10 Myths (Plus 1) about Japanese Maples

1. “There are only two types (broad leaf and cut leaf ) and only two colors (red and green) of Japanese maples.”

False: As you will see in looking through this web site there are many different types of Japanese maples and many different colors. Once you really get into these trees you will find your tastes in color, leaf type, tree shape and size will constantly change even from day to day. The world of Japanese Maples is virtually as varied as the types of people you meet throughout life.

2.“Growing Japanese maple from seeds is easy. All I need to is to buy seeds of a specific cultivar 10 seeds for $5.00 on EBay and get ten of that tree cheap.”

False: Propagating Japanese maples from seeds will NOT produce a named cultivar but rather generic non-specific Japanese maple since the seed is not true to the mother tree. There is nothing wrong with planting seeds for fun. Many large growers have thousands of plain green or red Acer Palmatum seeds for rootstock production as well as thousands of sprouting seedlings under their many trees. From these they may notice an odd one with different color or characteristics. They set that one aside and observe it for many years. If in fact it is truly different then it is grafted and propagated, named and sold as a brand new cultivar. This process is long and involved.

Growing Japanese maples from seeds is not like growing corn. You just can’t just plop then in the ground. Harvesting must be done in the fall at specific time, And this is followed by a whole regimen of cold stratification is in your refrigerator for several weeks to several months before you are able plant them. Even then your success rate will likely be slim. Plant 100 stratified seeds you may get a 10-20 to germinate (some may take up to two years to do so). Those that do make it need extreme care and the majority will eventually succumb without a near perfect growing environment that most of us do not have. You should also remember you are adding many years to eventually having a nice full tree.

Buying a few “named” seeds from EBay is a waste of time and a crock. For one, as stated above, you will NOT get the tree specified since seeds are not true to their parent tree. For folks to advertise a specific cultivar seed rather than “general” Japanese maple seed is a patently illegal and deceptive practice as far as I am concerned and EBay should not allow it. In addition, buying only 5-10 seeds is a real crap shoot. You will be lucky to get any to germinate since you are dealing with such small quantities.

If you enjoy growing plants from seeds go for it. Just be aware you are not “plantin’ tomaters” you are planting Japanese maple seeds, which creates both challenges as well as impediments to propagating a true cultivar or generic seedling.

3. “All Japanese maples are from Japan.”

False: These trees originally came from Japan or that area of Asia. But many Japanese maples sold today originated in the “west”; in the United States, Europe, and even New Zealand. However, they are relatives (albeit distant) of the original cultivars. These new or newer cultivars are considered true Japanese maples.

4. “I need special equipment or specialized tools to grow Japanese maples.”
“I can grow any Japanese maple anywhere and use the same methods as I would any other tree.”

False and False: You really don’t need any special equipment to grow Japanese maples. You need no more or no less equipment than you need with any other tree. But in many places you can’t just “plant” them. In this area you can’t treat them like they are just any local oak or sugar maple. You need to use a bit more care as explained in the care and cultivation section of this web site.

5. “Japanese maples can’t be grown successfully this far north.”
“I can plant a Japanese maple in my favorite place (wherever I want in my yard.”

False and false: Most Japanese maples can in fact be grown successfully virtually anywhere but may have to be containerized. As far as this area, many can be grown planted out in your yard.

As far as location read carefully my section in care and cultivation. Many areas of your yard are either not perfect or a impediment to the successful growing of many Japanese maples and may be better suited to another species of tree.

6. “When buying Japanese maples, the sizes and growth patterns specified on web sites and books are a good guide.”

False: Most size and growth pattern information comes from growers in areas where Japanese maples are heavily propagated or from books written by people from those areas. Those areas obviously are the best growing areas. If, for example you live in central Illinois, your sizes will be greatly reduced. You will also find differences in the thickness of growth and often branching structure. On this web site I have tried to compensate for living in a “not so pristine” growing area. The result is a very conservative estimate on size specifications. Even those figures may take many more years to achieve than in other more favorable growing areas. All size estimates, no matter where they come from should be taken with a “grain of salt”. The same goes for any mention of growth or structure. A tree here may not look the same as one from Oregon but will be basically the same and identical genetically.

7. “I can graft my own trees; it is easy, anyone can do it.”

False: There are many reasons why this is untrue. If you just want a couple of trees from a treasured Japanese maple you have in your yard it is absurd to attempt grafting them yourself “out of the blue.” It looks simple on the surface but as most of “us” have found out it is NOT. Many ‘how to” books and writings overly simplify the process. In reality for most folks it takes years of practice to get good results. In addition, grafting on the cheap without a good set up gives you very limited if any success (I know this from my own past, sad experiences). Additionally just getting a graft to ‘take” is only a small part of the process. Without the proper aftercare it will in short time be kaput! In sum, this whole process is like most other things in life. You may be able to stumble through, but your results will likely be poor and much more work for those crappy results than it is ever worth.

8. “Japanese maples are best if grown on their own roots.”

