Western Riparian Trees for Wet Soils

Trees that naturally grow by waterways or riversides make good landscape trees for wet ground.

Do you have moist ground in your yard but want trees for the site? For a gardener with wet or damp soil, finding a tree that will thrive in such conditions can be challenging. When browsing through a garden center and reading the cultural requirement for many of the plants, probably one of the most common phrases will be “needs a location with good drainage”. Often when I give presentations to garden clubs, a very common question asked is what kind of trees are recommended for areas with wet soils.

When recommending trees for wet soils, I have tended to rely less on textbook comments and more on actual experience. While my own garden does not have this issue, I have visited many gardens with moisture problems. The following selection of trees for wet soils has been collected from talking with other gardeners and actually seeing these trees growing in yards and landscapes.

But, in general, trees adapted to wet soils tend to either be natural waterside trees or lowland trees that inhabit flood plains that become seasonally water saturated. These are called riparian trees, and they are worth seeking out when planning landscape plantings for damp ground. When planting these trees in the landscape, it is always wise to enrich the soil with a fertile amendment, like Black Gold® Garden Soil.

Trees for Wet Soils


The brilliant fall foliage of tupelo is one of its best features.

If I had to pick just one tree for an area with wet soil, it would be Nyssa sylvaticaCommonly called blackgum, sour gum, or Tupelo, it is a very hardy deciduous tree native to eastern North America, from southern Ontario to central Florida. Honey made from its flowers, appropriately called ‘Tupelo Honey’, is well known across the east, especially in northwest Florida. The trees are dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female trees that flower in late spring. Male trees have pollen-bearing flowers, while the female trees are fruit-bearing. Female trees develop small, bluish-black fruit if a male tree is close by for pollination. The olive-shaped fruits appear in small clusters, and while they can make a mess on a deck or driveway, birds like them.

The Tupelo is very well adapted to the Pacific Northwest and will reach a height of 35-50 feet. It is disease and insect resistant and makes an excellent shade tree.  However, the real attribute of the Tupelo is its spectacular fall color.  The simple leaves turn yellow and orange and then bright red before dropping. The red fall color is outstanding.


Alder naturally grow along watersides, right up to the edge!

Alder (Alnus spp.) is another group of trees that are moisture loving and fast growing. Red alder (Alnus rubra), is a riparian native from Alaska to northern California. It usually reaches about 50 feet and has attractive bark that is light gray. The dark green leaves are rust colored and hairy underneath.  European alder (Alnus glutinosa) is a non-native tree but one of the best for wet soils and can even survive standing water for a time.  A disadvantage of alders in our Pacific Northwest region is that they are prone to getting tent caterpillars in the summer.

Pacific Crabapple

The Pacific crabapple grows well in moist soil and has fragrant white spring flowers and edible fruits.

Native nurseries sometimes sell the Pacific crabapple (Malus fusca), which is a shrubby, small tree with fragrant white spring flowers and small yellow to purple-red fall apples that make delicious jams and jellies. In the wild, it survives along streamsides and moist woods, so it is perfect for lowland landscapes that are seasonally wet.


Plant weeping willows away from homes and give them plenty of space to grow.

Many willow (Salix spp.) trees will also tolerate wet soils and look attractive, though most are fast-growing and short-lived.  The Pacific Northwest native Hooker’s willow (Salix hookeriana) is a shrubby tree that can withstand high soil moisture and has attractive leathery leaves. White willow (Salix alba), which is native across much of North America, is not a tree for a small lot as it can reach 75-100-feet high and almost as wide.  The leaves are silvery beneath and often turn gold in the fall. Golden weeping willow (Salix alba ‘Tristis’), has young stems that are bright yellow and are often used in flower arrangements. Be aware that willows have shallow and invasive root systems and should not be planted near power or sewer lines. While a weeping willow is beautiful to look at, it needs lots of room.

Vine Maple

The fall leaves of vine maple are brilliant.

The Pacific-Northwest-native vine maple (Acer circinatum) has truly beautiful pale green leave with fall color of yellow, orange, and/or red. It is a small tree that rarely reaches heights above 20 feet. Several cultivated varieties have been bred, including the coral-red-stemmed Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’, which has palm-shaped leaves that turn a rich yellow in fall.

