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Davidsan’s Japanese Maples

WHERE SHOULD I PLANT? The ideal siting for all JMs is morning sun and afternoon shade or else all day filtered sun. A general rule is that to have the brightest colors, the tree will need at least some direct sunshine on the leaves. Virtually all JMs will sunburn a bit mid-summer if it is really hot, even in part shade. The farther north you are located, the more direct sun it can take. Keep your tree a good distance from a building. The tree roots will NOT hurt your foundation or buckle your sidewalk but planting too close to a building may give you a three-sided tree, branches that touch your house or are too tall under your eaves. Never plant under eaves that might have ice or snow falling down to damage your tree. Keep away from under gutters that may overflow. JMs LOVE well-drained soil and HATE wet feet and so should not be planted in wet areas. If you must plant in a wet area, it would be best to bring in some top soil and make a raised berm for your tree. That will keep it above the surrounding marsh.This berm will settle over time so to prepare for that to happen by making it a bit higher than you think it should be.

WHEN SHOULD I PLANT? Plant your tree soon. A perfect time to plant would be in the evening right before a couple of cloudy, cool days. If weather conditions are poor for planting (too hot, too wet…) keep your tree in its pot in a shady area for a couple of days. Planting your tree in full sun? It would be best to slowly acclimate it to those conditions by leaving it in the pot and moving it in the sun for increasingly longer times for a few days.

HOW SHOULD I AMMEND MY SOIL? You can amend lousy, dense, or clay soil with potting soil* and some turkey grit (found at your farm supply store) or small river rock (not limestone!) and pine-bark mulch or other mulch to aid in aeration and drainage.  Don’t add extra perlite – it is a waste of $$. It is too light to aid in aeration or drainage. Don’t amend your soil with “wetting” agents unless you are in a very dry location. These trees need to dry out between watering. 
*You can use potting soil for trees and shrubs that has a light time release fertilizer (like Miracle Grow.)

WHAT ABOUT THE HOLE? The hole dug for your tree should be fairly wide, but only so deep that when the root ball is set on the bottom, the soil level of the planted tree will be at the same level it is planted in the pot. If you dig into or have to amend the soil at the bottom of your hole, remember to pack it down well to prevent settling – even that might not prevent all settling, so a good idea is to plant a little higher than the surrounding area. Be SURE your tree won’t be in a low area.

WHAT ABOUT THE ROOTS? Untangle some of the roots on the bottom and the sides of the root ball. LEAVE AS MUCH SOIL ON THE ROOTS AS YOU CAN. DO NOT BARE ROOT YOUR TREE.  Spread the roots out in the bottom of your planting hole making sure they do not cross each other or spin around the root ball. IF YOU TURN YOUR TREE FOR A BETTER DESIGN BE SURE TO READJUST THE ROOTS TOO.  If the roots are really tightly packed, don’t worry about it too much, just leave it alone. You might do more harm by breaking too many little roots.  Working on the roots of your tree should be done in the shade. You don’t want to expose and dry out the roots, but don’t soak it in a bucket either. If there is a possibility that the roots might dry out, keep it on, or wrap the root ball in wet newspaper while you do some de-tangling.After planting, water your plant well, but don’t allow it to sit in water.

HOW MUCH WATER? JMs like well-drained soil and they need to dry out between watering. If you think your tree needs water, before you water it, stick your finger down into the soil – if it’s dry, water it; if it’s damp at all just wait and check later. In very hot, dry weather your tree might need water every day. Checking it often is a good idea. Too much water is the biggest killer of Japanese maple trees. Too little water can also hurt or kill your tree. It’s tricky! A larger tree will be more forgiving of extreme conditions than a small tree. We don’t recommend planting a young, one gallon tree out in the yard the first year for that reason. Putting a thick layer of mulch around your tree can keep the roots cooler, and you will need to water it less often. But KEEP THE MULCH AWAY FROM THE TRUNK.

FERTILIZER? I do not suggest fertilizing at all unless your soil really sucks. If you feel you must, do so lightly and only in early spring or just add some soil that has fertilizer in it when you plant. Don’t use any purchased soil that has water gel or water retention claims.  Over fertilizing can result in a gangly tree or even quickly kill a tree. NEVER FERTILIZE A SICK OR STRESSED TREE. We call that “loving your tree to death.”

PRUNING? If you want to prune your tree the best time is late fall or winter for the first couple years.  Yes, the know-it-alls say to only prune in late winter, but I have had no problems while pruning throughout the season. I figure, if you don’t like a branch or it’s in your way, trim it off. My trees show little or no sap bleeding problems. If yours does bleed a lot of sap, do like the know-it-alls do; prune in late winter only.
WHO IS EATING MY TREE? A big killer of JMs is critters. Rabbits, mice, deer are the pests we face here. I would suggest getting an outdoor dog or cat ;-) and putting up a 3 foot tall chicken wire enclosure around your young tree. You can tie it to short re-bar for stability. This will keep the rabbits from ‘pruning’ your tree – until you get three feet of snow and those bunnies can climb.

WINTER PREPARATION? Bark splitting in the winter and early spring is a problem you might have. The sap is frozen in the winter, when the sun on a warm day thaws the sap, below freezing temps later will freeze that sap and pop the bark. As a preventative, we have been using white plastic tree wrap – the kind that winds around the trunk.  They are stiff plastic that comes in a corkscrew shape and you can cut it to size with kitchen scissors. Be sure to get the kind with slits so air can circulate. This has worked pretty well for us and does double duty as critter protection too.

CAN I KEEP IT IN A CONTAINER? You can certainly do that with the dwarf varieties and smaller JMs. When it needs a larger pot, don’t go huge, just go one step up in size.  JMs seem to like having the pot near their roots, and they do best with that limited growth area. If you want to keep your tree small, you can trim the tree, or even trim the roots, like the Bonsai people do, but every time you remove the tree from its soil, it adds stress. Don’t forget that it will need to dry out between waterings so check for adequate drainage.

WNTER STORAGE OF MY CONTAINER? If you live in a cold north area, after the ground freezes, bring the container inside an unheated garage or shed space to protect it from near or below zero temperatures.  We keep our greenhouses at around 20-25 degrees so the roots near the edges of the pots won’t become damaged with our -10 or -20 degree winters. Established JMs do pretty well in the ground during these cold winters because the soil insulates them from those harshest temps. They will fare better with protection from harsh drying winter winds, and a thick layer of mulch on top and around the pot would help some too.


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Davidsan’s Japanese Maples
919 S Farmingdale Rd
New Berlin, IL  62670
5611 Old Jacksonville Rd
Springfield, IL  62711