My First Japanese Maple (Acer)

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

My first ever Japanese Maple (Acer)!!!

I have always wanted one, but it was one of those plants I stayed clear of under the condition that I would get one eventually, but only when I got rich and/or became a homeowner. I bought a Purple Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria) instead; the poor man’s Japanese maple. Nearly ten years later, the Purple Smoke Bush is a monster [ed: I just checked and it turns out I bought the smoke bush in 2003, although i wanted a Japanese Maple long before.] and I am still gazing longingly at other peoples’ Japanese maples.

Looking back, it comes as no surprise that I would still be pining for one. Chances were pretty good that I would never meet the ridiculous self-imposed conditions required.

And so I decided that this was the year we would get one and grow it in a pot rather than waiting for the magical moment that may never come. You see, way back then, I was under the mistaken impression that Japanese Maples are uber expensive. And it is true. A single, mature tree can cost hundreds of dollars. But seedlings are affordable, and growing your own from seed costs nothing but patience and time. What’s more, every seedling is unique, offering you the chance to grow a few and then select the one you like best to grow on.

In the end we got ourselves a little 10″ tree, but it’s not a store-bought tree. Our tree comes with a story and a personal history. A friend collected the seed and another friend (Barry) grew the subsequent seedlings on for three years. It’s a special tree and a strange step forward in my gardening life.

Now all I have to do is keep it alive!

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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16 thoughts on “My First Japanese Maple (Acer)

  1. It’s very pretty! Be careful though, Acer obsession is a slippery slope – this may be your first but it won’t be your last.

  2. Believe me, I know. They are all so pretty! Although if anyone is bound to get obsessed I think it might be Davin. He seems more into them than I am.

  3. I agree with Meighan. Acer acquisition is a slippery slope, limited only by one’s space for them. I have two on my under 60 square-foot balcony – they are weeping varieties and I’ve had one for 15 years and the other for 7 years. My neighbour, with a large rooftop balcony, just potted on her Acer griseum which she has had for more than 10 years. So I guess the message is that for every balcony garden, there is a suitable maple tree.

    Your tree looks like a beautiful specimen and I’m sure it will thrive, know it’s parentage.

  4. I love Japanese Maples, the colors are amazing! I got a grow-your-own-bonsai kit from Urban Outfitters, and I followed the instructions perfectly, and to my dismay my seeds rotted. Instructions said to soak for x amount of time and then refrigerate in a tiny cup (in a zip-lock bag) with seed starting soil for about 8 weeks. I’d love to try it again, but maybe not out of a kit. I also say that you can train wisteria to be a bonsai, so that has been on my to-do list, I’m just waiting for my parent’s evergreen to put out some seed pods!

  5. I love Japanese Maples! Yours looks really pretty. Looking forward to seeing more photos as time passes.

  6. I got my first japanese maple this spring! I planted it…and its not doing well :( it was a 1 gallon when I bought it- I went back to the nursery to chat with them about it to see what I might be doing wrong but..doin it by the book!
    my mom went and bought me another a week ago cause she felt bad for me-shes so sweet! BUT its still in the pot…Im scared to plant it and fail again!
    the original tree is still where I planted it so its hanging out but..not lookin good.

    I hope you have a ton of luck–much more than I have. they are gorgeous trees and ive envied my neighbors for years!

  7. i sent 500$ to an oregon nursery 13 years ago – got 50 drawf and semi-drawf 1 year old stick back in the mail – i now have about 40 trees from 15′ tall to 15′ wide to two feet tall and everything in between – have fun

  8. Congratulations! I too am excited because I too came into some great tree fortune. I finally after many unsuccessful attempts have some avocado seedlings and possible a lemon. I am not a good gardener by any means, but I am through the moon.

  9. Gayla this is beautiful! Do you know what variety it is?

    I know I’ve told this story a million times but I also bought a little tree last year and planted it in memory of my father-in-law who died in July. This year the stupid yard mower guy yanked it out thinking it was a weed. My JP maple leaves looked very similar to yours. How could anybody think that’s a weed? Now I have a new one and I’m keeping everybody away from it.

  10. Gina: That’s terrible. And I agree that how anyone could confuse that tree for a weed is beyond me.

    I don’t know what variety it is. It was grown from seed and they were all different so probably not very true to the original variety anyways.

  11. Same story here (France), I bought this beautiful maple and left it on my balcony, (from the road you could only see the leaves i guess) and some kids climbed at night, threw the whole thing over and ran away with my poor little tree.
    Hope it was a tough smoke!

  12. I was just gifted four JM seedlings and have separated them into pots. They are just about 10″. I am going to plant one today . . . but I laughed when I saw your comment about the smokebush. You see, I REALLY wanted to put the JM in my front garden, but it is a pretty small space and can get pretty hot (SW) in afternoon. So, I thought I’d put the smokebush there . . . but not too happy. I really want the JM there. In the end I think I might have to put the JM on the north side . . . Will I regret the decision? I am terrified I am going to kill this little JM. So tiny. But I have to plant it as I kill anything in a pot but manage my garden well.

  13. Lauren: I’m learning as I go wit this plant but I do know that heat can be an issue. I underplanted mine (even in a pot) with small plants to help keep the soil around its roots cool.

    I hear from experienced Japanese Maple growers that transplanting seedlings is much easier than transplanting larger, more mature plants. The larger plants don’t always take well.

  14. Glad to know others have been bitten by the Japanese Maple bug. I purchased my first just a few weeks ago- totally unplanned, but too beautiful to walk away from.

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