How Do You Protect Japanese Maple Trees from Winter Damage?

Japanese maple leaves against a golden background

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An effective strategy for protecting your Japanese maple begins with your plant selection research. Before buying any plant, it is critical to know:

  1. What plant hardiness zone you live in
  2. Which zones the plant that you want is best suited to

When you install a plant in a hardiness zone to which it is not suited, you are only asking for trouble. Bloodgood Japanese maple is listed for zones 5-8. So the protection tips below assume that you are trying to grow the tree in an area no further north than zone 5 (parts of Illinois are in zone 4, so a Bloodgood might not survive in those areas of the state).

If it is still small, you can build a shelter to protect a Japanese maple tree from gusty winds, snow, and ice. This will not be feasible for larger trees.

But it is possible to provide a different type of shelter even for larger trees, as long as you have the foresight to plan for it. We are talking about a kind of shelter afforded by the plant's location in the landscape. When you bring the tree home to plant it, you must think carefully before selecting a location. Locating the tree near your home and with a southern exposure will shelter it some from harsh winter winds.

Protecting Mature Trees

The above tips are helpful for those just starting out with a Japanese maple. But what can homeowners with mature trees do to help their specimens survive the winter?

In general, there are a few things that you can do to ready a tree for winter (regardless of whether it is young or old):

  1. Water your Japanese maple tree properly during the fall season. When the ground freezes, trees are deprived of water. They can suffer winter damage as a result. Young ones are especially susceptible, but trees of any age can profit from a proper fall watering regimen. Providing them with adequate water at the correct time in autumn will go a long way toward helping them get through winter in good shape. Please remember your discipline when watering trees in fall.
  2. Apply 3-4 inches of mulch around your Japanese maple tree. But do not apply mulch right up against the trunk (that invites pests such as voles to gnaw at it)—keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk. Mulch insulates the root zone and helps retain moisture.
  3. Do not fertilize too late in the year. Fertilizer spurs new growth. The best times to apply fertilizer are when the tree has a healthy portion of the growing season still lying ahead of it: namely, spring and early summer. By contrast, if you fertilize in late summer or fall, the resulting new growth does not have enough time to harden off. Such branches are more susceptible to winter damage.

    Want More Information on Japanese Maples?

    Are you the type of gardener who is always looking to grow something that your neighbors do not have? A rather intriguing option in the Japanese maple world is the variegated version. You can read about it here: 'Harriet Waldman' Japanese Maple Trees.