If there’s one tree that’s tailor-made for growing in a pot, it’s Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). Its small stature, slow growth rate, fibrous root system, and elegant good looks make it the prime candidate. Handsome enough to showcase on its own, Japanese maple also works nicely with companion plants.
Follow these tips to help your potted maple thrive for years.
- Choose a dwarf cultivar that matures at less than 10 feet. Larger plants will also work if you prune them annually.
- Select a container that’s no more than twice the volume of roots. Make sure there’s a drainage hole -- Japanese maples will not survive in soggy soil.
- Use quality potting soil -- but not one that contains slow-release fertilizer that might burn roots.
- Fertilize sparingly. Apply a water-based fertilizer, diluted to half-strength, when growth begins in spring.
- Prune in midsummer to shape the plant or keep it at a desired size. Individual branches can be coaxed to hang downward in a more elegant habit by hanging light weights on the branches for one growing season.
- Repot once roots reach the sides and bottom of the pot -- generally every couple of years. Prune the roots by cutting away large, woody roots to encourage small fibrous ones to form.
- Overwinter potted Japanese maples in a protected spot after foliage drops in fall. Move the plant to an unheated garage or basement where temperatures remain above freezing (an attached garage works great). No light is needed when the tree is dormant. Keep the soil moderately moist until returning the maple outdoors in spring.