Spring is an exciting time to enjoy the beautiful and fascinating foliage of Japanese maples. As the new leaves slowly emerge we watch each tree transition from the stately structure of winter to the bright colors and delicate textures of spring.
There is a great diversity among the many hundreds of different Japanese maples offering so much more than you might expect.
One of the earliest Japanese maples to emerge is ‘Katsura’ with bright yellow new growth that gradually changes to light green. This upright small tree glows in the garden when most plants are still dormant. The gold foliage is bordered with red in the beginning, offering a dramatic accent at the start of the season.
‘Rhode Island Red’ is a small maple with a big presence. The low distinctly round form is covered with deep red leaves throughout spring and into summer. It is possible to enjoy all the color and detail up close because this diminutive tree only grows 4-5 feet tall making it perfect for a courtyard or container.
The weeping Japanese maple ‘Baldsmith’ with its graceful horizontal branching has a presence unlike others. In spring the fine dissected foliage displays many subtle tones of soft red, green, silver and even pink. Viewed from a distance the multicolored leaves present a smoky hue similar to the delicate flowers of a smokebush.
The new foliage of ‘Shigitatsu sawa’ is amazing to watch as it unfolds through early spring. On each cream colored leaf the intricate veins are painted light green creating a delicate tapestry. This distinctive maple develops gradually through spring allowing us to enjoy the subtle changes as each leaf matures. Even the small red blooms on this tree provide an interesting contrast with this captivating foliage.
‘Orangeola’ continues to be one of my favorite Japanese maples in spring and throughout the year. This low weeping tree is covered with large dissected foliage that emerges bright orange-red in April. As the leaf color slowly changes to reddish green in summer this vigorous maple will again produce new foliage offering spring like growth in June and early fall.
In my garden the dwarf Japanese maple ‘Murasaki kiyohime’ opens very early with tiny green leaves painted with a prominent red border. The form is a low mounding cushion that becomes a spectacular focal point in spring. This maple provides important structure in many parts of my garden while drawing interest with the distinctive foliage.
‘Red Filigree Lace’ has the most delicate leaf of any Japanese maple I grow. The fine dissected burgundy foliage on this dwarf weeping tree is reminiscent of dainty red feathers. This slow growing gem is perfect in a container so you can appreciate the beautiful leaves and enjoy the sculptural form. For those willing to wait this maple only gets better with age.
Featured image – ‘Katsura’ Japanese maple. Photos by Joann Currier
Joann Currier gardens near Chapel Hill and is the owner of The Unique Plant, a specialty nursery. You can reach her at email@example.com.