If there is wet soil in your garden, others probably have similar issues. I like to advise gardeners to check around their neighborhood for yards with similar characteristics. Talk to other gardeners and look to see what trees they are growing. Most gardeners are usually very receptive about sharing plant information. Hearing what trees grow with success in your own neighborhood should give you some sound guidance.

Thorny Tree: Poncirus trifoliata

“This tree is growing in my new yard. What is it? It has huge green thorns and white flowers that bloomed in spring.” –Question by Betty in Charleston, South Carolina

ANSWER: This is the hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata). Later in the summer it will develop inedible orange fruits. It is grown as an ornamental, though this tree is not for everyone. Some people like the striking look of its enormous green thorns, white flowers, and showy fruits, and its green stems add winter interest. It also has three-lobed leaves that turn yellow in fall. But, the thorns are not child-friendly, and heavy duty gloves are required to prune it. Otherwise, it is trouble free. If you like its looks, and can avoid its thorns, consider keeping it for its ornamental value.

Happy Gardening!


Jessie Keith


Choice Flowering Crabapples

Prairifire Crab flower 03
Beautiful pink spring blooms, lovely red fruit, and outstanding fall color make ‘Prairifire’ a choice crabapple.

For many years, flowering crabapples have gotten a bad rap. This has been especially true for home gardeners unwilling to spray for diseases. The lack of reliable products for disease control hasn’t helped either. Flowering crabapples are prone to four primary diseases: scab, fire blight, cedar-apple rust, and powdery mildew. Trees in the Pacific Northwest generally tend to be most susceptible to scab. (The leaves of scab-infected trees develop pale yellow spots that eventually turn black — not a pretty sight!) Thankfully, crabapple breeding is turning around, which is good news for home gardeners. Continue reading “Choice Flowering Crabapples”

Which Winter Witch Hazel Should You Grow?

The coppery flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena' are very fragrant and pretty. (image by Jessie Keith)
The coppery flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ are very fragrant and pretty. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Take a random survey of 10 neighbors and asked the question: “When you hear the words ‘witch hazel’, what do you think of?” For most, the answer will not be a plant. They will probably say something like: “That stuff you find at the drug store for skin care.” I did ask several neighbors this question, and not one mentioned the beautiful landscape shrub gardeners revere. When I told my neighbors that the word also refers to a plant, most said: “Gardeners live in their own world.”

The primrose yellow flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ are large and fragrant.

It is probably true that gardeners can easily get caught up in their own world, and talking about witch hazel is a good example. To gardeners, the name refers to a wonderful group of shrubs in the genus Hamamelis. Many of these are late-winter bloomers that bring needed color to the garden.

Witch Hazel Care

Winter witch hazel are one of the earliest shrubs to bloom. They are also easy, low maintenance plants that require little care once established. They like a rich organic soil, and the addition of  OMRI Listed Black Gold Garden Soil would be ideal to work into the soil at planting time. They grow best in full sun but can withstand partial shade. Afternoon shade is best because it protects plants from hot afternoon sun in summer. Pruning is not recommended because these plants develop a beautiful natural habit, so plant them where they will have lots of space to grow.

Hybrid Witch Hazel Varieties

Most of the witch hazel plants found in garden centers will be hybrids (Hamamelis x intermedia). These common hybrids come in lots of excellent varieties. As a general rule, witch hazels grow to 12-15 feet tall and have a spreading growth habit. They are deciduous plants with flowers that bloom before the foliage appears, which adds to their striking winter appearance.

The flowers are fragrant, so consider placing them in an area where their fragrance can be noticed. Bees are attracted to the blooms, making them valuable winter plants for early pollinators. The flowers of some varieties are more fragrant than others, so I suggest going to a garden center when the plants are in bloom and giving them a sniff test. In addition to early flowering and fragrance, most witch hazels have beautiful fall color in shades of red, gold, purple, and orange.

A suite of hybrid witch hazels light up the winter landscape. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Popular cultivars that are probably available at your local garden centers include:

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’– January-February bloomer with bright yellow flowers and excellent fall leaf color

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (syn. ‘Coppery Beauty’) — popular early January bloomer, with coppery orange flowers

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ — red flowers in January-February, reddish purple fall foliage

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Sunburst’ — one of the brightest yellow flowers an any witch hazel

Witch Hazel
Witch hazel shrubs have pleasing, spreading habits and generally don’t require heavy pruning.

