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Red foliage of the weeping Laceleaf Japanese Maple tree (Acer palmatum) in garden

In this week’s article I’d like to tell you the story of how Weeping Maples come about. Now Japanese Maples tend to be a little bit expensive. They’re often a main feature tree in a garden. So what happens is someone grows a normal green leaf Japanese Maple for perhaps 5 years from a seed. Now after it’s reached about 1.5 metres tall and it’s forked, the grower then grafts a new head on each fork so it’s now a double-headed Weeping Maple. Then they would grow it for another 2 years in the field to get some more size on it. Finally, they would grow it for one more year in a pot. So you end up with an 8-year-old Weeping Maple.

Double grafted maple.Now the beauty of this process is that with two heads is you get more width. The Maple really spreads out wide as each head grows away from the other. You also get a crisscrossing of branches, which makes the head extra thick. This is one of the things that people really love about Weeping Maples is the height.

But you can grow them much lower. So if the grower chooses to do the grafting on the fork of the tree when it’s only 2 or 3 years old and they graft it low, then it will tend to stay low. So it might only reach around 1 metre tall.

The other Weeping Maple that wasn’t grafted till it was 5 years old and already over 1.5 metres tall, then that will probably grow to around 3 metres tall over about 8-10 years. So if you had a big garden space or a really big pot or a courtyard and you wanted a nice big tree, maybe something you could sit under, then a tall, high grafted Weeping Maple has much more value.

You can also get single-headed Weeping Maples and these can be high graft or low graft, so again, that will decide how tall they grow.

A modern garden featuring a Japanese tree with brilliant red leaves.

A modern tree in a garden with modern garden styles.One species of Weeping Maple which differs a lot from the others is the Inaba Shidare. It seems to be able to take a lot more heat and sun. It doesn’t shrivel up or burn up in the sun, so you can put it in a hot sunny spot, or you can even put it in a windy spot and it grows quickly.

The Inaba Shidare has also revolutionised Weeping Maple growing in another way and that is just how fast it grows. It can grow up to 80cm in just 12 months, whereas some of your other Weeping Maples might only grow around 10 or 15 cm in the same time.

With all that fast growth it can develop a really lovely big head that can be well over a metre in width and it will do that very quickly with a lot of strength. So they can end up being quite a monstrous beautiful Maple.

Maples can sometimes be a bit hard to get around this time in December but I managed to get a really good deal on around 500 of them in various sizes. So right now you can normally get an Inaba Shidara in a 10 inch pot for just $99, which is a good, cheap starting price on a Weeping Maple. At that price you get one with a beautiful big head on it that will grow quite tall but you can even train it with a top branch on a stake to grow even taller.

Japanese Maples in the Hello Hello NurseryFrom there you can go up to a multi-headed one, that might have up to 4 heads on it making it nice and wide and that is a real work of art. Normally it would be priced at around $1,500.

30% off weeping maples for modern gardens.But I’ve decided that from right now through to the 31st of January 2024, because I got a good deal on all these 500 Weeping Maples, that I’m going to mark them all down by 30%. Yes that’s 30% off the normal price. So the $100 priced one I just mentioned will go for just $70 and the $1500 price one, will drop to just over a thousand dollars. That makes between now and Christmas 2023, the best time to come and buy a Weeping Maple.

A man standing in front of an Acer 'Senkaki/Coral Bark' Japanese Maple 13" Pot.

The other thing to realise is that if you go to some other nurseries right now, you might get a choice of 3 or 4 Japanese Maples but here you have a choice from around 500 of them.

And I’ve discovered over the years that the choice of a Weeping Japanese Maple is very personal. I remember one time a chap rang me up and said, “Look, I want a Weeping Maple. I need it for a gift and I want it to look fabulous. I want the best Weeping Maple you’ve got at any price and I really want one that is really full and bushy.”
So I carefully went all through the nursery and I picked out a really full bushy one. He paid for it with a credit card over the phone and I shipped it on a van and sent it out to him. You know what happened? He rang me up and said, “That’s no bloody good. It’s too fat and bushy!!!”

Then he said, “I want something more slimmer and taller and kind of skinnier!” So what I thought was the best Weeping Maple in the place, he rejected.

