the last freeze in spring. I recommend using a slow or controlled release type fertilizer. Commercially known as Polyon or Osmocote, these are the most common and both work very well on Japanese maples. We use both successfully in our Japanese maple production.

When using a slow-release pellet-type fertilizer, it is best to bore holes about 6 inches deep into the soil about half way between the main trunk and the drip line of the branches. IMPORTANT: Scattering slow-release fertilizer on the top of the soil does not allow the fertilizer to maintain a constant moisture level inside the pellet, resulting in sporadic and possibly untimely releases. Bore several holes around the tree and divide the proper amount of fertilizer recommended by the manufacturer by the number of holes. Drop the fertilizer into the holes and fill the remainder of the holes with soil. Water around the tree and now the tree is fertilized for an entire year. As the tree grows, the amount of fertilizer will need to be increased. Tree fertilizer spikes also work well and are easy to use. Follow recommended rates based on the tree size.

Tip 3 I only recommend using liquid type fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® on Japanese maples during the first summer, and only to help establish the tree. Once you see good growth you can stop liquid feeding. IMPORTANT; Do not liquid feed in late fall or early spring. Liquid fertilizers encourage Japanese maples to grow instantly, and this is not recommended as early freezes in fall and late freezes in spring will cause damage or kill your tree.

Planting, Pruning, Care for Japanese Maples


Planting Your Maple

If a tree is planted correctly it will grow twice as fast and live at least twice as long as one that is incorrectly planted. Inadequate soil preparation and improper planting are two frequent causes of plant failure.

Quick tips…

  • Keep plants moist and in the shade until planting.
  • Soil preparation with organic matter is important, especially if the soil is heavy clay.
  • Mulch with 6 inches after planting to reduce the need for frequent watering and protection of their shallow roots.
  • Keep pruning of newly planted trees to a minimum.
  • Do not fertilize newly planted trees until the second growing season
  • Provide morning sun and afternoon shade
  • Water regularly until plants are established

When To Plant

There is an old saying that states “The best time to plant a tree is yesterday”. If that didn’t happen, then the ideal planting time is now! If you plant in the fall you take advantage of the new root growth that occurs during the dormant season. Unlike the tops of the maple that go dormant and cease growth for the winter, roots of maples continue to grow throughout the fall and early winter months if temperatures are not below freezing. Fall planting also allows the carbohydrates that are produced during the summer to be directed to root growth since there is little demand from the top. If you are planting in spring try to avoid disturbing any plant parts that recently have broken bud are is producing new, soft growth.

Where to plant

The placement of your tree can mean the difference between an attractive lush growing maple and a straggly struggling one. With so many cultivars to choose from this should not be a problem as you should be able to match your landscape situation with the right cultivar. Try to match your maple cultivar to your planting location with regards to the amount of sun, wind exposure and space availability the tree will receive. Young trees will need to be protected from the elements until they have formed established roots.

Keep in mind when you place your tree into the landscape that morning sun and afternoon shade will suit most maples best. Wind and hot sun can wipe a small tree out in no time, regardless of the cultivar. Leaves will show signs of stress with burning on the tips. Sometimes the roots will become sun baked and the stress will show up in the leaves as if there has been too much sun or wind. Maples are thin-barked and can be sun scalded during the first year or two after transplanting. This injury can set the trees growth back considerably. Most maple species are naturally under story plants, but as gardeners we have forced them into the open landscape.

Soil Preparation and Planting

Clay and poor draining soils

Most maples do not thrive in clay, heavy or poorly drained soils. These types of soils can lead to root rot and bring about disease. In addition plants breathe through their roots and these soil types are not suitable for growth because they are low in oxygen required for good root growth.

If your soil is heavy clay, make the planting hole 2 to 4 inches shallower than the root ball. In poorly drained or heavy clay soil, the plant is best placed higher than its original planting depth at about 4 to 6 inches higher than the surrounding soil creating a raised mound.