Other Witch Hazels

And now back to the source of the medicinal witch hazel, which is derived from common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). This native plant is found in the eastern United States and was first used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans. The bark and branches are harvested to make the witch hazel that we find in pharmacies. This plant has small, fragrant, yellow flowers that appear in the fall. Sometimes they are obscured by persistent fall leaves that fail to drop before bloom time.

Another eastern native witch hazel for the garden is the Ozark witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis). Like the hybrids, this is a late-winter bloomer with lovely golden flowers that are fragrant. It also has an appealing, broad habit that looks nice in landscapes. Its golden-orange fall color also adds great appeal.

Those that would like some early winter color and fragrance should consider winter-flowering witch hazels for their landscape or garden. For some summer color, try planting a Clematis at the base of your witch hazel. Train the Clematis to wind through its branches and surprise your neighbors when the flowers appear.

An excellent mail order nursery for Hamamelis is Gossler Farms Nursery, 1200 Weaver Road, Springfield, OR 97478. You can get a copy of their catalog by calling 541/746-3922.

Trees and Shrubs for Fall and Winter Color

Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood) is often overlooked but deserves to be seen in more gardens. (photo by Jessie Keith)

Warm and sunny fall days have continued here in the Pacific Northwest through mid November. They have given gardeners time to trim summer perennials, transplant all those plants that were planted in the wrong location, plant bulbs, dig and protect tender plants and finish general garden cleanup. The mild weather has also allowed us to enjoy plants that provide fall color, whether via flower, fruit, berry, bark, foliage or a combination of these. I still have dahlias blooming in my garden, and while the plants are not at their best, they are still providing enough flowers for bouquets.

Continue reading “Trees and Shrubs for Fall and Winter Color”

Growing Limes for Perfect Tequila Tasting

Nothing tastes quite like fresh limes straight from the tree, and they’re easy to grow!

The Cuervo Gold tequila we all swore off of so many times in high school has some big competition these days. There are now over 600 tequila brands on the market and high quality imports elevate this drink from spring break slammers to uptown tasting parties. With tequila coming up in the world at well over $50 a bottle, you’ll want to know a bit more about growing the bartender’s lime to match. Growing limes is easy!

Mexican Lime

Centuries ago, Arab traders brought limes from Asia to the Middle East where Crusaders carried them home to Spain, and later into Mexico. The species Citrus aurantifolia has since split into varietal groups to include larger Key limes and the smaller Mexican “bartender’s” lime. The latter produces the best lime for tequila aficionados.Mexican limes have the thinnest rind of all citrus. This allows the fruit to dehydrate so quickly its cold storage life is severely limited. Store bought limes rarely retain that fresh-picked in flavor, but if you grow your own Mexican limes in a large pot, you’ll enjoy the freshest fruit possible with every tequila tasting.

Beautifully contained lime trees in England.
Beautifully contained lime trees in England.

The Mexican lime variety available from premier citrus growers is Citrus aurantifolia ‘Mexican Thornless.’ This lime tree blooms over spring and summer with small white blossoms that release a heady citrus fragrance. It is very frost tender and best grown in a large pot you can move under cover or indoors for the winter. The container should have not just one, but numerous drain holes in the bottom to ensure there is no over-saturation occurring deeper down.

Growing Mexican Lime

Because all citrus are picky about drainage, use Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil where summers are humid. In the depths of the Southwest, where summers can be very hot and dry, Black Gold Cocoblend Potting Soil will help retain more moisture in the dry heat. For established container-grown limes or other citrus, use Black Gold Citrus, Avocado & Vine fertilizer each year to ensure a plentiful harvest.

Mexican limes are frost-damaged by temperatures below 30 degrees F. Key limes may be slightly more hardy. Either way, plant them in a protected spot or use a large planter with wheels to ensure you can move yours to protection on cold nights or for the entire winter. For those willing to do so, draping a protective blanket or bed sheet over a smaller tree on cold nights is a temporary, yet effective, strategy for overcoming periodic frost.