Now with pots, it’s better to plant a shorter Weeping Maple and have it hanging down the side of the pot. But if you want it to be the centrepiece of a big garden, then you want a bit of height. So it’s a really good idea that if you’ve been after a nice red Weeping Maple, that you visit a nursery that’s got some choices in terms of price, size, shape. And with my Weeping Maples, there’s only four or five people who actually grow Weeping Maples in Victoria. And I can look at most Weeping Maples and tell you who grew it. I can tell you where it came from, just by looking at it. Now in my opinion, each Weeping Maple is really a work of art and different people do it in different ways with different ideas and they end up with a different looking plant at the end.

So when you come down here and take a look at all these 500 Weeping Maples that are 30% off, you’ll see they’re all in leaf. You can see the shape, you can see the colour, you can look at the trunk, and you can look at the height of it.

A man standing in front of a truck with a Acer 'Inaba Shidare' Japanese Maple 13" Pot.Now what do you do with your Weeping Japanese Maple when you get it? Well with the Inaba Shidare particularly, it will happily live in a pot pretty much forever. This is probably true of all Japanese Maples but more so of the Inaba Shidare. So if you had a balcony or you’ve got a courtyard or something like that, as long as you use the right size pot, and you water and fertilise it regularly and you look after it, basically it will do just fine. 

A man standing in front of an Acer 'Senkaki/Coral Bark' Japanese Maple 13" Pot.

Now they do need a bit of calcium every couple of years, a bit of limestone basically, to keep them happy in a pot. Now as a nurseryman, I can tell you that some trees scare me in a pot. I don’t even know today how to keep a Silver Birch looking good in a pot! And I know a lot about keeping plants looking good in pots! But a Japanese Maple, watered and fertilised properly, re-potted occasionally every few years, well it is basically easy to keep it looking good.

Japanese maple trees in pots in the Hello Hello nursery. Inaba Shidare Weeping MapleWe keep lots of Weeping Maples here and some of them have been in pots for years. And what we do is we take them up a size of pot each year, actually that’s what we’re doing right at the moment. We’re going through sorting them all and anything that needs to go up a size of pot is going up a size. Come next year they’ll be even bigger and fuller and nicer.

So basically with a Weeping Inaba Shidare Maple, if you do have a balcony or a courtyard, it is something that you can keep in a pot forever. And what it will do is it’ll become fuller, more majestic, more beautiful. You might give it a tiny trim occasionally, but basically what a lot of people do is to keep it in a pot forever.

To get really rich colour, you need to give your Weeping Maple at least half a day’s sun. The colour tends to be not quite as rich if they’re not out in the sun so just keep that in mind if it’s in a pot.

Japanese Weeping Maple in PotsNow if you want to plant a Japanese Maple in your garden that’s also totally OK, they look lovely. When I plant one of them in the garden, I’ll tend to dig a large hole. I’ll mix in lots of potting mix and make it really good for the plant. Now with trees, a lot of people worry about roots on trees wrecking their foundations and things like that. But the great thing about a Japanese Maple is that they don’t have a particularly big or aggressive root system. So what happens is that if you just dig a hole in hard clay, the roots will not be able to really spread out beyond the size of the hole you dig.

So what I encourage my customers to do is dig massive holes, way larger than the root system, mix in a lot of potting mix so the roots can push out easily and spread out easily. Remember to plant them up nice and high with plenty of loose soil underneath them.

You can grow a Weeping Japanese Maple pretty much anywhere in Melbourne and have them looking absolutely beautiful as long as you put some effort into that hole. You have to do this because a lot of Melbourne has hard clay or hard rock, and you’ve really got to break it up and have lots of nice loose soil around their roots for them to move through.

In terms of using a Japanese Maple in different styles of gardens well you can really use them in any style. They can look very dramatic in a modern style garden. When I plant them in a modern style garden, I’ll tend to be minimalistic with what I plant around them. I did a garden design yesterday and all we did was put pebbles around the Japanese Maple and then some Black Mondo Grass and then some Lime Lava. I know it will look fabulous with its foliage contrasting with the black of the grass and the bright green of the Lime Lava.

They also work well in a very sort of traditional contemporary style garden. There you just put them in with shrubs like Azaleas and Camellias, they make that beautiful sort of classic older style garden.

