Every tree has some great attributes and others that are less appealing. The lovely little Japanese maple is a jewel of a tree with a graceful form and deeply lobed, lacy leaves. There are many varieties and cultivars, but none of them grow very fast. Anyone looking for a fast-growing landscape tree should look elsewhere, but if you are seeking beauty in tree form, look no further.
The Japanese maple is not a particularly fast-growing tree. It can add on 12 inches or so a year to top out at about 20 feet.
Admire the Japanese Maple
It's hard to be in a garden with a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) and not feel a tug in your heart. The tree is so slender and delicate that it bears little resemblance to gigantic sugar maples (Acer saccharum) that grow to 75 feet tall with a spread of 50 feet. Rather, the Japanese maple tops out at around 20 feet and is a landscape tree offering the best in magical, diminutive beauty. It grows new green leaves in spring, deeply lobed or finely dissected, that flame into yellow, orange, purple, and red in gorgeous autumn display. Some varieties have red or purple leaves all growing season, adding a pop of color to any garden.
Video of the Day
What's so special about these trees? The tree's dramatic effect comes from a happy marriage of leaf shape, bark textures, and the kaleidoscope of constantly changing colors from season to season. Don't forget the samara, common to all maples, that floats and glides in a breeze.
Understand the Tree's Growth Rate
Japanese maples are more like the tortoise than the hare when it comes to speedy growth. The average growth rate for the species is about 12 inches per season. That results in an average height of 10 to 15 feet at 15 years old. The growth is not even year to year, and much of the tree's growth comes during its earlier years. Japanese maples ultimately attain a mature height of 10 to 20 feet.
To attain their maximum growth, Japanese maples must be planted in an appropriate site. They are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9 and require well-drained, moist soil. They thrive in dappled sun or partial shade in a location where they are protected from strong winds.
Consider Faster-Growing Maples
If your primary motivation in planting a maple is to have a shade tree yesterday, you'll have to look beyond the Japanese maple. The silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is one of the speediest maples when it comes to growth. It can shoot up at least 36 inches a year and up to 84 inches. It is a big tree, topping out at about 80 feet with a breadth of 60 feet.
The red maple (Acer rubrum) is also a fast-growing tree. It grows at least 36 inches a year and sometimes, in ideal conditions, a foot or two more. Either of these trees is a better bet for fast-growing maples than the Japanese maple.