How do you guys space your japanese maples?

Discussion in 'Maples' started by rufretic, Jan 25, 2012.

  1. rufretic

    rufretic Active Member

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    I've got a large forest border that I wood like to fill with some nice color. I've started by clearing most of the weed trees to about 15-20' from my grass border. This also goes to the trunks of some of the very large 150-200 year old oaks. Now I would like to fill this area in with a nice natural forest type look but with colorful trees unlike the ones I removed. Most of the ground is covered with ferns and other native ground cover type plants. I've already started adding some trees that should fair well in this mostly shady forest boarder. Mostly redbuds, dogwoods and maples. Now I have plenty of choices with all the cultivars of japanese maples to fill the gaps but I'm just not sure how close they can be planted without looking crowded. I don't mind the over laping of branches with a nice contrast of colors but I don't want them too close where it will hurt the health of the trees. The problem with japanese maples is they grow fairly large but grow so slow. It looks so bare right now because most of the trees I've planted are so young. I am hoping I can get away with planting some more varieties to help fill in the gaps but wanted to see if this is a bad idea because I'm always reading on here to plant with the full size of the tree in mind. Do any of you have advice on this type of planting or even better, pictures of these maples planted fairly close growing together. Right now I think my closest planting is maybe 15' apart but I feel like it will take forever to fill in this space. Here is a picture of part of the border I'm talking about.

    Thanks for any help!
     

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  2. JT1

    JT1 Contributor

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    What a great canvas to create an amazing garden. I have a small yard, but have managed to plant a variety of Japanese maples. My advice is to think about using contrasting colors and textures. Pay close attention to leaf shape and color. Use plantings behind to enhance the color of the tree in front. Look at the growth habit, for example a vase shaped tree compliments a weeping tree nicely. When picking out a weeping tree pay attention to the grafted height and how that will pair up with the companion trees. In some cases a lower graft is preferred when planted in the foreground, where a higher graft may work better if in the background. I also recommend trying to source trees that are at least 5-10 years old. At that point they have better developed their individual character and it makes it easier to pair up companion trees without paying a fortune for very old specimens. You have to consider if you want to have maintenance keeping the trees your desired size or if you want to let them grow. If you want to let them grow and keep things spaced further apart, then you can use angles to make the trees appear as though they are closer together. Instead of three trees in a line use a V shaped placement. Keep your view point (patio or picture window that you will be viewing the garden from) in mind when using this placement. I apologize for not throwing out the technical landscape design terms, I am self-taught and not into reading garden design books :-)

    Here is a link to my Flickr page if you are interested. I have a garden photo tour gallery, spring, and fall galleries along the right side of the page:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/japanesemaplegarden/
     

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  3. JT1

    JT1 Contributor

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    I forgot to mention above, Vertrees book Japanese Maples 4th edition has a great table starting on page 337. It gives helpful information for planning a Japanese maple garden like size, form, color, leaf shape, and much more. Hope this helps!
     
  4. rufretic

    rufretic Active Member

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    Thanks for the info. Your garden is amazing! I've actually looked at a lot of your pictures already thanks to your other post. I'm the one that wants your aconitifolium lol. I plan to pick up Vertrees book, it sounds very helpful. The V shape planting is what I had in mind, I'm just not sure how close I can get away with planting them.
    Most of the area I will be planting will be left to grow wild. I love forests and that is what attracted me to this property. Unfortunatly I was very disapointed going through my first season and realizing that my forest had no colors other than green and then brown before the leaves drop. So now I'm on a mission to make it a colorful forest, at least the border. I'm hoping someone on here might have something like I imagine it could be because I've never actually seen a nicley planned forest border using japanese maples.
     
  5. Kaitain4

    Kaitain4 Well-Known Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    I would plant them as close as 3' apart, depending on the variety. Some grow very slow and stay smaller, others grow tall or wide. But remember, you are a GARDENER. That means you are in control, so you can determine how big or small a plant gets by pruning. We often forget that aspect of things (think of Bonsai). I have a friend who keeps her rather old Shishigashira at 6ft tall. She just prunes it hard and shapes it once a year.

    JT1 gave you some great advice. If you want it to look nice now, just cram the plants in there and enjoy! In nature, plants are always crowded.
     
  6. Daniel Otis

    Daniel Otis Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Some 15 years ago, I planted 14 small Japanese maple cultivars on a section of my little property--some were no more than 10 feet apart, and none were more than about 3 feet tall at the time. Over the years, the number has fallen to 7--a few I dug up and put back in pots, a few died. They are in full shade for most of the day, because to the immediate south there is a three-story building that blocks the southern sun. They get good morning and late afternoon sun, but nothing between 10 in the morning and 4 or so in the afternoon.

    Now, 15 years on, my trees are on average about 20 feet apart, and they are about 20 feet tall. They provide a full canopy--I grow European ginger underneath them, which doesn't take kindly to too much sun. Most of them would like more room--they are beginning to fight with each other, and to an extent I have to act as a referee. My Seiryu is 20 feet wide and would like to be wider.

