Japanese Maple Bonsai Plant Care

Do you want to take up the art of Bonsai? Then there is one tree that can help with your cultivation efforts, the Japanese maple bonsai tree.

It is easy to work with, but it is also a dazzling tree species with brilliant colored foliage and grows compact quickly.

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

About the Japanese Maple Bonsai

Japanese red maple bonsai

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

The foliage is stunning, and while it is an excellent tree for Bonsai, it looks lovely growing 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 various colors, from orange, purple, red, and green, to variegated.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Care

japanese maple bonsai

Japanese maples are straightforward to care for and great 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, while it has all its 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

The first thing to notice is its shallow root system which works well in shallow bowls for Bonsai art. The tree needs re-potting every two to three years, while your older specimens are up to five years.

Drainage at the bottom of your bonsai tree is essential, and adding a pebble layer prevents root rot. So, it is crucial to have moist, well-drained soil like Akadama, specially 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 acidic soil. Re-potting of your tree is also best done in early spring.

When re-potting, you can cut the back root ball moderately simultaneously.

Japanese Maple Bonsai Sunlight Needs

japanese maple bonsai lighting needs

Japanese maple bonsai is an outdoor plant, just like their natural habitat. Growing these ornamental shrubs in the garden needs partial shade from the midday heat. This helps protect the leaves, especially in the Japanese red maple bonsai variety. The green leaf variety can handle a bit more sun.

But as with most variegated plants the red-leaved varieties standing in too much shade reverts to green. As with finding the proper lighting protecting them from excessive wind is also a must. Inside the home, they need dappled sun most part 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. For a healthy tree, it is best to water them with alkaline and lime-free water.

So, whether grown indoors or outside, the soil needs to be kept moist but not soggy. That is why your bonsai pot needs good drainage for the excess water to run freely. You may also find that some bonsai trees can tolerate drought a bit more but not the Japanese maple trees.

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 leaf fall to keep it protected. When your tree is in leaf brought from outside, keep it inside for a few days. 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. You can feed your Japanese maple bonsai with organic fertilizer in spring and summer. Or you can use a liquid fertilizer.

You can use a nitrogen-free fertilizer in the fall and cut back on regular feeding. When re-potting your Japanese maple bonsai, do not fertilize it for a few weeks as it has a delicate root system 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

Still, it is best done in fall for heavy pruning to prevent bleeding that usually takes place in spring or early summer.

Cut the new growth back to either one or two leaves and keep the twigs thin. On the other hand, you can remove the oft shoots and tips. These you find growing between pairs of leaves.

In early summer, you can remove some leaves to encourage growth for smaller ones. Only remove the leaves leaving the leaf stems intact.

Propagating Japanese Maple Bonsai Plants

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

Japanese Maple Bonsai Varieties

When it comes to the 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

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



The 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 keep an eye on are aphids, and you can remove them by hand or use an insecticide.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Japanese maple has shallow roots and works well in bonsai pots to grow indoors. While the tree has delicate leaves and roots, the branches are flexible for Bonsai training.

The best way to turn your Japanese maple into a bonsai is by cutting back the new growth. Then you shape the canopy to help encourage smaller yet denser growth at the lower level. It would help if you kept it in a shallow container, and you also need to do root trimming to keep it small.

The Japanese maple makes for an excellent bonsai as it has flexible branches you can easily wire into the desired shape.

The Japanese maple you can find available as young trees at most online nurseries. But if you are in a hurry, you can find it here at Plantly

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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