The biggest challenge is protecting tender citrus tree bark, which is highly vulnerable to sunburn. This is why they are painted white in the orchard; the paint provides the same benefits that zinc oxide provides human sunscreens. You can do the same with watered-down white interior latex on your homegrown citrus too. If not painted, sunburn can result and cause blistering or long cracks in the bark, which cause moisture loss and increase pest and disease vulnerability.

To keep a potted tree to a limited size, thin out interior branches at any time. Time your pruning well by waiting until after fruit harvest to avoid interfering with the flowering process. If you’re growing ‘Mexican Thornless’, any suckers from below the graft union should be promptly removed as they bear large painful barbs.

If memories of tequila shots on the Mexican Riviera seem far more flavorful than those of tequila parties further north, it’s not your imagination. Freshness is everything when you bite into a lime wedge. Why not bring a little bit of Mexico to your own backyard, so whenever life gives you too many lemons, you can always break out the tequila and limes.

Evergreens in the Garden

Quite often when we think of evergreen plants or use the word ‘conifer’, we think of something large like a Douglas Fir, Colorado Spruce or similar tall tree. It is true, these are evergreen plants and they are conifers, but you can also plant evergreens in the garden or in containers. In recent years many new, smaller growing types have become available and these are ideal for small-space gardens as well as a container plant for a deck or patio.

Evergreens In the Garden - 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' - Mike DarcyFir Trees

I have a friend who is very involved in the American Conifer Society and he is forever encouraging me to add more conifers to my garden. He makes a valid statement when he says that they give some winter interest when many other plants have either lost their leaves or been cut back to the ground.

Two small type of conifers that are worth searching for are Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ (Variegated Korean Fir) and Abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’ (Golden Spanish Fir). The ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ just grows about 6-12 inches a year. The feature that makes this such an interesting plant is that the needles slightly curl around the stem and reveal the silver-white undersides. This is an ideal plant for a container and is especially nice in the winter to have by an entryway to a house to enjoy the silver color. Add a red bow and you have a holiday container. The Golden Spanish Fir, is as the name implies, a golden color which stands out against the older blue needles. It is also slow growing and can easily be kept in a container.

Evergreen Bamboo

Crook Stem Bamboo (Image by Xongxinge)

Of course there are other evergreen plants in the garden that should not be overlooked. Many of the bamboos can give wonderful foliage and color throughout the year. We have a beautiful planting of Phyllostachys aureosulcata ‘Spectabilis’ (Crook Stem Bamboo) in our garden that is a much asked about plant when we have visitors. The stems tend to develop kinks as they grow and this makes for a very interesting pattern. We have taken the lower leaves off of our planting to showcase this ‘kinking’ and also to highlight the green stripes on the yellow culms. This is a running type and it is advisable to use a bamboo barrier to prevent it from spreading or to plant it in a large container.

Not all bamboo is tall and a good example of a low growing type is Sasa veitchii. This bamboo may reach 3-5 feet in height but can be kept as a compact ground cover by trimming it to near ground level each spring. It does best in some shade and might be an ideal plant for a slope or area where some erosion control is needed. One of the unique aspects of this bamboo is that in the fall as the nights get cooler, the leaves wither at the margins and turn into what looks like bright white variegation. Then in the spring, the leaves turn green. It is considered winter hardy to 0⁰ F.

Sweet Olive

Another group of plants that are evergreen is the genus Osmanthus. Many times people mistake these for holly as some of them do have a holly-like leaf. However, what Osmanthus can provide that holly does not is flowers with a fragrance. The Lan Su Chinese Garden (formerly Portland Classical Chinese Garden) in Portland, Oregon has a large specimen of Osmanthus heterophyllus which blooms in winter with creamy white flowers and a strong fragrance that sometimes permeates outside the walls of this garden to passersby walking along the street. Another good garden plant is Osmanthus fragrans (Sweet Olive) which is an evergreen shrub, also with very fragrant flowers that appear in spring and early summer.

Evergreens In the Garden - Bamboo Sasa - Mike DarcyMeyer Lemon

Here in the Pacific Northwest, many gardeners also grow citrus as container plants. While not winter hardy, if you have a greenhouse or sunny room with plenty of light, they should overwinter and be ready to set outside in the spring. The Meyer Lemon tends to be one of the hardier ones and most garden centers will stock plants in the late spring and summer. In my garden I have a variegated leaf form of Meyer Lemon in a container that not only has variegated color in the foliage but on the fruit as well. It tends to bloom throughout the summer with extremely fragrant flowers.

