Japanese maple trees are prized for their delicate foliage throughout the growing season, including during fall foliage season. Below, we will explore primarily kinds known for the red color that they display in autumn. But an example will also be furnished of a cultivar with green leaves that are deeply cut, of kinds with golden leaves, as well as of an interesting type with tricolored foliage.
Leaf texture can vary considerably, from the delicate filigree type to the coarser foliage of 'Bloodgood.' Japanese maple trees can be classified in various ways. Let's focus here on a couple of classification criteria: fall foliage color and leaf type. For while the kinds with red fall foliage are better known, some kinds have a yellow or golden color in autumn, examples of which include:
- Full moon (Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum').
- Autumn moon (Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon').
- Beni Kawa (Acer palmatum 'Beni-kawa').
- Coral bark (Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'), whose red bark also provides winter interest (bark color will be brightest if you grow the plant in full sun).
Meanwhile, some Japanese maple tree cultivars are prized for their lacy, or "dissected" leaf type. The taxonomy given for these Japanese maples will include the term dissectum.
Red Japanese Maple Trees
There are fine examples of red Japanese maple trees, including weeping types, that fall into either the Acer palmatum atropurpureum group or the Acer palmatum dissectum group. They often display red-colored leaves all summer that become a brighter red in fall, making them spectacular fall foliage specimen trees. Grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-8, the species plant typically reaches a height of 30 feet, with a spread of 20 feet. Plant them in full to partial sun and in a well-drained soil. In zones 7-8, they can profit from the respite from the heat that they will receive if planted in an area with partial shade or dappled sunlight. Many colorful cultivars are available. Two of them are discussed below.
'Bloodgood': Blood-Red Leaves
'Bloodgood' (Acer palmatum atropurpureum 'Bloodgood') is one of the most popular cultivars. This fall foliage standout can be grown in zones 5-8 and attains a maximum size of about 20 feet tall x 20 feet wide, making it just about the right size if you need a shade tree for your patio landscaping. It likes sun but can profit from a bit of light shade. Its leaves in summer are a reddish-purple (but tend to green up some in full sun). At fall foliage time, those leaves can become more of a crimson, depending on growing conditions.
Interested in something other than a straight red? Let me mention an intriguing cultivar called Acer palmatum 'Coonara Pygmy,' which bears reddish-orange leaves in fall. Then there is the quality of leaf shape; let's take a look, next, at the dissectum group.
'Crimson Queen': Queen of the Reds
'Crimson Queen' (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen') can be grown in zones 5-8. A small specimen, it reaches a height of just 8-10 feet and a spread of 10-12 feet. This petite monarch will grace any lawn with its pleasing weeping habit and dissected leaf type. As with Bloodgood, the dark red summer leaves will mature to a crimson color for great red fall foliage.
Grow dissectum types in full sun to partial shade. Other dissectum cultivars with a red fall foliage color include:
- A. palmatum var. dissectum 'Red Dragon' (zones 5-8, mature height and spread of 8 feet by 8 feet).
- A. palmatum var. dissectum 'Garnet' (zones 5-9, mature height and spread of 9 feet by 12 feet).
Cutleaf Japanese Maple Trees: Enough With the Red, Already
Cutleaf Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Filigree') are even more compact than the preceding dissectum entries, reaching 4-6 feet in height, with a spread of 6-9 feet. Suitable for zones 5-8, they, too, bear dissected leaves. But what is really different about them is the shape of their foliage: they bear deeply-cut leaves. The leaves are green in summer, turning golden in fall.
Harriet Waldman: Japanese Maple With Three Colors
At first glance, the 'Harriet Waldman' cultivar (15 feet tall when mature) might seem like it is best in breed. Indeed, it does offer variegated foliage, including a marvelous pink color on the new leaves in spring. Unhappily, it promises more than it delivers. Its tricoloration -- interesting as it is while present -- is showy only for a relatively short time. In terms of fall color, Harriet Waldman is not a consistently good performer.