3 Reasons Why the Japanese Maple Should be your Go-To Small Yard Tree this Fall

Depending on the variety, you can have purplish red leaves, to leave that resemble a golden raisin.

By Scott Sackin

japanese maple trees are a great option for your small yeard
Photo by Tomáš Malík: https://www.pexels.com/photo/macro-photography-of-maple-trees-3408352/

Japanese Maples arent Expensive

Okay, so before we start you probably heard of the Japanese maple and probably thought of them as exotic and too expensive. I think both of these character descriptions are inaccurate. The Japanese maple, while expensive for what you get at the outset, will reward you with years and years of trouble-free enjoyment.
Let’s get down to the reasons why I think they should be tops on your list.
I’m also going to preface that I am an amateur, hobbyist gardener, not an arborist nor a professional in any way. I just love my garden and my trees.

Why I love the Japanese Maple

Reason #1: They truly are uniquely beautiful

Depending on the variety, you can have purplish red leaves, to leave that resemble a golden raisin. They’re actually one of the few trees that are actually deciduous (lose their leaves in the winter) and are virtually guaranteed to give you fall color no matter where you live in the country. Living in Southern California, this is a really neat bonus, where fall colors might seem more like a sweater you’d put on.

Here’s a caveat: they are deciduous, so during the winter you will just have the branches to look at but I also feel that especially in the Southern California garden, this gives us an East Coast feel, a unique sculptural look, and then something to look forward to as they bud out in the spring.

Reason #2: They truly are the right size for the small yard and garden

Depending on the variety you choose, they can top out at as little as 6 ft. tall to as high as 12 to15 ft tall. These relatively pint-sized gems are way more manageable than the average tree that might have to be pulled out of the garden when it becomes unwieldy and too large.

Reason #3: Easy to maintain

Easy peasy to maintain, and prune and shape as you please as they mature. The cool thing about deciduous trees is you get to see the branching structure every winter and these branches literally “speak to you” and tell you where to snip and trim to keep the desired shape and height. Plus, because Japanese maples stay fairly petite, you don’t generally need more than a step ladder to work on them. My experience has been that these trees are pretty hardy and pest resistant. With a well-balanced fertilizer application once or twice a year they do just great.

The only thing here is you want the exposure to be right. They don’t want more than about 4 hours of sun a day and it’s best to keep them out of the hottest midday sun. So if you have a blank slate of a patio or yard, you will want some other larger trees or structures that create a partial sun environment. However, I’ve seen these trees do quite well in condo and townhome environments where the neighboring units create periods of shade throughout the day

Bonus: Fallen Leaves

The fallen leaves can be collected and displayed around Halloween and Thanksgiving time for a bit of holiday ambiance.

In Conclusion

So when you hit the nursery or garden center this fall don’t be swayed by thinking bigger is better. Hunt out the humble Japanese maple and try investing in one.

Below is a sample list of varieties that should do well in Southern California. Be sure to double-check the USDA hardiness zones and projected growth habits. And always ask the experts at your local garden center for what will thrive in your area.

Acer palmatum ‘Aka shigitatsu sawa’ J
Acer palmatum ‘Atrolineare’ Japanese
Acer palmatum ‘Beni maiko’ Japanese
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ Red Japanese Maple Tree
Acer palmatum ‘Burgundy Lace’

Check out my video on the topic, Where you’ll see a few of my favorites in my yard.


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