Bloodgood Japanese Maple Trees

Your Ace in the Hole for Small Yards

Bloodgood Japanese maple tree with purplish-red leaves.

joe daniel price/Getty Images 

Bloodgood Japanese maple trees are wonderful plants to grow for all four seasons of the year. Find out what makes them so versatile, how to grow them, and what other choices exist in the genus for gardeners seeking different colors.

Botanical Name and Plant Type

Acer palmatum atropurpureum Bloodgood is the rather unwieldy name in plant taxonomy for the Bloodgood Japanese maple, a popular cultivar of a widely grown group of trees.

These exquisite plants are classified as deciduous trees. Some Bloodgoods are produced by grafting.

Features of Bloodgood Japanese Maple Trees

This common tree may reach a height of 20 feet (with a similar spread) at maturity but is a slow grower. The spring leaves will give you as much pleasure as the leaves of any other season: During this period, the red in the foliage is sometimes at its brightest. The color becomes darker in summer (more of a burgundy, or even darker). In fact, atropurpureum means "dark purple," from the Latin words atro (black) and purpureum (purple).

The palmatum in the Latin name is also descriptive of the leaf. Foliage said to be "palmate" bears lobes that fan out from a central point. The reference is to the human hand, where fingers radiate out from the palm.

This foliage is displayed in a rounded canopy making up a branching pattern that is attractive in its own right. Rather than having a single leader, the plant will often have multiple sub-trunks. When samaras develop, they eventually redden and add some ornamental value to the plant.

Growing Zones, Sun and Soil Needs

This colorful character is best suited for growing zones 5 to 8.

Dappled shade is considered the ideal exposure in most regions for this understory tree. Some growers give theirs a bit more shade than that and they generally do just fine. In hot climates, a somewhat shady location could help you avert disaster with these plants. The leaves tend to develop some green in them in summer if exposed to full sun. A soil that drains well is essential, as it is for so many plants.

Uses in Landscaping

Most people use them as specimen trees, although they are also used in bonsai. Fairly compact while still filling enough space to be showy, they help you strike just the right balance size-wise for landscaping in small spaces. That's why you can think of Acer palmatum atropurpureum Bloodgood as your "ace(r) in the hole" for small yards or small spaces. Use them, for example, as shade trees for patios (where a larger specimen would not be suitable).

Outstanding Features

Leaf color is the best trait of this species. But the coloration is supplemented by other features that earn Bloodgood Japanese maples their valued specimen status.

First of all, the leaves are elegantly shaped. Secondly, the branching pattern will be showy enough to afford winter interest, assuming you've administered any corrective pruning that may be necessary.

Bloodgood Japanese Maple Trees and Fall Color

Although their leaves can become even showier in autumn than in summer (changing back sometimes to the crimson color exhibited in spring) if the growing conditions are right, don't consider Bloodgood Japanese maples to be first and foremost fall-foliage specimens. No, to classify them in that way would be an injustice. Their leaves are attractive for a full three seasons of the year, so consider them simply as "foliage trees" rather than limiting their value by designating them fall-foliage specimens, specifically. Their fall color can be excellent, but regard it as part of a bigger package.

Care for Bloodgood Japanese Maple Trees (Pruning, Etc.)

Care requirements are minimal. You can prune young plants to encourage a particular branching pattern. As they mature, pruning (to the extent that it is needed at all) can be reduced to removing branches that are rubbing against each other (and, as for all plants, dead branches).

Other than this light pruning, the main care tasks for established plants will be supplemental watering (as needed) and the application of mulch. The latter will aid the soil in retaining moisture.

Alternative to Bloodgood for Those Tired of "Seeing Red"

Red is the most common color for Japanese maples, although there are also various choices in gold or green. These include, respectively, Golden Full Moon (Acer japonicum Aureum) and Beni-kawa (Acer palmatum Beni-kawa).

Gardeners craving something really different should try Acer palmatum Harriet Waldman (15 feet tall, same growing conditions as for Bloodgood). This Japanese maple is best known for bearing tricolored leaves in spring. The new leaves (at the top of the tree) start out pink but eventually bear three colors: pink, white, and green. The leaves eventually lose this pink color as they age, and the white color fades, as well (occasionally, you'll find a leaf that is all white), leaving you with just green. The leaf color is not noteworthy again until the tree puts on its autumn hues of gold and orange (although fall color isn't reliable). 

Leaf Shape: Going to Pot?

Varieties of Japanese maples are sometimes loosely grouped by the appearance of their leaves. These categories can be based on color or on shape. A variety such as Crimson Queen is referred to as "dissected" because its leaves bear an especially lacy shape, with deep indentations along the leaf margins. If you're seeking the finest possible texture, it's a dissected type that you'd want to grow.

Bloodgood Japanese maples are a non-dissected type. But that doesn't mean that their leaf shape won't draw attention. Many liken the leaf shape to that on a marijuana plant. In fact, folks have come under suspicion of growing marijuana when, in fact, they were guilty of no more than growing Japanese maples.

The most infamous case is that of Ryan David Frederick, who was a resident of Chesapeake, Virginia. Based on the mistaken report of an informant that Frederick was growing pot, police raided his home on the night of January 17, 2008. In the confusion that ensued, one of the officers was killed. If the informant had taken some horticulture classes, this tragedy could probably have been avoided.