Growing Japanese Maples in Zone 4 or Lower

Although Japanese maples thrive best in zones 5-9, they can be successfully grown in colder climates. An established Japanese maple can withstand temperatures down to zero degrees Fahrenheit on exposed parts. The roots can withstand temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Click here to find out what zone you are in.

Cold weather isn’t the main problem with growing Japanese maples in low zones. The real issue is disruption of dormancy. Winter heat sources and late spring frosts can be deadly. Your house reflects heat off of the southern and western sides which can warm your plant, causing it to prematurely emerge from dormancy. It is best to plant on the north or east side of your house. Daylight warmth from the southern sun mixed with drastically cold nights can cause splits in the bark. Covering the trunk with a tree wrap helps.

Avoid pruning in late summer and early fall. It could encourage new growth that will never survive the bitter winter season. Shield your plant from aggressive winds. Since the roots lie relatively shallow, it is important to mulch well. This will not only prevent them from freezing, but will the roots will warm slowly in the spring. If sunshine is scarce in your area, you may find that the green varieties do better in full shade. For zones with extremely cold winters, Japanese maples can be grown in containers. Be sure to let your plant go dormant before moving it to a sheltered location (like an unheated garage) for the winter. (Never bring them inside your house. Japanese maples make terrible houseplants.) If your garage gets very cold, you will need to insulate your container or keep a heating pad set to low under it to keep your root temperature from dropping below 14 degrees. Keeping a proper temperature is key. You do not want to warm your roots too much, causing the plant to “wake up”.

Here are some hardy varieties of Japanese maple that should hold up well in cold temperatures:

Amoenum-(leaves divided up to 2/3 down the base)

  • Osakazuki– This straight growing, round headed, tree has large leaves. They are green spring and summer and are well known for the intense crimson they turn during the fall. They can grow to 20 feet.

Palmates– (Leaves divided 2/3 – ¾ down the base)

  • Emperor 1– These are very similar to a bloodgood, but are a little hardier. They look like what what most people think of when you say “Japanese maple”. They have the “standard”  red leaf and can reach 20 feet tall.

  • Johin– Johin have thick red leaves (hints of green in the summer) and grow 10-15 feet.

  • Katsura– Katsura’s grow to about 15 feet. They have beautiful light green leaves that turn bright orange in the fall. They typically have a hardiness zone of 6, but I read many posts from gardeners in colder zones who had good luck with it. One post from a gardener in Ithaca, New York (known for their long, cold winters where the temperature is often below zero) said he has a Katsura that has survived outside for over ten years.

  • Beni Kawa/Beni Gawa– This maple has an upright, vase shape with dark green leaves that change into golds and reds. The bright red bark offers striking color all year long (and looks amazing against a snowy backdrop!) It will grow to 15 feet and is said to be very cold tolerant.

Dissecums– (Lace Leaf)

  • Inaba Shidare– This plant will quickly grow to 5 feet. It has very dark,(red-black) foliage

  • Tamukeyama– A strong, fast growing variety, its thick leaves change from green to bright red or dark purple. It will grow to about 5 feet.

  • Green Snowflake– This small (4 ft) weeping lace leaf has green, snowflake shaped leaves that turn to shades of yellow or orange.

  • Ao Jutan- A cascading, spreading tree with large, green leaves that turn shades of gold, orange and red in the fall. It will grow 4-6 feet high

Linearilobum– (Narrow, strap-like leaf lobes)

  • Fairy Hair– Although much hardier than it looks, it might serve best as a container plant. Its wispy, hair-like leaves are a beacon to rabbits. Fairy hair grows small, 2-3 feet and green. It changes to red, orange and yellow tones in the fall.

Dwarfs-

  • Beni Komanchi– Its name means “beautiful, red-haired little girl”. This little (6 ft) beauty is one tough cookie. She’s a fast grower and flaunts colorful red leaves spring through fall.

Miscellaneous Varieties-

  • Pseudosieboldianum– This pseudo-Japanese maple is actually a Korean maple.  It is very similar to the Japanese maple but hardier. It can grow in zone 3 and can get very large (20-30 feet). They have beautiful green leaves that turn orange-red in the fall.

  • Griseum– A Chinese maple, this ornamental tree is often referred to as a “paperbark” because of its thin, peeling, bark. It is quite hardy and will grow anywhere a sugar maple will. The leaves are blue-green and turn orange in the fall. It is slow growing- topping out at 15-20 feet.

19 thoughts on “Growing Japanese Maples in Zone 4 or Lower

  1. Peggy Primm on said:

    Obviously I am a very newbie, so I lack knowledge and resources. I managed to buy one Japanese Maple-supposed to be 2-3 years old. I planted it in the area where I plan to grow rooted seedlings. At the time I thought I would buy a small hoop structure and cover the corel bells and JM for the Iowa winter. My question is why not cover the JM with rose cones ? If no one picks them up to peek, will those work ?

    • Josh on said:

      I have used rose cones on the smaller trees to protect them from our harsh Michigan winter, and there is the added benefit of providing a barrier around the tree to prevent little bunnies and mice from chomping away at the tender bark that exists on young trees. I think this was a great way to help get the trees aclimated to my yard for their first few winters there until they outgrew the cones at which time I felt the little trees had grown strong enough to brave the winter en plein air, lol, although I admit there were times when I felt the need to wrap them in burlap…periodically though. I hope this helps.

