" " Timing is Everything: Best Time to Plant Your Japanese Maple! – BesideTheFrontDoor.com

Timing is Everything: Best Time to Plant Your Japanese Maple!

For most gardeners, the best time of year to plant Japanese Maples is in early fall, right after the heat from summer has left, and it has begun to cool down in the evening.  In cold climates- this gives enough time for the Japanese Maple to root in before the ground freezes,  In hot climates- fall is after the dangerous heat has passed, allowing for roots to grow to full potential before next summer’s heat.

Japanese maples have rightly become a very popular choice in our landscapes.  They have spring, summer and fall color, and winter interest.  I have been developing a huge obsession with them over the past ( aah hem) several decades.  

During my time gardening, landscaping and working with clients, I recommend Japanese maples again and again.  There is never a boring  Japanese maple, and they have so much to offer!  Let’s talk about the very best time to plant these trees for success!

Japanese Maples can be a small upright shade giving tree, dwarf cascading trees to mimic waterfalls, tall slender sentinels or short wide tabletops.  All in colors of greesn to reds, oranges, purples, and even variegations of white or pink.  

Tiny little pixie leaves; wide, flat, rounded center leaves; long and linier, or cupped.  All of these are Japanese maples.  You could collect them for years and never grow them all..

Despite all of the differences, all  Japanese maples have the same best time to plant:

 Warm climates, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-8 – Fall

Cold Climates, USDA hardiness zones 4-6 – Spring

Planting at the right time sets your tree up for success.  You want your new tree to immediately begin to grow new roots, without these, your tree will suffer.  

The single cell wide micro-roots are the ones that do all of the work of drinking the water and up taking the nutrients for growth.  These are the very roots that are damaged in the process of planting (as careful as you are, they will be damaged). 


Trees are not by nature designed to be moved, however, they ARE designed for survival.  To recover from deer browsing, from land shifts, from heavy animals disturbing the ground, and the smallest of creatures digging tunnels right where those roots are growing.  And recover they do!

Warm climates, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-8:

Early fall is when the air and soil starts to cool, and the dormancy that high heat brought on, falls away.  Japanese maples are pre-set by nature already to start growth of those roots that have become damaged and leap forward into another root growth season while conditions are favorable.  Cooler temperatures, and ample moisture.

The cooler air allows the tree more forgiveness from leaves transpiration of the water from those roots.  Water is not so quickly evaporated from the soil- again, allowing for that crucial root growth.

Planting and transplanting success comes down to the roots.

Cold Climates, USDA hardiness zones 4-6:

For pushing the winter hardiness into upper cold climate zones, spring will actually edge out as better for planting than the fall.  This gives the Japanese maple the entire growth season to establish before the harsh freezing winter.  

If the tree is dormant, without leaf buds cracking yet, plant in spring as soon as the soil can be worked.  If the buds are showing signs of cracking (buds swelling and bud scales shifting, you will see white or green outlining the bud scales), protect from frost.  

If the leaves are open, and you are not yet past your last frost date- plant in a pot, grow in a partly/ mostly shaded area, and bring inside whenever the temperatures dip below 40 deg F.  Proceed to plant in the ground after all chance of frost has passed.

Planting Basics:

  1. Dig the hole no deeper than the root ball, but at least a few inched wider than the root ball.
  2. Make a mound on the bottom of the hole so the top of the root ball will sit about an inch above the hole.
  3. Re-fill soil around the root ball.
  4. Build a moat with extra soil to hold irrigation water to soak in rather than run off, approximately 2X the diameter of the root ball.
  5. Soak the newly planted tree by filling that moat 3X.
  6. Mulch, not touching the trunk, a few inches deep.
  7. Check 3X a week if the soil is dry a full 2 knuckles deep down, if dry- soak.
  8. As the season progresses- you will find you do not need to irrigate 3X a week, or even 2X a week, do check 2X a week for the entirety of the first season.  Especially when windy , dry or hot.
  9. Do NOT expose to grass fertilizer- it is too high in nitrogen, will push leafy growth faster than the roots will be able to support in dry, windy or hot times.  You will be just fine if you only add fertilizer if the trees shows signs of a deficiency.  Fertilizers will be better used in following seasons, unless your soil is poor.

Click image below for details on watering new plants

How Much water New Plants


Hot climates- plant in the fall.

Cold climates- plant in the spring.

Moderate climates- plant either time.

Please share your best tips for newly planted Japanese maple success below!  Each and every location has a different set of challenges and advantages, hardiness zones do NOT tell the whole story : )





Toni has a bachelor degree in Plant & Soil Science, has lived, gardened and growing all over the US, in Vermont, Tennessee, Idaho, coastal North Carolina and Virginia. She has been sharing her knowledge through writing, one on one consulting and talking to anyone who wants to listen at social gatherings everywhere : )

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