Japanese Maple Bonsai Care Guide

With the Japanese maple bonsai tree, you can quickly perfect the art of Bonsai. The Acer palmatum is easy to work with and a dazzling species with brilliant-colored foliage that grows compact.

The Japanese maple grows slowly with a spreading crown and layered branches with palm-shaped leaves. The limbs are flexible in shape, making your bonsai training easy.

About the Japanese Maple Bonsai

Japanese red maple bonsai

For the art form of Bonsai, the dwarf Japanese red maple bonsai is also known as Acer palmatum. Yes, and you guessed right, it is native to Japan. The species is part of the Aceraceae family, sharing the same characteristics as most maple species.

The foliage is stunning, and it is one of the best indoor bonsai trees and grows well in a garden. As a result, it has become a focal point in landscaping, and hundreds of varieties are available. In addition, you find them growing in different sizes.

Furthermore, you see the leaves in a green color changing to orange, purple, red, and green to variegated. Hence, the green leaves go through a seasonal change.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Care Guide, Plantly

Japanese Maple Bonsai Care

japanese maple bonsai

Japanese maples are straightforward to care for and excellent for Bonsai beginners to work with. You can train them with a moderate growth rate with pruning and wiring.

The best time to wire these bonsai trees is in summer when it has all their leaves. Neither should you leave the wires on for more than six months.

But as with wiring, you first need to know the primary care of your Japanese maple trees.

Soil Mix for Japanese Maple Bonsai Plant

Bonsai soil mix

These bonsai specimens have closely spaced leaves with fine branches and strong roots. With shallow and delicate roots, they work well in bonsai pots. Young trees only need repotting every two to three years, while mature trees need repotting every five years.

Drainage at the bottom of your Bonsai is essential, and adding raw material to lava rock helps the shallow root system not to rot. So, using a bonsai soil with stone will prevent root rot. We recommend well-draining soil like the Akadama made for bonsai trees.

You can sieve out the dust for permeability and use it to cover the surface. You can also increase the permeability by adding an expanded slate. The Japanese maple prefers slightly acidic soil. Repotting of your tree is also best done in early spring.

To achieve slightly acidic soil, you can amend it with sulfur or use organic matter like pine needles or compost. Another important note with repotting is to keep the root ball at the same level as in the previous pot.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Sunlight Needs

japanese maple bonsai lighting needs

Japanese maple bonsai is an outdoor plant, just like its natural habitat. Growing these ornamental shrubs in the garden needs light shade from the midday heat. This helps protect the delicate leaves, especially in the Japanese red maple bonsai variety.

The green leaf variety can handle more sun with partial shade to keep the young shoots vibrant. But as with most variegated plants, the red-leaved types in too much shade revert to green. Finding the proper lighting to protect them from excessive wind is also necessary.

Inside the home, they need dappled sun for most of the day, with bright sun in the morning and evening

Bonsai Trees Watering Needs

watering japanese maple bonsai

The Acer palmatum needs frequent watering, especially in hot climates and during the growing season. Yet, during winter, you can get away without watering often. It is best to water a healthy tree with alkaline and lime-free water.

So, whether grown indoors or outside, the soil must be moist but not soggy. Your bonsai pot needs good drainage for the excess water to run freely. You may also find that some bonsai trees can tolerate drought more than Japanese maple trees.

Nonetheless, it is best to keep these tree species evenly moist instead of dry.

Temperature & Humidity

When grown in the USDA hardiness zones 5-8, your Japanese maple performs well but can lose the fall brilliance for growing in zone 9. Nevertheless, it can survive in the garden with winter protection as it can tolerate short periods of frost but not too much.

As with most trees, they provide them overwintering after fall to keep them protected. When your tree starts losing its leaves, bringing them indoors for a few days is best. You can also keep them as an indoor plant for up to two hours during the dormant period.

Doing this will not confuse your tree to awaken early, thinking it is spring. When grown indoors, provide enough air circulation and keep it away from heated rooms.

Fertilizing Japanese Maples

organic liquid fertilizer

Your Bonsai needs a regular feed to help encourage new growth. In spring and summer, you can feed your Japanese maple bonsai with an organic fertilizer. Or you can use a liquid fertilizer.

In the fall, you can use a nitrogen-free fertilizer and cut back on regular feeding. When repotting your Japanese maple bonsai, do not fertilize it for a few weeks, as it has delicate roots and can go into shock.

Pruning Maple Bonsai

Whether you have a Japanese red maple bonsai or any other variety, it needs pruning regularly. Of course, you can prune your tree year-round by trimming back the shoots and twigs.

pruning bonsai

Steps to Prune Your Japanese Maple Bonsai:

  1. Pruning should ideally be done in early spring before new growth begins in early summer or in late autumn when the tree is dormant. Avoid pruning during the hot summer months.

  2. Start by examining your bonsai tree and identifying the branches that need pruning. Look for dead or diseased branches and those that disrupt the tree’s overall shape.

  3. Carefully cut away dead or diseased branches using sharp pruning shears or scissors. Make clean cuts close to the trunk or the main branch. This helps improve the tree’s overall health and keeps the leaf stems intact.

  4. To maintain the desired shape of your Japanese Red Maple bonsai, prune the outer branches. Keep in mind the classic umbrella shape that’s often associated with these bonsai trees. Trim branches that extend beyond the desired silhouette. You can also train your tree from young to grow a twin trunk.

  5. As your tree grows with an informal upright shape, you have branches crossing or overcrowding each other; remove the weaker ones to allow better airflow and sunlight penetration. This promotes even growth and prevents fungal diseases.

  6. To manage the height of your Bonsai, you need to do heavy pruning to the upper branches compared to the lower ones. This helps maintain a balanced appearance.

