Acer palmatum

View of japanese maple

El Acer palmatum It is one of the most important species of deciduous trees and shrubs in ornamental gardening. Originally from Asia, it is a set of plants that look great on patios, terraces, and of course in those paradises we call gardens.

There are different varieties and many cultivars, and it is likely that new ones will come out as the years go by. But, although some have green leaves, others red or others multicolored, the care they need is the same.

What is the origin and characteristics of the Acer palmatum?

Japanese maple in habitat

El Acer palmatum, known as Japanese palmate maple, Japanese palmate maple, polymorph maple or Japanese maple, is a species native to Southeast Asia, specifically Japan and South Korea, and according to the Wikipedia some say also from China. It was described by Carl Peter Thunberg and published in Systemat Vegetabilium. fourteenth edition 1784 the year.

It is characterized by reaching heights between 5 and 16 meters, although there are some cultivars, such as Little Princess, that do not exceed 2-3 meters. Its trunk can be solitary or branch from near the ground, and its crown is usually pyramid-shaped when young, or rounded and wide when mature. The leaves are palmately lobed composed of 5-7-9 acute lobes and reach a size of 4 to 12cm in length and width.. These are of various colors, predominantly red, purple and green tones.

It blooms in spring, producing flowers with 5 red or purple sepals and 5 off-white petals. The fruit is a winged bi-samara about 2-3cm long that protects a 6-8mm seed.


Three are known:

  • Acer palmatum subsp. palmatum: lives in the lower altitudes of central and southern Japan. It develops small leaves, 4 to 7cm wide, with 5 to 7 lobes that have double serrated margins. The wings of the seeds measure 10-15mm.
  • Acer palmatum subsp. amoenum: They live in the highest altitudes of Japan and South Korea. The leaves are 6-10cm wide, 7-9 lobed, with serrated margins. The wings of the seeds measure 20-25mm.
  • Acer palmatum subsp. matsumurae: lives in the highest altitudes of Japan. It is the one with the largest leaves, 9 to 12 cm wide, with 5-7-9 lobes whose margins are double serrated. The wings of the seeds measure 15-25mm.

Japanese maple cultivars

Acer palmatum cv Beni hime

Acer palmatum cv Beni Hime // image from Flickr/anolba

About a thousand cultivars are known to be propagated by grafting. Leaf color can be single (light green or yellow to dark green, red, or purple) or variegated.

Generally, do not exceed 5 meters in height, which makes them especially interesting for growing in small spaces, and even in pots. Some examples are:

  • atropurpureum: Its leaves and branches are wine red, except in summer when they are greener.
  • Aureum: develops light yellow leaves.
  • Butterfly: the leaves are green with white margins.
  • masumurasaki: develops purple leaves.
  • Seyriu: has leaves whose lobes are like needles, very thin, green turning dark red in autumn. It is a cultivar that comes from the variety Acer palmatum var. dissection.
  • tropenburg: the leaves are purple.

What uses does it have?

El Acer palmatum used only as an ornamental plant, either as an isolated specimen, in hedges, pots. In addition, in their places of origin they have been working for centuries as bonsai, especially the varieties with smaller leaves.

Its slow growth and easy maintenance -as long as the weather is right- have made the Japanese maple one of the most demanded plants by gardening enthusiasts.

What are the Japanese maple care?

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki' // Image from Wikimedia/TeunSpaans

So that this species can be well, that is, so that it can live at ease (and not survive) it is very important that the temperatures are mild all year round and that there are frosts in winter. It resists without problems up to -18ºC, but if we expose it to a temperature above 30ºC and leave it in the sun with a soil that is not too good, we will lose it.

Also, keep in mind that needs to be cold for a few months to hibernate, after which it will have recovered the necessary forces that will help it to resume its growth in spring. That is why in tropical and subtropical climates it is a difficult plant (rather impossible). Even in the coastal Mediterranean it is complicated (I speak from experience).

