How to care for an Acer palmatum Japanese maple

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The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is an expensive tree prized for its brilliantly coloured foliage and wild aspect. Because it is so pricey, it is well worth the effort to learn how to properly care for it. Thankfully, it is a low-maintenance plant once it becomes established.

Water the Japanese maple tree when the top 100 mm (4 inches) of soil are dry. In maturity, if the tree is grown in full sun it will require more water than a shade-grown tree. High winds will also dry the soil out quickly so keep an eye on the moisture content. The best way to water the Japanese maple is with a drip system or a soaker hose that delivers the water slowly but deeply.

Clear weeds from within a 1-metre (3-foot) radius of the Acer palmatum.

Insulate the soil around the Japanese maple's roots by covering it with a 75 mm (3-inch) layer of pine bark mulch. The mulch should be kept 150 mm (6 inches) from the trunk and spread out to the drip line. The pine bark helps to add some of the required acidity to the soil.

Fertilise the Japanese maple tree with a fertiliser labelled for use on azaleas. Apply the fertiliser, at the rate suggested on the label for the size of your tree, in spring when the tree begins growing and again in midsummer.

Prune the Japanese maple in late fall or early winter. Remove any dead and broken branches and any that are growing sideways. Cut off any growth from below the graft union.

Winterise the Japanese maple tree one week prior to your first frost. Add mulch to the existing layer until there is at least 125 mm (5 inches) of the material. Water the tree heavily and then wrap it with burlap or other material.