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.

2 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 ?

  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

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