  7. Throughout the growing season, regularly pinch back the tips of new shoots. This encourages the development of smaller leaves and ramification, creating a more refined appearance.

  8. If you want to reshape or position branches, you can use bonsai wire. Wrap the wire gently around the stem, careful not to damage the bark. Shape the branch as desired, and remove the wire after a few months to prevent it from cutting into the branch.

  9. To prune your Bonsai is an ongoing process. Regularly observe your tree’s growth, adjust the wiring if necessary, and continue trimming and shaping to maintain the desired form.

  10. After you prune your plant or any other bonsai, ensure your Bonsai receives proper care. Fertilize it according to the specific needs of Japanese Red Maple bonsai and maintain consistent watering to keep it healthy.

Propagating Japanese Maple Bonsai Plants

Acer palmatum, you can propagate using cuttings or seeds. But using the seeds takes a very long. Another helpful technique is taking a branch for air layering. But most Japanese maple bonsai are grafted, and your results may not be what you seek.

Propagation by Seeds:

  • Gather seeds from a mature Japanese Maple when they naturally fall from the tree. The seeds are often found in small, winged capsules.

  • Remove the seeds from their capsules and rinse them in water to remove any residue.

  • Japanese Maple seeds require a period of cold stratification to break dormancy. Place the seeds in a plastic bag with damp sand or peat moss, seal the bag, and refrigerate it for 90-120 days.

  • After stratification, plant the seeds in seed trays or pots filled with a well-draining potting mix. Cover them lightly with soil and water thoroughly.

  • Keep the soil consistently moist and maintain a temperature of around 70°F (21°C). Germination may take several weeks to a few months.

  • Once the seedlings have developed several sets of leaves and are large enough to handle, transplant them into individual pots or directly into the garden.

Propagation by Cuttings:

  1. Take semi-hardwood cuttings in late spring or early summer. Choose healthy branches that are neither too young nor too old.

  2. Cut the branch into 4-6 inch (10-15 cm) sections, ensuring each cutting has at least one leaf node. Remove any leaves from the lower half of the cutting.

  3. Dip the cut end of each cutting into a rooting hormone to encourage root development.

  4. Plant the cuttings in a well-draining potting mix or a propagation tray. Make sure to keep the soil consistently moist.

  5. Place the cuttings in a location with bright, indirect light and maintain high humidity. You can cover them with a plastic bag or dome to create a mini greenhouse effect.

  6. After several weeks to a few months, when the cuttings have developed roots and are growing well, transplant them into larger pots or directly into the garden.

Propagation by Air Layering:

  • Choose a healthy, low-hanging branch that you want to propagate.

  • Make a shallow, upward cut into the branch and remove a thin strip of bark, about 1-2 inches long.

  • Dust the exposed wound with rooting hormone.

  • Cover the wounded area with damp sphagnum moss and wrap it with plastic or a plastic bag to create a sealed environment.

  • Over several months, roots will form within the moss. You can check the progress by gently opening the wrapping.

  • Once strong roots develop, cut the branch below the rooted area and transplant it into a pot or garden.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Varieties

When it comes to Japanese maple, you can find different varieties available to grow indoors and in your garden.

Acer palmatum dissectum

Acer palmatum dissectum

The Crimson Queen works well as a bonsai specimen as it grows small. The petite display with weeping habit looks excellent in the home. The tree has red leaves in summer and matures to a crimson tint. In contrast, the fall color is red, bronze, and purple, to red.

Red Dragon

Red Dragon Japanese Maple Tree Care | Plantly

The red dragon is another striking Japanese maple that grows upright with a pendulous growth habit. It has reddish-purple foliage. The leaves transform to crimson hues in fall. 



Japanese maples are another small cultivar that grows well in containers. It has lacy leaves with a green tint in summer and golden in fall. The foliage grows into a mound shape with a cascading habit.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Diseases & Pests

The Japanese maple is more prone to fungal infections than pests. A common fungal disease is verticillium wilt. Unfortunately, the disease enters through wounds and can result in your tree’s death.

The best is not to prune your tree when it has intense growth in the dead of summer. When pruning, it helps to use a cut paste on the wounds to prevent fungal growth.

Insects to watch are aphids; you can remove them by hand or use an insecticide.

Frequently Asked Questions

This can result from too much nitrogen, making the foliage darker and the leaves larger. Nonetheless, this can be detrimental to the tree’s overall health, as excess nitrogen can lead to weaker branches and a susceptibility to disease. Monitoring the amount of fertilizer and nutrients provided to the tree is essential to ensure it remains healthy and thriving.

Based on my research, the recommended bonsai soil for Japanese maple is a mixture of Akadama, pumice, and lava rock. This soil mix provides good drainage, aeration, and nutrient retention for the tree

Keeping the twigs thin on a Japanese maple is essential for maintaining the overall aesthetic of the Bonsai. Thin twigs are more delicate and give off a more refined appearance, desired in the art of Bonsai. Additionally, thin twigs allow more light and air to reach the tree’s interior, promoting healthy growth and development.

If a Japanese maple is exposed to too much sun, it can become stressed and may experience leaf scorch or even die off. It is essential to ensure the tree is in a location with partial shade and is not exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods. Adequate watering and soil moisture levels should also be maintained to help the tree cope with the stress of excess sun exposure.

Training a Japanese Maple bonsai can take several or even decades to achieve the preferred shape and maturity. It’s a patient and ongoing process that involves careful trimming and shaping over time.

apanese Maple bonsai are generally hardy and can tolerate cold weather, but extreme cold can damage them. If you live in a region with harsh winters, provide protection, such as wrapping the pot in insulating material or storing it in a sheltered location.

Whether you want to buy, sell, or simply reach out to other plant enthusiasts, Plantly is the right place to be!

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