We may be in the middle of winter, but our garden can still supply us with much color, primarily from foliage, twigs, bark or berries. Try some new plants in your garden and as my conifer friend tells me “mix it up”.

As we approach the end of 2012, I would like to extend a very happy 2013 to all. Let’s make it a happy and productive garden year.

Celebrating with Spiral Topiaries

Double Spiral Topiaries - Maureen Gilmer
Double spirals are rare but obtainable from any garden center that carries Monrovia plants.

Nothing gives an entry more pizzaz than a pair of spiral topiaries flanking the front door. Plant them in a beautiful large pot and you’ve got the start of a truly elegant winter display.

Spirals are truly unique in the world of topiary because they don’t resemble the Asian bonsai styles or those poodled into balls. They’re tall and narrow, fitting nicely into corners and small spaces. Spirals are distinctly European in character and therefore they are an easy fit for virtually any traditional home style.

Potted Spiral Topiaries - Maureen Gilmer
After the holidays, move your potted spiral topiaries into the garden where they receive plenty of light on all sides to maintain their symmetry.

When the holidays roll around, spirals are the queens of decor because their corkscrew shape lends itself to strand twinkle lights. This shape also provides flattish spots where you can attach fruit or ornaments that completely transform them. When you have a pair, decorating yields even more glitz, and for a holiday party few other plants create such instant upgrade.

This year may be the perfect time to invest in a spiral at your house in lieu of the traditional holiday cut tree. This is a great investment that can be moved outdoors as a winter focal point after the new year if the climate is warm enough. There is nothing more lovely than topiary under snow.

Choose a spiral clipped from junipers since these are very drought and disease resistant, adapting to nearly all climate zones. These are sold in five gallon pots, or consider much larger pricier specimens that make great Christmas trees.

To create a pair to use outdoors, find large durable decorative containers that suit your home style. The interior and mouth of the pot must be large enough to hold the root ball with plenty of room to spare on top and sides. When the spiral sits in the pot with plenty of edge (freeboard) left at the top, you can fill it to the brim with water and move on, saving a great deal of watering time. In between tuck moss into the space to make it appear full.

Single Spiral Topiaries - Maureen Gilmer
Behind this huge single spiral is a field of Monrovia evergreens waiting to be clipped into spirals.

Since spirals are long-lived, woody trees, make sure you use Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix with controlled release fertilizer (CRF). This slow release nutrition helps get your spirals off to a vigorous start. With topiaries, the strength and color of growth is essential because you must clip more often for a dense, and precise form.

Water generously after planting to coax roots out of the old pot shape into this new, organic soil. There is no better way to obtain rich, luxurious green color in your spirals.

These are sun loving plants, so life underneath the porch is ok in the dead of winter, but it won’t suit them in the growing season. The side that doesn’t receive enough light won’t grow, it may even shed foliage or turn yellowish over time. This is a disaster with topiaries like this which must remain perfectly symmetrical to maintain their beautiful form. Relocating with the seasons is easy if you have a dolly or set the pots on casters.

Whether you buy one, a pair or a whole row of them, spiral topiaries are the most versatile of all evergreens. They can transform a space overnight with their pronounced graphic forms. They’re as suited to Mediterranean architecture as they are American colonial, and even find a home in Spartan modern landscapes too. Just remember they aren’t furniture, but real live living plants, so make sure you give them quality soil and plenty of water. Then get yourself a sharp pair of clippers to enjoy the age old tradition of shaping evergreens all year around.

Growing Coast Redwood In Wet Years and Drought

Growing Coast Redwood - Maureen Gilmer
Redwoods: These nursery grown redwood trees are thriving in a backyard where the ground beneath is filled with azaleas and other forest floor acid loving plants, but as the trees mature there will be too much shade to grow much except ferns.