False: There is some disagreement on this, with some folks swearing that a tree grown on its own roots is hardier and “better”. To my knowledge there is no scientific evidence of this but generally, grafted Japanese maples are preferable for many reasons. Most important is that you will know for sure, barring any unethical or tagging problems, that you are getting the specific cultivar you paid for. There are ways to propagate without grafting, such as air layering, that allow a tree to be a named cultivar (non seed grown), but without grafting there is no way ever to be sure you are getting what you paid for. Many Bonsai folks do like trees grown on their own roots for aesthetic reasons, without the sometimes unsightly graft. But then many really aren’t interested in having a specific named cultivar like we are. In addition, a well done low graft will be virtually un-noticeable with time. Another method of propagating many trees and plants on their own roots is doing cuttings and rootings. No one, who has had experience with Japanese maples, recommends cuttings and rootings for cultivar propagation. These methods have been found to be unsuccessful except with a very few cultivars. More importantly , with the few cultivars that you can initially propagate with this method, the eventual death rate for these trees is virtually 100%. What has been found is that the trees do OK for a year or so but eventually die. It seems like a dream come true, since rooting is so easy, but as many large distributors have found, it eventually turns into a complete nightmare.

9. “Dissectums should be high grafted. High grafting allows Dissectums to grow properly.”

False: I feel just the opposite. All Japanese maples should be low grafted. It leaves the least noticeable graft and gives the most natural look. Dissectums are grafted high to keep them off the ground. This goal can easily be obtained by staking, as I show how to stake in my Care and Cultivation section. The real reason this myth is propagated is that high grafting is MUCH easier and faster and used extensively by large propagators as the most efficient way to produce in high quantities. Add to that, they can achieve a taller tree in much less time. Some dissectums are grafted at 24 – 36” from dirt level, occasionally higher. What you have is a 6-12” cultivar on a 36” rootstock advertised as a 48” tall specimen. That adds up to more money for the seller and a totally unethical situation IMHO. As pointed out by someone replying to this post this matter is all personal preferably .. but I think even he would not be overly happy with a 36*- 48″ graft. On a visit to a local big box store this spring I saw some of these “POM POM” atrocities  for $99 and I personally wouldn’t want these perverted trees in my yard .. Unless I  had lots of $$ , a golf club , and wanted to “Caddy Shack” them ..

10. “You can identify this Japanese maple tree in my yard.”

False: There are things that are absolute in life such as death and taxes. Unfortunately being able to visually identify a specific Japanese maple cultivar with 100% certainty isn’t one of them. There are several reasons for this. First, your tree may be seed-grown guaranteeing that it is not a named cultivar. Many older trees that may have been grafted lose there graft “markings so it is impossible to tell whether they are seed grown or not. Second, many Japanese maples are similar to each other in color, leaf type and many other visible ways. The actual differences in many cultivars can be very subtle. Even with the ones that are VERY distinctive you cannot guarantee an ID although you could give a “likely” ID. There are also many differences brought about by environmental conditions that could also make the actual subtle differences in appearance even more obscure. Finally, the number of different cultivars that have been produced over the years is astonishing and may possibly number a thousand. A person would be hard pressed to know all of them in any intimate way. In my opinion it be unethical for even the most expert old-time Japanese maple grower or even J.D. Vertrees himself to give a 100% guaranteed ID on any Japanese maple.

11. “Buying a Japanese maple from a big box store is a good way to to obtain one cheaply, especially at ‘end of season’ sales.”

False: Yes, you can get a pretty inexpensive tree from a big box store, and you can, if you’re lucky, come out just great. But selection is very limited especially in this part of the country. The biggest problems are mis-tagging, lack of any tag, and lack of any proper care. You really can’t be assured of what you are getting since you are dealing with a store that is at least once removed from the source perhaps several times removed. A good example of this was this springs visit to a local Lowes store . There were 10 labeled Emperor 1 all actually dissectums likely Crimson Queens . I was going to tell the idiots working there about it but decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. This was a glaring example .. but gives you an idea of how dicey buying from big box stores is for an avid Jm-ster. In addition, you are buying highly massed produced trees making them rather un-special. Buying at end of season is even less desirable. What you are likely getting is the rejects for various reasons. And most are in very bad shape having been basically set out and left on their own with little watering or care, often in direct hot sun, and sold for what ever the store can get for them. Their attitude is the selling season is over “why bother”.

Davidsans Japanese Maples is not trying to make big profits on these trees. We are in business to mainly to promote Japanese maples in this area barren of these beautiful trees, and if we make a little profit that is a plus. We hope to offer a competitively priced tree that is better in every way from any you will buy at those mass merchandisers.

12. “Muti grafted Japanese maples are cool

False:   This is of course personal preference . I though,  think the use of such should be kept for apples pears and other fruited trees that look basically the same as far as color and leaf. I am sure there are a few artistic grafters out there  ( that may be an oxymoron .. most growers are NOT artists)   that could color coordinate and match two or more  trees with similar growth patterns and siting requirements  that would look great on one trunk… but overall this most often turns out to look ridiculous … only admired by suburban nudnicks who have no sense of taste and want a tree that draws attention, and they DO achieve that … but so do Pink Flamingos and pink houses . Add to that the use of such for northerners is dicey since all multiple grafts  may not all have the same light cold or heat taking qualities  leaving one major grower and one or more shrimps making the tree look even more of an atrocity .