In areas with a Mediterranean or similar climate, I recommend planting it in a pot -with drainage holes- with akadama-type substrates with 30% kiryuzuna, or 5mm or smaller volcanic clay alone or mixed with 30% kanuma. But if you live in an area where summers are mild and winters cold, you can plant it in containers -always with holes for drainage- with substrates for acidophilic plants; and if the soil in your garden is acidic, that is, with a pH between 4 and 6, you can offer it a place to grow 😉 .

Irrigation must be frequent, avoiding waterlogging. Use rainwater, bottled or lime-free. If the tap water has a pH greater than 6, dilute the juice of half a lemon in a liter of water, mix everything well with a spoon, and then check the pH again with pH strips or specific meters: if it is still high, add more lemon juice and check again.

During the spring and summer, it appreciates a regular supply of fertilizer., for example every 10-15 days. Use fertilizers for acidophilic plants following the instructions specified on the container once, and guano or other organic fertilizers the next. Just keep in mind that it is advisable to use liquid fertilizers if you have it in a pot, since if you use powdered or granular fertilizers, it will be difficult for the excess water to flow out through the drainage holes.

Japanese maple flowers are small

japanese maple multiplies by seeds in winter, which must be stratified in the refrigerator for three months at about 6ºC (or outdoors if the temperature is below 10ºC), and cultivars by grafting, which are usually grafted on the type species (Acer palmatum).

And finally, as for pests and diseases, there is nothing to worry about. It may have some cochineal if the environment is very dry, but nothing that cannot be removed by hand 😉 . What you do need to know is that you have to protect it from precisely that, from the dry environment, as well as from direct sunlight. It will grow well if the ambient humidity is above 50% and if it is in semi-shade, but if not... its leaves will burn quickly.

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  1.   GALANTE NACHO said

    Hello Monica.

    We have two Palmatum on the farm, one is the classic small tree with red/maroon leaves (we planted it this year, and from what I've read you we haven't done very well because we planted it in full sun, although being in the Sierra de Gredos the summers are not very hot and there is no lack of irrigation, and then in winter it is cold, but not excessive) and another has smaller leaves but it is a tree with a considerable caliber and is super leafy. The leaves are green with reddish edges, the peduncle is red and then it has a somewhat weeping appearance (we call it the secondary actor Bob because its appearance reminds us of hair) This variety should not be very common, what do you think? Another peculiarity that it has is that it is super prolific, it gives a lot of seeds and almost all of them take in the same field. Thank you very much for your wonderful article!

    A cordial greeting:


    1.    todoarboles said

      Hello Nacho.
      Well I have no idea lol There are many types of Japanese maple. Are the leaves palmate or needle-like? If it is one of the latter, it may be an Acer palmatum var. dissectum.

      Depending on the climate, the soil, the irrigation, the fertilizer, … the colors of the leaves may vary a bit. The same Acer palmatum can have red leaves in, I don't know, the Madrid mountains planted in the ground, and on the other hand, in the Mediterranean and in a pot, have them more orange.

      By the way, I see that you are also following the blog on Facebook. If you want, send a photo of your Japanese maples from there to see them 🙂


      1.    GALANTE NACHO said

        Hello Monica.

        Both have palmate leaves. I do not manage well in the networks but I will do what I can.

        I've seen that you also write, you have to see what works for you. Congratulations!

        I'm also into cats, we have three at home!

        Thank you very much and best regards,


  2.   Ignacio said

    Hello Mónica, my name is Ignacio and I wanted first of all to congratulate you on your blog.
    Like you, I live in Mallorca, on the outskirts of Palma. I have read that you have had experiences with Japanese maples in our climate. From your point of view, what variety do you think you can try to grow in a pot or large planter?
    I have a more or less sheltered patio with 5 hours of sun in the morning (east facing) in summer and 2 hours in winter.
    I know it's an eccentricity but it's the only part of my garden that needs to be specified and I think it could look good. It would be a line of planters about 4m at the foot of a wall. informal hedge.
    It is a thorn in my side and I would like to know the impressions of someone who has already gone through the experience.
    Thanks and congratulations for the blog.

