How To Grow A Japanese Maple In A Pot: The Complete Guide

How To Grow Japanese Maples In Pots: The Complete Guide

Japanese maples trees are uniquely suited to grow in a container. These trees have shallow root structures and grow relatively slowly, making them ideal for growing in a confined space. There are some important factors to consider when growing Japanese maples in pots.

In this article, you’ll learn about choosing the proper container and soil, how to care for your Japanese maple, and tips for success.

(Featured Image: Japanese Maples by B. Buchinger)

This post contains affiliate links to our trusted tree retailers, as well as some of our favorite products for Japanese maples. We may earn a small commission if purchases are made through those links, thank you for your support!

Selecting The Best Pot For Japanese Maples

The best pot for Japanese maples should provide adequate space for the tree’s shallow root system, have good drainage, and be sturdy enough to support the tree. These are the top things we look for when selecting a pot for Japanese maples:

  1. Size: Opt for a pot that is at least 2-3 times larger than the tree’s root ball. Japanese maples have shallow roots, so a wider pot is better than a deep one. This allows the roots to spread out comfortably.
  2. Material: Choose a pot made of durable material like ceramic, terracotta, fiberglass, or high-quality plastic. Since we are located in Michigan, we also want a material that can handle frost and freezing temperatures during the winter.
  3. Drainage Holes: Ensure the pot has ample drainage holes at the bottom. Proper drainage is crucial to prevent waterlogged soil, which can lead to root rot.
  4. Shape: A wider, shallow pot is preferable for Japanese maples. This accommodates their spreading root system. Avoid pots that are too deep, as they can lead to water sitting at the bottom.
  5. Weight: If you plan to move your pot depending on the season, you will want to consider the weight. Select a pot that is sturdy enough to keep your tree upright, but light enough that you can move it if you need to.
  6. Insulation: Consider using a pot with insulating properties, especially if you live in an area with harsh winters like we do. This can help protect the roots from freezing temperatures.
  7. Saucer or Tray: Having a saucer or tray beneath the pot can catch excess water and prevent it from damaging surfaces. It also allows the tree to absorb any excess moisture if it’s needed.

High Quality Soil For Potted Japanese Maples

Soil is very important when it comes to growing Japanese maples in pots. Since space is limited, making sure your pot is filled with a high-quality soil blend that is made for Japanese maples is the key to success.

Use a well-draining, slightly acidic potting mix that is specifically designed for woody plants or trees. Adding some organic matter like peat moss or compost can improve soil structure. For a full guide on the type of soil that Japanese maples prefer, click here.

A mature Japanese maple tree towers over landscaping in ideal soil conditions. This variety of Japanese maple cannot be planted in a pot.

Mature Japanese Maple Canopy by L. Wells

Container Friendly Japanese Maple Varieties

  • Size: Bloodgood is a medium-sized Japanese maple, typically reaching a height of 6-15 feet with a similar spread.
  • Characteristics: This cultivar is prized for its deep red to burgundy foliage, which remains vibrant throughout the growing season. The leaves are palmate, and their color intensifies in the fall. Bloodgood has an upright growth habit and a classic, elegant appearance. It’s a favorite for its stunning color and versatility in various garden settings.
  • Click here to view more photos and purchasing options for Bloodgood Japanese Maples.
A compact growing potted Japanese maple against the bright blue sky on a Michigan fall day.
  • Size: ‘Sango Kaku’ is a medium-sized Japanese maple, typically growing to a height of 15 to 20 feet.
  • Characteristics: This cultivar is famous for its striking coral-red bark, which is particularly vibrant in winter. In the spring and summer, it features green leaves that turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. ‘Sango Kaku’ has an elegant, upright growth habit and makes a lovely focal point in the garden, especially during the colder months when its bark is most prominent.
  • To view more photos and purchasing options for coral bark Japanese maples, click here!
The orange leaves of a coral bark japanese maple grown in a patio container.
  • Size: Red Dragon is a compact, slow-growing Japanese maple, typically reaching a height of 6 to 8 feet.
  • Characteristics: This cultivar is renowned for its deeply dissected, crimson-red foliage. The leaves maintain their rich red color throughout the growing season, making it a standout in any garden. In the fall, the leaves may turn shades of scarlet and orange. Red Dragon has a cascading growth habit, making it an excellent choice for containers, where its graceful branches can spill over the edges.
  • Click here to view more photos and purchasing options for Red Dragon Japanese Maples.
The pointy leaves of a Red Dragon Japanese Maple tree are bright red against a dark background.
  • Size: Waterfall is a dwarf Japanese maple, typically staying under 6 feet in height.
  • Characteristics: Waterfall is a stunning weeping or cascading cultivar with finely dissected, lace-like green foliage. Its elegant, pendulous branches create a waterfall-like effect. In the fall, the leaves often turn to vibrant shades of yellow, orange, or red, adding a pop of color to your garden or container display. Its small size and unique form make it an excellent choice for smaller spaces or containers.
  • To view more photos and purchasing options for Waterfall Japanese Maples, click here!
The Tamukeyama Japanese maple is defined by its deep burgundy leaves and dwarf, rounded shape.
  • Size: Crimson Queen is a dwarf Japanese maple, typically reaching a height of 6 feet or less.
  • Characteristics: This cultivar is prized for its finely dissected, lacy, deep red foliage, which maintains its color throughout the growing season. In the autumn, the leaves often intensify to a brilliant scarlet. Crimson Queen has a cascading and mounding growth habit, creating a picturesque, weeping appearance. It’s an excellent choice for containers, rock gardens, or as a focal point in smaller spaces.
  • Click here to view purchasing options and more photos of Crimson Queen Japanese Maples..
A bright Red Dragon Japanese maple against the deep green of Michigan's forest.