Poorly drained soils are a leading cause of plant problems in the landscape. It is a good idea to incorporate about 10-20 percent organic matter into the soil to help with drainage and aeration. Use only well-composted mulches. A quality bag of potting soil mixed in will work just as well. Avoid fine- textured organic matter, such as sand or peat moss. Composted materials immediately provide organic matter to the soil and help with aeration. Do not use green bark products as amendments. Freshly milled bark that has not been composted will slowly rob plants of nitrogen when used as an amendment. As microorganisms in the soil feed on bark and decompose it, they will use nitrogen in the soil. Also, the pH of the soil often drops dramatically below the desirable range when non-composted materials are used as amendments.

Be sure to build the soil up beside the root ball so that the sides are not exposed, and do not place additional soil on top of the root ball. This will allow oxygen to reach the roots in the upper surface of soil. Do not disturb the soil under the root ball to prevent any later settling, which will move the plant roots deeper into the soil.

Sandy or well drained soils.

In well-drained soil, the planting hole should never be dug any deeper than the height of the root ball, the planting hole should be at least twice and preferably five times wider than the root ball. Roots will grow more quickly into loosened soil, thus speeding up the tree’s establishment time. Mulch should be placed over the surface.

Container Planting

Planting in containers is a great way to start your maple tree. However, from years of growing maples in containers I have come to learn that Japanese maples prefer to be somewhat snug in a container. If too much soil is allowed to sit around the rootball there is a greater chance of the soil becoming too saturated with water which can lead to root rot. This seems to be particularly true for smaller maples in containers.

So it is best not to use a container that is too big for your tree. As a general rule use a container no larger than twice the diameter of the rootball and half again as deep. Another way to look at this is not to go more than double the volume of the rootball. As the plant becomes larger, planting in wine barrels or other large containers is a great way to use the maple as an accent on your patio, front porch or backyard.

A mixture of half potting soil and half aged bark is an ideal medium for containers. Vermiculite or perlite can be substituted for the bark.

After two or three years in a container, your tree will benefit from root pruning and some fresh soil. The outer layer of roots can be pruned or cut off with a saw or sharp knife. Those long, tangled roots around the edge of the pot are not necessary for the plant’s growth. Only the root tips take up water and nutrients. If you are returning the plant to the same pot, remove enough root ends so you can incorporate some soil around the perimeter. There is no need to disturb the center of the root ball.

Maples that are great for containers

Acer palmatum


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Japanese Maple Tree Varieties

A. japonicum Green Cascade

Acer palmatum

Beni ubi gohan

Easy to Grow Japanese Maples

Emerald Lace

Acer shirasawanum

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Acer palmatum


Japanese Maple Tree Varieties

Green Hornet

Easy to Grow Japanese Maples

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Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

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Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

Kuro hime

Acer palmatum

Lilee Anne’s Jewel

Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

Lima Gold

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Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

Mendocino Momiji

Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

Mikawa yatsubusa

Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

Olsens Frosted Strawberry

Easy to Grow Japanese Maples

Red Dragon

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Easy to Grow Japanese Maples

Red Pygmy

Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

Sharps Pygmy

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Dwarf Japanese Maples – Great for Containers and Small Areas

Shidava Gold

Easy to Grow Japanese Maples


Easy to Grow Japanese Maples


Japanese Maple Tree Varieties

Wilsons Pink Dwarf

Easy to Grow Japanese Maples

Winter Flame


Mulch is a good friend of your maple. Mulch protects the roots from the heat in summer, the cold in winter and reduces the frequency of watering. Apply a loose mulch, such as wood chips or pine needles over the planted area to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Be sure to keep mulch several inches away from the trunk of the tree. Be sure to mulch trees in containers.


Everyone wants a bigger tree…now… but it is very easy to add too much fertilizer when trying to make your tree grow to fast and end up damaging your plant. In fact, most maples do not require any fertilizer for healthy growth. When trees are pushed with fertilizer it often invites disease and die back in the stems. Once the maple has established a strong root system it will begin putting on top growth. This sometimes takes one to two years.

Please be careful with fertilizers! Mistake number one is to give the maple large amounts of nitrogen in the first and second years. A small amount of organic slow release fertilizer in the spring would be much better for your plants. I have had real good success fertilizing in late April with Fox Farm Japanese Maple fertilizer 4-8-5 and Dr. Earth 5-5-5.