I have lived among coast redwoods all my life, from college days on the northern California coast to years in design offices – specifying them for use in our projects. From spending much time within expansive old and second growth groves I’ve learned exactly what these tallest of trees desire and what not to do when growing coast redwood. They indeed prove far more adaptable than most realize, and this is a fine evergreen for any landscape. In a year when other states are experiencing droughts on the scale of California’s annual dry season, this tree presents a beautiful, evergreen solution for water-challenged gardens – even those well beyond this state’s borders. Continue reading “Growing Coast Redwood In Wet Years and Drought”

Japanese Maples for Southeastern Gardens


Maple Leaf Types - Pam Beck
Maple Leaf Varieties – Japanese Maples

You’ve seen them exquisitely depicted in the finest gardening books, admired them in arboretum collections, and envied them in private landscapes. However, because of their delicate appearance and high price you may just wistfully sigh and pass by the Japanese maples dotting your local garden centers.

Stop. Go back and take a long look at the luxuriant Acer palmatum. Misunderstood, and much maligned, Japanese maples for southeastern gardens prove themselves to be hardier in the southern Atlantic states than you may suspect. A perfect small specimen tree for the cooler end of Zone 8 and colder, Japanese maples will offer interest in the landscape throughout the entire year.

In spring, the brilliant color of uncurling foliage coupled with dainty twin-seedpods dangling underneath yields to the fullness of their summertime canopy dancing in the rising heat. Then, as autumn days cool, the leaves once again take on new hues of gold or crimson, burning like fire against a crisp blue fall sky. When the trembling leaves finally turn loose and float down to dot the ground in winter, your attention is subsequently drawn to the arching of elegant branches, with their own sculptural quality not fully admired until laid bare.

Japanese Maple Types

There are three major Japanese maple leaf types to remember: palmate, dissectum, and linearilobum. Some sources list sub-groups of variegated, dwarf, or unusual types; but, you can find the name of most cultivars armed with an understanding of the three major leaf types.

Bloodgood Red - Pam Beck
Bloodgood Red – Japanese Maple

Palmate leaves are simple, 2-5” in width and length, shaped like an open human hand, from which they get their scientific name. Slightly confusing is the fact that each leaf can have between 5-9 lobes, and some trees have leaves with various numbers of lobes residing side-by-side. Palmate foliage comes in various shades of green, red, and even variegated with pink and cream, like ‘Butterfly’. Most popular among this group of Japanese maples are ‘Bloodgood’, ‘Osakazuki’, and ‘Moonfire’. A unique cultivar to seek if you like unusual shapes is the rough curly-leafed ‘Shishigashira’, or “Lion’s mane’ Japanese maple.

Dissectum types have lacy, deeply cut, and divided leaves that can host up to 11 lobes. This group includes familiar varieties such as ‘Crimson Queen’, ‘Red Filigree Lace’, ‘Viridis’, and Acer palmatum var. atropurpureum dissectum (called APAD for short). Many gardeners wrongly associate the entire group of Japanese maples with these small dissected-leafed trees that are elegantly broader in width than height.

Linearilobum leaves are extremely narrow and pointed, appearing stretched out. Because of their elongated nature, they often droop, and this factor gives their trees a more rounded form. Sometimes called the “bamboo” maple, this group includes the elegant ‘Red Pygmy’ and ‘Shime no uchi’.

An interesting trait of linearilobum trees is that sometimes their immature leaves may appear palmate. Gardeners often mistake these misshapen leaves for sports and accidentally prune them off.

Growing Japanese Maple

The ideal planting area for a Japanese maple would be in well-drained soil, high in organic matter. A difficult spot to find in many Southeastern gardens. In sandy soil, plant your maple root ball level with the surrounding topography; however, in clay-based soils plant ‘em high. You should also amend your soil before planting. Black Gold Garden Soil is an ideal organic-rich soil amendment for tree planting. Taper the fill dirt around the root ball and create a shallow saucer of soil to retain water, then mulch with 2-3 inches of good organic mulch.

BG_GRDNSOIL_1CF-FRONTThe ideal pH for a Japanese maple would be closer to neutral, but they will tolerate acidic conditions, if you add lime the first few years to get your maple established, then allow the natural acidity level to drop back down.

You must water your newly planted Japanese maple through the entire first year. Allow the tree to dry slightly between watering, however, in the absence of rain, give the tree at least 1 inch of water per week. Once your tree is well-established, you may never have to worry about watering, unless you are in an area experiencing drought.

