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Mississippi Gardeners Love Japanese Maples
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Brookhaven, Miss. is known far and wide as home to great camellias and to highly respected camellia gardeners, but on a recent trip, it was not the camellias that caught my attention but Japanese Maples.
Some of the most beautiful and healthy maples I have ever seen were in those gardens. I am a believer in Japanese maples and have grown some myself, but there is much mystery to this group of plants. These small trees are brilliant in the spring with new red color followed by exotic foliage throughout the summer and many with a fall blaze of crimson, orange and yellow.
While the Japanese maple can be used as a bonsai, small tub planting, awesome accent or artistically grouped, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of selections which most of us know little about.
The Japanese maple is known botanically as acer palmatum. Our native red maple is acer rubrum. Nurserymen usually think of the Japanese maple as in two groups: non-dissected leafed and dissected-type leaves.
Japanese maples can be grouped by three types: uprights, laceleafs and bush-dwarf types. Among the uprights are the linearilobums with long, narrow lobes on each leaf. The dissectums are laceleafs with pinnately dissected leaves. The growth habit of the laceleaf types is usually cascading or weeping. The bush-dwarf group includes maples that are slower-growing and bushy.
Popular cultivars in the non-dissected group are Bloodgood, Oshu beni and Senaki. Some of those in the dissected group are Crimson Queen, Ever Red and Tamukeyama.
Mississippi is fortunate to be able to grow the Japanese maple. They prefer well drained, moist, slightly acidic soils. I like them best with morning sun and afternoon shade or in areas of dappled light. Even though I have seen gorgeous specimen in Poplarville's full sun, I still recommend some shade.
Supplemental water during the summer goes a long way to preventing the scorching of the leaves. They take 10 years to reach 15 feet. Oldest plantings of Japanese maples in the United States find some in the 50-foot range.
Those in the dissectum group have more of a layered, mushroom shape in the garden and their heights are usually much shorter.
Newly leafed out Japanese maples are gorgeous in early spring combined with azaleas, dogwoods and Louisiana phlox. They are also exceptional in rock gardens and worked in combination plantings with full size and dwarf conifers like the chamaecyparis Crippsii.
The slow growth rate, coupled with the many groups, sub-species and cultivars intimidate many, making it hard to start an evaluation program. The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis has one of the best collections and is well worth the trip.
After going to Brookhaven, I just wonder if Mississippi might have quite a collection, but in different gardeners' yards? Help me start a list. If you have a Japanese maple that you are positive of the identification, drop me a note of the name of the Japanese maple as well as your name and address. If you don't have a Japanese maple, get one or two. Fall is a great time to plant.