Everyone loves Japanese maples! How can you not? The $1.000.000 question is, do they love you?
Considering they have evolved and thrived on an island, next to the ocean, it is a wonder they even survive in our “Great Agate Desert.” Besides common sense plant care, the trick to success is tricking the tree into thinking it never left its homeland. Japanese maples in San Francisco, or even Seattle for that matter, can’t tell they are far, far from home, as long as the water, elements, temperature, and hopefully space are to their liking. Expose the poor thing to heavy clay “soil,” jack up the air temps up to 115 degrees, rake the surface under the tree bare, and put a half-assed drip emitter up against the stem, and VOILA!, you now have a disaster in the making.
Sometimes, when I see what we put them through, I wonder why they don’t just pull up their roots and swim for home! It really makes me appreciate their toughness. There are a few common maladies that really beat them up, mostly waterborne systemic fungal nasties, such as Verticillium wilt and the like.
Soluble kelp as a foliar application, as well as a soil drench, should be first and foremost in your maintenance regime. Japanese maples don’t enjoy stewing in their own juices any less than almost any other tree, so drainage is paramount. Moist is great, and bone dry or soggy just sucks, period!
If you just MUST fertilize, keep the numbers on one hand, such as 4-3-2. It is really easy to overdo it, and you don’t want to turn your prize specimen into a nitrogen junkie!
Soil temps within and adjacent to soils encompassing the root zone MUST be kept cool. The best way is with mulch and be sure to keep it OFF the stem and root collar. When we swing into the hot summer months, don’t hesitate to give your tree a little spray down with a sprinkler during the witching hours of 1-4pm, wet the soil down around the tree as well and no, you will NOT burn the foliage doing so, that is just a silly old husband’s tale!
If your tree stresses out for whatever reason, pathogens recognize their golden opportunity and go to town.
When you plant, imagine standing in the hopefully SHALLOW depression you have prepared for your gem all July long with no shirt on and your arms spread wide. In other words, plant accordingly.
Pruning should be kept to a tasteful minimum, this is a must! I just cringe when someone over-prunes a wonderful tree, and convulse when it is a Japanese maple! If you still run into problems, give me a call, I’ll take a look and tell you all the things you are doing wrong (kidding).
NOW is the time to plant so off I go!
As always, plant high and often…