If you are going to use inorganic fertilizers, it is best to fertilize lightly in half dosages rather than full strength.. Water soluble fertilizers such as Miracle Grow seem to work fine…but go lightly.

The timing of when to apply a fertilizer is also very important to keep in mind. Once transplanted it is best to wait and fertilize newly planted trees the second growing season after being planted. This gives the plant plenty of time to adapt to its new conditions.

Never put fertilizers such as dry pellets or fertilizer “spikes” containing nitrogen, when planting a maple in the back fill because root injury may result. Be careful with top dressed granular fertilizers which can sometimes release too much fertilizer at a time and thus cause damage to your tree.


Fall and winter are a common time to prune and shape most deciduous trees and shrubs – exceptions to this are maples because they will bleed or ooze sap. When maples are pruned in late winter or early spring the wounds may flow with sap. If heavy sap flow occurs, pruning should be delayed until it stops or wait until midsummer. This flow of sap can lead to disease invasion and weakening of the tree. I have found that The preferred time to prune maples is between mid-July and August, a period when sap won’t run from cuts. The trees should not be pruned is during early spring when buds are breaking during leaf expansion or in late autumn because the wound won’t have enough time to heal before winter conditions of freezing or dampness. Maples should be given a thorough pruning every three years and minor “touch up” pruning annually. A thorough pruning involves removing dead limbs, crossing branches (or branches that will cross in the future). A certain number of branch tips will have died back and these tips can be snapped off with your fingers, or larger branches cut with a pruning tool.

Remove any shoots growing from the base of the plant whose leaves look different from the rest of the plant. Maples are grafted onto an understock that in most cases will be more vigorous than the grafted scion. If left to grow, this shoot will take over and out compete the main tree.

Give newly planted trees and shrubs only minimal pruning. Removing too much top affects the production of food energy (carbohydrates) and can result in poor root development. After planting, prune out broken branches and those with weak or narrow crotches. With young trees, leave some of the lower limbs and sprouts even though they will be removed later. These limbs provide the closest source of food energy for root development. I have also found that trees will form a stronger trunk if the lower branches are not trimmed for a few years. For more information on pruning

Types of Japanese Maples

There is no tree alive today that can make a statement in a landscape better than a Japanese maple. There are hundreds of varieties of these maples and each is as brilliant as the next. Coming in so many different colors, shapes and textures, there is bound to be the perfect Japanese maple to fit your area. These trees will not overwhelm a landscape, block out a house or turn into a grass killing shade tree that destroys lawns. The versatility of this tree is also mind blowing, as there are not many trees that also do or look so well in planters.

These trees are known to be more expensive than traditional trees and this is because of its slow growing nature. Regular maples or fruit trees can grow to 10 foot tall in a few years, minimizing the cost to grow it, where a Japanese maple will take over 10 years to reach the same height.

Working in a store here in Atlanta, I have just unloaded hundreds of these amazing trees. Here are just some of the varieties of Japanese maples that you may find at your Home Depot Store.

Bloodgood Japanese Maple

This beautiful medium sized tree grows to about 20 feet tall. Its brilliant burgundy palmate leaves display an amazing scarlet fall color. Its dark burgundy, almost black bark still creates an amazing show even when the tree has dropped its leaves in the winter. This tree does well in zones 5 to 8 and prefers full sun to part shade.

Crimson Queen Laceleaf Japanese Maple

Laceleaf maples have a weeping shape and are dwarf trees. They are incredibly slow growers typically and like the Bloodgood Maple, it displays brilliant scarlet fall color. This tree does grow to 10 feet tall and does well in zones 5 to 8. It does well in full sun to partial shade in more northern climates but it needs partial shade in more southern climates to protect its delicate leaves from scorching.

Shishigashari Japanese Maple

This more compact Japanese maple (12 to 15 feet) has green foliage during the growing season but puts on a brilliant display of purplish red and orange fall color. Its leaves are curly and appear to be heavily serrated. This maple does well in full sun to partial shade and grows well in zones 5 to 8.

