Pot Shots: Japanese Maple


Spring dawns with tremendous excitement for folks like me who love to watch things grow, and love to see the garden center shelves filling up again with fresh plants after months of slim winter pickings.  Our  Williamsburg satellite store of my favorite McDonald’s Garden Center opened just a little more than a week ago, and they often start the season with a generous sale on trees and shrubs.

A friend manages the location nearest us, and so I’ve stopped in a number of times to chat and have a look around.  The last time they had just received their first shipment of miniature and dwarf trees, which included a cohort of little foot high Japanese maple trees.

I’ve bought and potted a new Japanese maple or two over the past several springs.  This spring, I found a truly dwarf cultivar, Acer palmatum ‘Kuro Hime’ which grows to only 4′-5′.  It is a good specimen to grow in a pot, is hardy to Zone 6, and has beautiful red leaves in both spring and fall.  The maturing leaves turn green during the summer, but have a beautiful, lacy form.



Trees grown in pots want excellent drainage.  I didn’t purchase true ‘bonsai’ style soil for potting this tree, but did buy a barky orchid planting medium, which I mixed with a good quality potting soil, a big handful of fresh perlite, and a bit of Espoma Plant Tone.

I covered the bottom of the pot, which has two generously sized drain holes, with some plastic mesh and then a 1/2″ layer of fine aquarium gravel.  This should hold the soil in the pot while still allowing for excellent drainage.

The pot is a gift from a loved one, celebrating a special day coming up soon.  I always enjoy blue pots and especially favor this shade of turquoise, which sets off the tree nicely.



The roots of this little tree hadn’t quite filled up its small nursery pot.  The rootball fit nicely into the permanent pot without disrupting the tree’s roots at all.  I top dressed the soil with more aquarium gravel and a little fresh moss.  A division of Saxifraga stolonifera is planted to the side, and I hope its tiny root takes hold and grows into a fine plant.

Trees should remain outside as much as possible.  Even with our still marginally freezing nights, I’m leaving this tree outside in a sheltered and shaded place as it adjusts to life outside and to its new pot.

Deer find Japanese maple trees very tasty.  We have a few planted out in the garden now, but I protect them regularly with Milorganite and Repels-All spray.

This little treasure will live on our deck, well protected from hungry rabbits and deer.  Miniature trees are best enjoyed on stands, shelves, or on a table where they can be appreciated up close.

Most Japanese maples are happy with morning sun and afternoon shade, or a partially shaded situation throughout the day.  Potted trees can dry out very quickly and need frequent watering.  During summer heat, they may need water twice a day.  Mulch helps, but the leaves constantly draw water out of the soil.



I’ve never had the privilege of studying with an expert in the art of Bonsai.  I’m fascinated by what artists do with miniature trees and companion plants, and enjoy reading about the art.  This little tree has an odd branch structure, has already been pruned before I bought it, and probably should be wired.  I’m not sure how best to do that and will appreciate any advice  those who know might be kind enough to share in the comments.


Acer palmatum April 2018


Spring and fall are the best times of year for planting trees and shrubs.  If you don’t have space outside where you can plant a new woody this year, please consider growing one in a pot.  Even a porch, deck, patio or balcony can usually allow for a beautiful potted miniature shrub, where you can enjoy watching the seasons transform your plant.

Leaves and flowers emerge and fall, branches grow, and the annual cycle of the seasons plays out for your personal enjoyment, in miniature.



Woodland Gnome 2019
“The Buddha achieved enlightenment while meditating under a tree.
To what extent did the tree’s being
contribute to the Buddha’s shift of consciousness?”
Melina Sempill Watts

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

7 responses to “Pot Shots: Japanese Maple

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the plug! It’s always great to see what happens after our babies leave the Market!

  2. We grew SO many cultivars of Japanese maple back in the 1990s, but only a few were our main sellers. That is why, after the first few years, we discontinued production of the more obscure cultivars, even if some of them were better options for particular applications. We grew none of the cultivars that stayed very small, but grew several ‘relatively’ large laceleaf cultivars that were not at well suited to the climates of most of the region.

    • I just found this one listed online in a 1 gal. pot for close to $40. Japanese maples are just very expensive, and you have to want a particular one to justify the price, unless you aren’t budget conscious. I really love their textures, form and delicate color. I can’t think that much of CA is a very hospitable climate for Acers. They certainly need to be kept well hydrated whether in the ground or in a pot. Do you have much demand for the ones you still grow?

      • Yes, there is always demand; but no, they are not happy in the climates farther inland. The native bigleaf maple and box elder do just fine of course, although the box elders are not the prettiest of trees. Most other maples do well here as well. It is just the Japanese maples that dislike the aridity. I would prefer to not grow them, but not many other growers want to either.

        • We are fortunate that our climate is favorable to grow them well. They are much admired in our area. They are very neat trees, especially when compared to many of the native trees in our area that drop large leaves, needles, cones, seed pods, and fruit.

          • If only they were happier in our climate, they would be proportionate to the tiny gardens of the (horrid) new homes in San Jose, and they would tolerate the shade of the tall buildings above. Even they do much better here in the Santa Cruz Mountains where we grow them, just a few miles away, I still dislike them in landscape situations because I have had so many bad experiences with them in situation where they are not appropriate.

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