Find A Suitable Location

Potted Japanese maples will perform best in a sunny location with some air flow, but out of direct wind. Typically Japanese maples are an understory tree, which means they prefer dappled or indirect sunlight.

Try to mimic this environment by placing your potted Japanese maple under a shade sail or in the dappled shade of a neighboring tree.

Fertilize Potted Japanese Maples

Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer with a diluted solution or dosage during the growing season (spring through early autumn). Reduce or stop fertilization during the winter months, with the final application of fertilizer in the fall.

We recommend using a granular fertilizer on any potted trees, as this type of fertilizer gradually breaks down into the soil. Our go-to brand is Espoma organics, who has a special holly-tone fertilizer that is ideal for acid-loving plants like Japanese maples.

Water Japanese Maples Consistently

Container plants will always dry out faster than those planted in the ground. Because of this, you will need to water your potted Japanese maple more frequently than you would water one in the ground. Daily watering is often needed to keep these plants happy and hydrated.

Keep Your Japanese Maple Pruned

Japanese maples should be pruned annually. Prune your tree in the fall after the leaves have died and it is fully dormant. Start by pruning back dead or damaged branches. Then move forward with pruning back limbs to help shape your tree. This will encourage fresh and healthy growth the following spring.

If you are creating a bonsai tree with your Japanese maple, consider investing in actual bonsai tools to help shape your tree. Specialized bonsai tools, like the ones included in this set by Vouiu can make cutting and shaping your tree easier while causing as little stress to the tree as possible.

Mulch Potted Japanese Maples

Mulch is very beneficial to any potted tree. Using an un-dyed mulch, such as plain cedar chips, can add more organic material back into your soil. Mulch also helps the soil retain moisture so it does not evaporate as quickly as it normally would.

Can You Move A Potted Japanese Maple Indoors?

Technically, yes, you can move your potted Japanese maple indoors. Japanese maples do not always thrive in indoor settings, and there are a few challenges you’ll need to consider before moving you plant inside:

  1. Limited Light: Providing adequate light for Japanese maples indoors can be difficult. They thrive in bright, indirect sunlight outdoors, but replicating these conditions indoors can be a challenge. Without sufficient light, the tree may become leggy, weak, and its foliage may lose its vibrant color.
  2. Temperature and Humidity: Japanese maples have specific temperature requirements, including a period of winter dormancy. Maintaining the right temperature range (cool to mild) indoors can be challenging, especially during the winter months. Additionally, indoor environments often have lower humidity levels than what these trees prefer.
  3. Pests and Diseases: Indoor plants can be more susceptible to pests and diseases due to the controlled environment. Aphids, spider mites, and scale insects are common pests that may infest indoor Japanese maples.
  4. Winter Dormancy: Japanese maples require a period of dormancy in colder temperatures to thrive. Replicating this dormancy period indoors can be a challenge, and failure to do so may lead to weakened growth and reduced vitality.
  5. Air Circulation: Indoor environments may lack the natural air circulation that outdoor settings provide. Stagnant air can create conditions favorable to pests and diseases.
  6. Watering Challenges: Maintaining proper soil moisture levels can be more challenging indoors. Overwatering or underwatering can lead to issues with the roots and overall health of the tree.
  7. Limited Growth Potential: Japanese maples grown indoors typically won’t reach the same size and stature as those grown outdoors. They may remain smaller and less robust.
  8. Transplant Stress: Transplanting a Japanese maple from an outdoor environment to an indoor pot can be stressful for the tree. It may take time for the tree to acclimate to its new environment.

With the right environment, Japanese maples can be grown indoors for many years.

Grow More Potted Trees

While caring for a potted tree may sound intimidating, it is actually a very simple process once the plant is successfully established in its pot. Potted trees can make a great addition to any patio or deck, and there are many varieties of trees that also thrive in indoor settings.

If you want to learn more about potted trees, check out these articles on some of our favorite trees to plant in containers:

Red orange leaves adorn a mature Japanese maple planted in a pot.

Japanese Maple In The Fall by J. Wiartenna