    I would say that if you want to plant palmatums that will grow to maturity in the spots where you plant them, and no more than those, they should be no closer than 20 feet apart (assuming you are growing trees with normal growth habit, and not dwarves or oddballs like Shishigashira or Kotohime, which, I think, are best grown as specimen trees anyway, and not appropriate for a naturalistic forest understory planting).

    I agree with Katain4 that as gardeners we can keep our trees any size we want. But I wanted a full canopy of big Japanese maples, and now I've got it. I confess, though, that at this point the prospect of spending hours 20 feet up on my tallest ladder is pretty daunting. (I can tell because I've been putting it off all winter.) It's one thing to prune a 7-footer, and quite another to do serious pruning on trees this tall. I do think that planting rather more thickly than you expect your mature trees to be is reasonable--small trees don't cost much, and you can let them fight it out.

    It looks like a beautiful spot, and a bunch of maples would look wonderful there.
     
  7. JT1

    JT1 Contributor

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    Other things to consider:
    -Let terms like dwarf, very slow growing, and upright give you the confidence to place things closer together where spreading and fast growing tells you to give it plenty of room. Also growth habit can influence the spacing. A mounding tree can grow under a vase shape tree easier where as two vase shaped trees will conflict and need to stay further apart.

    -Lighting, climate, soil, and competition can play a big role in the overall size of a Japanese maple.

    -Look for trees that are known for holding their color well in lower light and open up to those trees that prefer dappled light.

    -Pictures and tree descriptions are designed to sell. Spring and fall colors are short lived. You will need to consider summer color to achieve your desired results. Consider trees with interesting structure and bark color to add winter interest.

    -Try to find a local grower or a grower with an area of similar climate and read their tree descriptions to better determine growth rate. If that does not turn up any results, use multiple wholesalers websites (many have descriptions that are open the public) and take the average width. Since you have lots of room and dont want to prune add a 25% fudge factor, because many will only give the 10 year size. Lets say after doing the math its 20 and the tree you want to put next to it is 10. Since we want a planting distance we can divide those in half. The trees can be placed 15 apart. Now if the 10 (w) tree is mounding with a low graft and low growing and the 20 (w) tree is vase shaped, then they can be placed closer together, because their growth habits do not conflict, rather they compliment. Use Google images to find pictures of the mature variety to help in judging the growth habit and the needed distance.

    -Lastly, I encourage you to check out some books on Japanese gardens. I think the idea sometimes turns people off, because Japanese gardens tend to be very structured with many rules or principals. Some automatically envision pines and mound-shaped bushes or maybe stone gardens, but those are just a couple of common examples of what is actually a very diverse garden style.

    I feel when you dive into the right aspect of Japanese gardens you can learn a lot about the importance of balance and taking a naturalistic approach to designing your garden. Gardening, inspired by nature, is what its all about and finding the style that speaks to you. If you read a book on the principals of Japanese gardens, it may leave you confused and intimidated, as if its unattainable, which is the case for most of us when landscaping in our own yard. I am recommending getting books with a lot of pictures and just looking through the pictures to inspire you. Do not find one picture that you like and try to re-create, instead let several pictures and gardens influence you in your design ideas. If you find a specific garden style that speaks to you then check out a book that is devoted to that style and discusses the principals involved. Some of the gardens have great color depending on the time of the season. Some can look very green, but thats where introducing Japanese maples into your design can add lots of color. I am not saying to do a Japanese garden, but rather use it to influence the garden design when trying to achieve your forest garden.

    Go to the library and check out some books, as buying them will cost a fortune and some would leave you feeling very disappointed in your purchase. Many libraries are networked together. So you can go online and reserve a book through the network and pick it up locally a few days later. Thats all I do to get through the winter. In the spring, I set out and design without using any books by applying my inspirations that were influenced by the pictures that spoke to me over the winter. There are a lot of great picture books out there. Currently I have checked out the Garden Views series by Tatsui Teien Kenkyujo (4 books in the series, specifically Garden views IV Tree & Moss Gardens) ; Masterpieces of Japanese Garden Art by Kyoyo Shoin Co. ; houses and gardens of Kyoto by Akihiko Seki and Thomas Daniell.
     
  8. rufretic

    rufretic Active Member

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    Thanks for all the great info. I can't believe I didn't even consider the idea of adding the shorter veriaties to fill in the smaller spaces, seems like common sence but I had my mind set on the taller trees already so I just didn't even think about it. I'm going to look into what my library has to offer. Thanks so much, you've really given me a lot to consider.

    Thanks to the others that have contributed as well, very helpful.
     
  9. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    If you plant dwarf cultivars where they will end up beneath non-dwarf ones some problems with shading may develop, Japanese maples can be quite dark inside and underneath. Vertrees advocated pruning in order to fit a collection into a less than grand space but you have to be willing and able to do this attractively in order to get a pleasing result.
     

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