An important reminder is that Japanese maples cannot tolerate wet feet. Do not allow your plant to sit in a wet hole, or it will slowly die. So, never site your maple in a swale or boggy location.

Eastern exposure where the tree will receive morning sun or filtered light is ideal. If you have had success with azaleas, this is the perfect spot to grow Japanese maples. Try to protect your maple from late afternoon sun, as this is the highest heat and light stress time of day. In summer, too much sunlight can severely damage the bark of a Japanese maple and desiccate its leaves.

When you catch Japanese maple fever, like I have, the perfect guidebook for your new passion is the updated version of JAPANESE MAPLES, by J.D. Vertrees, copyright Timber Press, 1978.

JC Tree - Pam Beck

Here is a short list of popular and extremely hardy Japanese Maples

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ – This very tall deep purple-red tree is the most popular of the dark palmatum-leafed Japanese maples for good reasons. It is extremely cold hardy, resists turning bronze when planted in full sun, can reach 33’ in height, and has stunning crimson fall color (see image above).

‘Butterfly’ – A favorite variegated-leafed specimen, this tree’s palmate leaves begin green with pink margins in the spring, change to grey-blue-green with creamy variegation in summer, then morph to rosy magenta in autumn. No two leaves will be alike on this slow-growing upright 15’h x 8’w treasure. Provide it with dappled to full afternoon shade.

‘Crimson Queen’ – This popular weeping, deep-red dissected-leaf maple is a garden standard. In the hottest regions of the Southeast, its summer color can be affected by extreme heat and sun, but you will forgive the slight bronzing when you see its brilliant scarlet show in the fall. Reserve plenty of room as it can mature into a 10-feet tall by 13-feet wide mound.

‘Sango Kaku’ – The coral bark Japanese maple is just as remarkable in wintertime as the rest of the year. Also sold as ‘Senkaki’, its name means “coral tower”. This is a green-leafed palmatum that starts spring slightly reddish, and then the foliage turns from mid-green in summer to yellow-gold in fall. Remember that the bark color is most prominent on young growth, so if the tree reaches its 26-foot potential height, the color will eventually be up in its wide spreading branches. ‘Sango Kaku’ performs best in cooler regions above Zone 8.

‘Seiryu’ – Is a green laceleaf that defies all the rules. It is an upright, vase-shaped tree that grows 16-23-feet high and can spread 10-13 feet wide. The springtime canopy is apple green with reddish tips, summertime transforms it to light green, and then the astonishing fall color is golden with touches of crimson. Its name means “blue-green dragon”.

‘Shishigashira’ – Also called the “Lion’s mane” maple, is a very desirable collector’s plant. The palmate green leaves twist, curl, and crinkle into masses that remind you of the head of a mythic lion from traditional Japanese theater, especially when the leaves turn golden in fall. This slow-growing tree can reach 20-feet in height, but even when it is small it is exceptional.

Tamuke Yama - Pam Beck
Tamuke Yama – Japanese maple

‘Tamuke yama’ – A purple-red dissected-leafed cascading tree with the potential of reaching 13-feet in height that has been popular since the early 1700s. Its bright crimson spring color changes to purple-red in summer and then to glowing scarlet in the fall. Considered the best red cutleaf for full sun locations in the Southeast, this maple is named for Mount Tamuke.

‘Waterfall’ – An especially hardy bright-green Japanese maple with large dissected leaves spanning from 3-5 inches across. It tolerates heat well, turns golden red in fall, and will reach 10-feet tall by 14-feet wide. Overlapping leaves give it the natural cascading shape that inspired its name. This small tree is worth seeking.

‘Viridis’ – A mounding green dissectum that is easily confused with other similar weeping cultivars. This one is vigorous, can take a lot of heat and sun, will reach 13 feet in both directions, and turns honey golden in the fall. Not surprisingly, the cultivar name simply means “green”.

‘Aconitifolium’ – My final selection isn’t another Acer palmatum. This is a Fern-leaf maple, a real Acer japonicum. With large, deeply cut and lobed leaves that resemble Monkshood, its namesake Aconitum, this rounded 16-foot tall tree is stunning. The summer foliage is deep green, but in the fall the leaves become shades of reds that range from chili pepper to royal purple, inspiring its Japanese name, ‘Maiku jaku’ which means “dancing Peacock”.

Photos by Pam Beck