      • Laura on said:

        I used the ‘cones’ on my little JM’s their first year here. In the spring I went out and one by one lifted the cones. Each time I picked one up I was devastated, to my horror all of the bark on every last one, 12 in all, was gone. could not believe my eyes! Every single one would die. It seems the Voles had a little party… protected from the cold, inside a nice warm ‘house’ with all the food they could eat. Hundreds of dollars wasted on a lesson well learned. The cones are gone now! BE CAREFUL …

        • Mike on said:

          Laura,

          I had field mice do the same thing with hundreds of Japanese maples covered under white plastic for the winter. When covering you always have to use mouse bait.

  2. rajesh moothayil on said:

    like to know more about the commercila uses of MAple trees, like to have a commercial grower of all breeds

  3. Baronet Kevin James Parr on said:

    Thank you for your kind reply on my life story. Now I brought a Bloodgood ,maple sapling of four year pot grown. For two more years here in Europe it did well. The next winter was Siberian type and for three weeks it fell to 38 Cel below. The ground froze to a meter down and no amount of cover helped to keep the tree alive.Because England is warm and on the Maritime flow it could be that my tree failed here. I am willing to try again and will take your advice on hardiness. Thank you.

  4. ELENA BRESCIANI on said:

    I LIVE IN URUGUAY SOUTH AMERICA AND WE HAVE COLD WINTERS BUT NOT SO COLD–IT NEVER SNOWS—

    I HAVE AN ACER PALMATUM AND ITS GROWING VERY NICELY—-

    IN SUMMER WE HAVE 30o —37o degrees centigrades and a lot of sun—and my acer tree has no problem with the sun—

    SALUDOS

  5. Lisa on said:

    I live in zone 4 (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), and have had excellent luck with Korean maples. What I would like to know is, which of the Japanese maples listed above is THE MOST hardy. I simply don’t have the space and budget to try them all.

    Thanks.

    • Mike on said:

      Lisa,

      I would say Tamukeyama.

  6. KRIZSAN TREE SERVICE INC. on said:

    A customer wants us to transplant a Japanese Maple from the ground into a large container, the tree is about 8 foot tall and has a 4 inch trunk near ground. They think it is about 20 yrs. old. We have different size tree spades and could do. What size container and what size root ball? They bought a 25 gal. tough rubber one. The tree has a double trunk close to ground. We live in southern Wisconsin. What are the chances of survival? Does it need to be put in unheated shed for winter?

    • Mike on said:

      The rule of thumb is 12″ of root ball for every 1″ of tree caliper measured 6″ from the ground. Would it survive? Probably, if moved after Thanksgiving. Before then? I’d give it less than a 10% chance of survival. For the winter in a container it is likely much better outside where the humidity is higher than in any kind of an enclosed structure. This tree has never been root pruned so that too is going to make this move more risky to the tree.

  7. Johann Brown on said:

    Hello, just wondering, for ones in a pot being stored for the winter, how cold do they have to get? We don’t have a garage, but we do have a space in the basement under the stairs.

    • Mike on said:

      Johann,

      It really needs to be outside so it can go dormant. Place in a protected area and mulch around the container.

  8. Leslie on said:

    I have an osakazuki maple planted about 9 ft from my back wall and about 11 ft from a baby hogyuko. I am told they will not get big enough in my climate to make crowding a problem, but I was wondering about your thoughts on their final height and width in zone 5a. They are in a protected east side location with excellent drainage.

    • Mike on said:

      Leslie,

      They can always be pruned to maintain a certain size and they can always be move at the right time of the year. I recently planted about 10 Japanese maples in a pretty small bed.

  9. Su Piercy on said:

    Hi. Although I live in zone 5 (Colorado), I would like to grow a Japanese Maple in a container, which means that I need a maple for zone 3. Can you please recommend one? I would prefer a dwarf or semi-dwarf, 10-12 ft or under.

    Thanks!

    • Mike on said:

      Sue,

      I honestly don’t think I can make a recommendation for a number of reasons. 1. Any Japanese maple that would survive in zone 3 is probably not a variety that I would want to show case. I might be wrong about that, but that’s just my thinking. 2. Many Japanese maples that are rated for zone 5 can and will suffer damage if we get a really harsh winter. If I were you I’d pick a variety that I really like, put it in the container, enjoy it and take your chances. In all honesty even here in zone 5 we take our chances with Japanese maples. It’s a risk I am willing to take. I plant dozens and dozens of them, that way if I lose one or more I still have nice ones.

      Life is too short to not have one because it could die. If you really want to protect it cover with white plastic for the winter. More about that here; http://mikesbackyardnursery.com/2013/11/over-wintering-protecting-plants-for-the-winter/

  10. John angline on said:

    Need to protect from rabbits or mice?

    • Mike on said:

      John,

      Only if you happen to cover them with white plastic, for sure you mouse bait. But they should be fine uncovered. Rabbits? They are not tasty but I have had rabbits bite them off.

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