Japanese GardenOf course they are perfect for a Japanese style garden. And often when I use them in a Japanese style garden, I’ll plant them in conjunction with say a Dwarf Black Pine, like a Yatsubusa Pine or something like that. And I’ll plant it with plants that can be clipped into a nice round shape. One of my favourites is to use a Kaleidoscope Abelia which has a beautiful golden sort of foliage. You can clip that into a nice ball and have that as a lovely contrast with your nice, dark red Weeping Maple. You can also use a lot of native Australian grasses in your Japanese Garden or something like a Little Jess Dianella for the grassy effect you want.

Some people ask how much wind a Japanese Maple will take and I say well they can cope with a fair bit of wind, but if you’re somewhere really flat and open with really strong winds, like Philip Island or somewhere like that, you would have to shelter them from the wind a bit. But I’ve seen them do quite well in a lot of windy places.

Now I must say that Weeping Maples are a lot tougher than many people think. I remember I was doing a delivery in Shepparton one evening and I came to this front garden where this person had the most magnificent collection of about 30 Weeping Maples there. Magnificent. Every sort of Weeping Maple all planted properly, but it was open and it was exposed to full hot sun and they looked absolutely fabulous. So planted properly, even in a hot spot that was relatively windy, and quite open and barren, this amazing collection of Weeping Maples that had been planted correctly and looked after correctly were thriving. So I think Weeping Maples treated properly are much tougher and more versatile than people think.

Digging big hole for treeI think the reason a lot of people think that Japanese Maples don’t do well in full sun, is because they’ve planted them in a very tiny hole that is too small for their roots. And so the roots never spread out and find sources of water. You get your 42 degree day in Melbourne and the plant shrivels up and dies and people say the heat killed it. But what really killed it was the tiny little hole in the clay you planted it in. That’s why, as I said earlier, you’ve got to have a nice big hole with lots of loose soil. The Maple can then spread its roots out among the soil and potting mix, while the clay holds the water at the bottom of the hole and the roots will spread out and down and take up all that moisture when it needs it on a hot day. We have literally tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of Maples in this nursery and we are not worried if it goes over 40 degrees or something, as long as they’ve got moisture, they’re fine.

Next let’s talk about the colour. I find it really interesting that if we don’t have enough red Weeping Maples in store, then even though most people are looking for the green ones, the store doesn’t do as well if we don’t have some red ones scattered throughout. I think it might be something subconscious about seeing the visual excitement of the red scattered amongst all the green that makes people interested in them. And they might plant a red Japanese Maple in their garden and still not realise that’s what’s uplifting to them when they look at their garden.

Japanese,Red,Maple,Tree,In,The,Late,Evening.What I find interesting is that if you Google Inaba Shidare Weeping Maples you’ll see Maples that are all almost blacky purple, and then you’ll see them right through to a brilliant scarlet red. Now what happens with your Inaba Shidare is that basically there’s a journey that they go through. That journey starts off with deep, deep, blacky purple as they emerge in spring, and then they sort of go into more and more of a red zone and then they go through purpley reds and then they go to brownie reds and then just before they drop at the end of the season, you have brilliant scarlet. So if you Google then, what you’ll be amazed by is how many different colours you see and that’s because they have all been photographed at different times of the year. And there’s like a colour journey that you’ll go through when you search for them online. Now the one colour you might NOT see is actually green!

Green Japanese Maple LeafTo make sure you get the full spectrum of colour throughout the year with your Japanese Maple, make sure you water them well because if you don’t, when it comes to autumn, instead of giving this brilliant scarlet red, they’ll just go brown. It’s like the plant is punishing you for not watering it properly!

In Closing

30% off weeping maples for modern gardens.So there you have it. The full story on Weeping Japanese Maples.

Remember right now until the 31st of January 2024, we have 30% off on all of our 500 or so Weeping Maple (Inaba Shidare) and so you can get a $100 one for just $70 and a $1500 one for just over a thousand. They make great gifts for your mum or daughter-in-law or whoever. Grow ‘em in a pot, grow ‘em in the garden, hey why not give one to yourself? It will give you years of pleasure.

Feeling inspired to create your own garden, but want some expert advice? Try our one-on-one garden design service with Chris. Together you’ll come up with a selection of plants along with a layout plan that gives you the look you want, as well as being suitable for your local soil and conditions.

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