The Japanese Maple, otherwise known as Acer palmatum, is originally from Japan, China, and Korea. It owes its botanical name to the hand-shaped leaves with five pointed lobes. Palma is Latin for palm, as in the palm of your hand. Younger Japanese Maple trees usually have green or reddish bark that turns light grey or grayish brown as it ages.

The greenish-yellow flowers bloom in clusters and appear in May through June. They develop into maple seeds that are shaped like a paired winged nut that floats to the ground like propellers when they drop. There are countless varieties of Japanese Maple with different leaf colors, shapes, and sizes.

The Japanese Maple trees are very popular as ornamental shrubs like; Kiyohime, Kashima, Shishigashira, and Arakawa. Red leaved varieties (often referred to as simply a red maple) include the Deshojo and Seigen. The young shoots in spring have yellowish, orange, or even bright red leaves. It's also well-known and popular for its very attractive yellow, orange, and red autumn colors, orange and red maples being the most popular.

If you need help identifying your tree, take a look at our Bonsai tree identification guide.


Japanese maple Bonsai tree video


Specific Bonsai care guidelines for the Japanese Maple Bonsai (Acer)

Placement : Japanese Maple Bonsai do really well in sunny and airy location, but when temperatures rise to 85 °F (30 °C) or above, it should be placed somewhere with indirect sunlight to prevent damaging the leaves. The Japanese Maple is frost hardy, even when trained as a Bonsai, but when temperatures drop below 15 °F (-10 °C), it should be protected.

Watering: A Japanese Maple Bonsai must be watered daily during the growing season. During the hotter days in the growing season, it's sometimes necessary to water your tree several times, if the soil is well-drained and the tree is healthy and vigorous. Avoid watering with calcareous water as the Japanese Maple prefers a neutral or slightly acid pH-value. Continue reading about watering Bonsai trees.

Fertilizing: Solid, organic fertilizers contain all the required micronutrients, and they take effect slowly and gently. They are very well-proven, especially for more mature Japanese Maple Bonsai. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully for the proper dosage. If you'd like a stronger growth on young plants or raw material, you can combine your regular dosage with a liquid fertilizer once a week. Avoid fertilizers with a high nitrogen concentration to avoid unnecessarily large leaves and internodes.

Pruning: Trimming shoots and twigs can be done year-round. Strong branches should be pruned in autumn or summer, when callus growth is quick, to prevent excessive bleeding. When pruning thick branches we advise using a cut paste product to prevent fungal diseases that can enter through pruning wounds. The Maple is particularly vulnerable to some fungal infections and diseases. New growth should be pruned back to one or two pairs of leaves. Mature Bonsai with a delicate ramification can be pinched in order to keep the twigs thin. After the first leaf pair has unfolded, remove the soft little tip of the shoot between them to prevent the twigs from thickening. This method weakens the tree in the long run and should be applied specifically and thoughtfully. Continue reading about pruning Bonsai trees.

Leaf pruning is the removal of all leaves during the growing season to encourage a second and often finer flush of growth. It should not be done every year because it puts quite a bit of stress on the tree. When pruning, remove all the leaves, but make sure to leave the leaf-stems intact. Partial leaf pruning is a more gentle and less stressful pruning method, so it can be done every year. As the name suggests, partial pruning does not require you to remove all the leaves. Remove the largest leaves, closely spaced leaves, or the leaves in the strongest areas of the tree.

Repotting: The Japanese Maple Bonsai should be repotted every two years. It has strong roots that grow quickly and usually fill the pot in a short time, so be sure to prune the roots efficiently as per the instructions in the repotting Bonsai section. Use a well-drained soil mixture, like Akadama mixed with Pumice and lava rock.

Propagation: The Japanese maple can easily be propagated by planting seeds, cuttings, or air layering in the summer.

Pests and diseases: The Japanese Maple is a very sturdy tree species, but it can be affected by sap-sucking insects known as aphids in spring. Get rid of aphids with a standard insecticide spray, and follow the direction on the label. Verticillium wilt is a fungal disease that can cause the Japanese Maple Bonsai to partially or completely die. This disease is not treatable and can be transmitted to other trees via your Bonsai tools. You can identify it on fresh cuts as black spots in the wood. If you suspect Verticillium is present in your tree(s) be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect your tools.

For more detailed information on these techniques, check out our Bonsai tree care section.



Example of an Acer Palmatum Bonsai tree

Japanese Maple Bonsai

Japanese maple, image courtesy of Walter Pall.


Acer Palmatum Bonsai

Japanese maple Bonsai tree, by Heike van Gunst.