Coral Bark ‘Sangokaku’ Japanese Maple

Everything about this tree is unique and different. Its coral colored bark really stands out against its light green leaves in the spring and summer as well as its golden fall foliage. This slow grower does well in zones 5 to 8 and will get 15 to 20 foot tall. It does well in full sun to partial shade up north but would prefer partial shade in more southern climates.

Emperor Japanese Maple

This beautiful medium sized tree grows to about 15 feet tall. Its brilliant burgundy palmate leaves display an amazing scarlet fall color. Its dark burgundy, almost black bark still creates an amazing show even when the tree has dropped its leaves in the winter. This tree does well in zones 5 to 8 and prefers full sun to part shade. This tree is similar to the Bloodgood but it grows shorter and because it breaks bud later in the spring, it is more suitable for cooler climates.

Burgundy Lace Japanese Maple

This tree is a lower growing upright formed Maple. It has heavily serrated leaves but still not like those of the Laceleaf dissectum varieties. This variety looks amazing poolside or even in a large planter as a specimen plant. This tree likes full sun to partial shade up north but would prefer a little less sun down south.

Red Dragon Laceleaf Japanese Maple

Similar to the Crimson Queen, has the same deep burgundy spring and summer foliage but the fall color is a true red color. This dwarf tree grows as slow as other laceleaf trees and will reach its 8ft maturity in 15 years. This tree also does well in zones 5 to 8.

Oshi-Beni Japanese Maple

This upright growing maple has one of the most brilliant spring and summer color and stands out from others. It’s deeply lobed leaves show off an amazing red-orange color during the spring and summer that other maples can only provide in the fall. This tree does well in zones 5 to 8 and will slowly reach a height of 15 to 18 feet tall.

Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple

This Japanese Maple is slightly more upright than other laceleaf maples. This is a great accent tree around water features, ponds and rock gardens. This trees purple leaves stay well to fall to then change to a brilliant red in fall before losing all its leaves.

Varieties differ from region to region but no matter what varieties are in stock, you are sure to find the perfect one for that area in the yard.

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Best Japanese Maples for Sun

All Japanese maples are tolerant of part shade conditions. Like Dogwoods and Redbuds, they evolved to grow happily at the edge of the forest as small trees. Their undeniable beauty leads many people to want to plant them as a focal point or specimen tree, often in full sun. Unfortunately, many Japanese maples are less tolerant of full sun, developing leaf burn in the summer heat. But if you choose the right variety, amend the soil properly, and give it proper care after planting you can enjoy the beauty of a Japanese maple in full sun even in the Triad.

Many things besides sun can cause leaf burn on Japanese maples. As shallow-rooted trees, all Japanese maples can suffer in dry periods. Even the sun tolerant varieties can develop leaf tip burn if the soil is too dry. Always monitor your Japanese maple during dry spells, and water them weekly if needed. (They are “Goldilocks” plants: not too wet or too dry-they prefer just right!) Avoid wetting the foliage in full sun when it’s hot as it can also cause leaf burn. Keeping the root area covered with 2-3” of mulch helps keep the root zone moist. Fertilize Japanese maples minimally; excess fertilizer can cause leaf burn too. If your Japanese maple shows signs of stress by dropping its leaves do not fertilize it to encourage new leaves. Japanese maples can produce a second set of leaves in this situation; just correct the problem that caused it-usually too much or little water.

Even though they may seem finicky, Japanese maples are actually easy to grow in the right conditions, having few pest or disease problems. They are also very long-lived, so if you have the right spot, you can enjoy a Japanese maple for years to come. Here are some Japanese maples that can tolerate full sun in the Triad with good watering practices:

Shania-Not only is ‘Shania’ sun tolerant, she’s compact too. The perfect choice for smaller areas, ‘Shania’ is slow growing and only reaches 8-10’ tall and 8’ high, with dense, layered growth. Leaves emerge red in spring, turn maroon in summer, and finally change to brilliant orange in fall.

Emperor I-This variety leafs out slightly later than many Japanese maples, minimizing the danger of a late frost damaging the leaves. Also fairly compact, at only 15’x15’, ‘Emperor is a moderate grower. The dark red foliage turns scarlet in fall.

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