Protecting a Japanese maple from winter damage begins before you even purchase the tree. In doing plant selection research, it's critical to know what plant hardiness zone you live in and to which zones the plant that you want is best suited. After all, when you install a plant in a hardiness zone to which it is not suited, you are only asking for trouble. For example, the Bloodgood Japanese maple is listed for zones 5 to 8, so any protection tips are only effective if you're growing the tree in those zones.
If your Japanese maple elm is being grown in a container, protecting it from winter damage is simple—move it into the garage or other protected area when ice or snow is in the forecast.
When you bring the tree home to plant it, think carefully before selecting a location. Locating the tree near your home and with southern exposure will shelter it some from harsh winter winds. If your Japanese maple still small, you can build a shelter with other landscaping elements, such as other trees or large bushes, to protect it from gusty winds, snow, and ice.
Water During the Fall Months
Water your Japanese maple tree properly during the fall season. When the ground freezes, trees are deprived of water, and they can suffer winter damage as a result. Young trees 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.
Next, apply 3 to 4 inches of mulch around your Japanese maple tree, but not right up against the trunk—that invites pests such as voles to gnaw at it. Instead, keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk. Mulch insulates the root zone and helps retain moisture.
Wrap in Burlap
If your tree isn't overwhelmingly large, wrapping it with burlap is a way to protect it from frost, ice, and snow. To do this, place three to four stakes around the tree, then drape a double layer of burlap over those stakes. Secure the burlap to the stakes with staples. Remove the burlap once the weather evens out, but leave the stakes in place for a quick fix next time the forecast looks icy.
Hold off on Fertilizing and Pruning
The best time of the year to apply fertilizer is when a healthy portion of the growing season remains, 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.
Additionally, don't prune Japanese maples during the fall or winter months. If you do, the tree will ooze sap, which could lead to a weakened tree and potential disease.