    1.    todoarboles said

      Hi Ignacio.

      I like reading someone who lives in Mallorca too hehe 🙂 I'm in the extreme south, near Colonia de Sant Jordi.

      But I am very afraid that five hours of sun is too much for the Japanese maple. From experience, the Seyriu withstands it better than other cultivars, but we are talking about a little while in the early morning or late afternoon.

      If you want a maple that doesn't give you too many problems, I recommend trying Acer opalus, which is native to Spain. The Acer opalus subsp granatense is the one from Mallorca, which lives in the Sierra de Tramontana and is smaller than the normal opalus.

      If you have doubts, tell me.

      A greeting!

      1.    Ignacio said

        Thank you Monica, I was completely unaware that here in Mallorca we have a native maple. Do you think that with proper care it can be tried in a large planter? Do you know of anywhere to get it on the island or do you have to look for it outside?
        Thank you very much.

        1.    todoarboles said

          I think so, that it can be done well. You can also prune it (at the end of winter, before the leaves sprout) to control its growth a bit.

          I'm sure they sell native plant nurseries, but right now I don't remember any. But if you look on Ebay you will find a reliable seller. For example this:

          I see you're absent, but wow, it's serious. I myself bought an Acer opalus and other plants and always well.

          If in doubt, ask lol 🙂

          Greetings and thanks to you!

          1.    Ignacio said

            Thanks Monica, I'll look at it. As my idea is to plant it in the fall in the gardener, I'll continue investigating. It's clear that it's not the same as a Japanese maple but with care it can be interesting. What I don't know is if its root system is similar to that of these, that is to say, are suitable for pots. I had also thought of a liquidambar, but I have read that they require depth for the roots and I do not want to have a stick with four leaves.
            Thank you very much.

  3.   todoarboles said

    Hello again.
    Yes, their root system is very similar. Don't worry, it branches well. And if you want to make sure that it won't be a stick with four leaves as you say :), go by removing the first leaves from each branch that comes out. This way you will get it to branch out quite a bit and at a low height.

    I do not advise liquidambar. It needs a lot of space to be able to develop and grow as a tree. But apart from that, Palma's climate is a bit too hot for him. It prefers a cooler climate, more like the one in the Sierra de Tramuntana for example.

    A greeting!

  4.   Jose Antonio said

    Hello Monica

    I've loved your knowledge and advice on maples, so I need to ask you for some.
    I live in Castellón and I bought a very leafy and beautiful Palmatun altropurpurum maple of about 5 years in a nursery a week ago.
    I have decided not to transplant it this year so that it is more in tune with the Mediterranean, it is in a 4l pot and with all the leaves already exposed...according to the owner of the nursery they come from Girona and their height will be about 40 cm.
    My patio is the typical one between blocks of flats…it gives me a maximum of 1 hour in April and it lasts until the end of summer in September maximum…they are not closed patios, they are more open with the flats in front more separated.
    The sun does not cover the entire patio... only in a specific area... I have a high pergola with breathable fabrics... the patio offers sun... semi-shade... even shade... what should I do to make my maple survive despite the weather.
    Advice on location…how to add humidity in summer…when transplanting it to another pot, recommended substrate and date.
    In general, Monica everything I need to know and learn to move forward with a life that has me in love and worried about so many bad comments I've read about maple and Mediterranean.
    Thank you very much for everything
    All the best

    1.    Monica Sanchez said

      Hi Jose Antonio.

      I have a few Japanese maples in the patio, south of Mallorca. The trick is to ensure that they are never exposed to direct sunlight (not even glancing at them), and put them in coconut fiber, or even better: 70% akadama with 30% kiryuzuna.
      Fertilizers in spring and summer are also very useful, with a specific fertilizer for acid plants (the one that is currently sold, the fertilizer for hydrangeas, also works well).

      By the way, the Atropurpureum can grow to about 6 meters, but with pruning -at the end of winter- it can be kept much smaller.