Green leaf Japanese maples are one of the most under used plants. This is odd, because purple leaf Japanese maples are one of the most over used ornamental trees.
OK, I know they are really not THAT overplanted yet. However, if you see the pallets full of them at Home Depot every year, you probably agree they will be soon. In a few years, the number of home gardeners that DON’T have one or two somewhere in their yard will be very small. This is especially true for odd balls that read blogs about plants, landscaping, pruning, etc.
Why are the purple ones over planted?
OK, I get why they are everywhere. Japanese maples are great garden trees. Even the big ones don’t get too big. They don’t usually have pest problems. You can get ones that grow into trees or shrubs.
Then there’s the Fall Color. Japanese maples look their best in autumn. Depending on the cultivar, their leaves can become various shades of blood red, glowing gold, or brilliant orange. They also change color very late in the season, thus extending fall color almost to winter.
But why do most people buy Japanese Maples? It’s the red to purple leaf color. A red or purple leaf plant that gives color most of the year has an obvious appeal. The problem is when you plant a bunch of these trees and then they grow. Then your purple colored leaves start to take over your garden.
Green is the most underrated color in the landscape. A landscape lacking green is not usually very appealing.
Green foliage relaxes us. It’s even been shown that the color green facilitates creative performance (see link).
On a side note, the color red has been found to induce sexual desire in both men and women (see link).
“Now I know why you bought those twenty red leaved barberries!”
My recommendation is to go ahead and buy a red leaf Japanese maple if you want, especially if you want to add a little excitement (hint hint, wink wink) to the backyard. But if you want to create a relaxing sanctuary, I would also consider GREEN leaf Japanese maples. Here are some of the better ones that are available.
Green leaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
A great four season tree with an attractive form. Green leaves in the summer, with yellow to red fall color. Plant them in groups or scatter throughout the garden.
Size: 15 to 25 feet tall and wide
Zones: 5 to 9
Fall leaf color: yellow, orange and red
Choose It Because: You want a natural looking four season plant with good fall color.
Beni Kawa (Acer palmatum ‘Beni kawa’)
This green leaf Japanese maple features small leaves that turn golden-yellow in fall. In winter, the plant really shines because of its red stems. The bark is usually redder in winter compared to the salmon color of its more famous cousin ‘Sango kaku’. They look great against a back drop of snow.
Size: It matures to 12-15′ tall and wide.
Fall leaf color: golden yellow
Choose It Because: You want a four season plant with winter interest and good fall color.
Coral Bark (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’)
A good-sized tree with multi-season appeal, ‘Sango-kaku’ features green leaves that turn brilliant yellow in fall. The leaves are lime green in spring darkening in the summer. After the leaves drop, the stems show off a bright coral-red color. The more sun the tree gets in winter the better the bark color will be.
Size: 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide
Choose It Because: You want winter interest.
Fern leaf or Dancing Peacock (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’)
I think this is one of the best green leaf Japanese maples for fall color. It offers deeply cut, almost ferny green foliage. A small to medium size tree ‘Aconitifolium’ can be slow growing and benefits from a little afternoon shade in the south. Fall color is brilliant red.
Name: Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’
Size: 10 feet tall and wide. More upright when young, eventually forms a rounded top tree.
Choose It Because: You want a small tree with AWESOME fall color.
Vitifolium (Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’)
A larger green leaf Japanese maple with vigorous growth. This variety offers wide, deep green leaves. The leaves are as big as your hand. Rich fall color comes early and fast. Good fall color even in warmer climates. Produces hanging clusters of showy, purple/red flowers in late spring. The flowers stand out among the maples.
Size: 25 feet tall and wide
Choose It Because: You want a Japanese maple that tolerates cold or warm weather well and gives consistently good fall color even in the south.
Green Cascade (Acer japonicum ‘Green Cascade’)
This full moon maple has finely cut green foliage and a delicate weeping habit. If not staked, it forms a flowing mound of foliage. In fall, the leaves turn shades of red and orange.
Size: Groundcover to 10 feet or more
Choose It Because: You need a good weeping variety.
If you would like to learn more about the many types of Japanese Maples available there are two books that I would recommend, Japanese Maples: The Complete Guide to Selection and Cultivation* and Timber Press Pocket Guide to Japanese Maples*. The first one is the encyclopedia of Japanese maples, the second is a smaller, less detailed, and cheaper.
Oh by the way, I am thinking about changing my head shot to this:
What do you think?