How To Keep Japanese Maple Trees Small

Keeping Japanese maple trees small is essential when you have limited garden space.

In this article I’ll show you how to choose the right maple tree for a small garden as well as how to prune and care for Japanese maples to keep them small and compact.

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small japanese maple tree

Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum) are beautiful trees with spectacular colorful leaves in fall.

They grow well in full sun or partial shade but the leaves tend to be brighter in color when they receive full sun.

Japanese Maples are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8 but in warm areas young trees will do best in a spot with some afternoon shade to avoid leaf scorch.

They need a period of cool winter temperatures to stimulate the buds to grow so they’re not suited to tropical or subtropical areas.

Dwarf maple varieties

Dwarf Japanese maples are slow-growing compact trees that are ideal for containers, shrub borders and even bonsai.

Most dwarf Japanese maples grow to around 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 metres) tall so they’re perfect for small gardens.

Acer palmatum ‘Coonara Pygmy’ – grows to about 6.5 feet (2 metres) tall and has green foliage that turns orange and red in fall.

Acer cirinatum ‘Little Gem’ grows 3 feet (1 metre) tall to form a rounded shrub. The green foliage turns red and purple in fall.

Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’ is a small weeping Japanese maple that grows 6 to 9 feet (1.8 to 2.7 metres) tall, but spreads out 8 to 12 feet (2.4 to 3.6 metres) wide.

It has beautiful red leaves that turn a darker shade of red in the fall.

small red japanese maple

Growing Japanese maples trees in pots

Potted Japanese maples are ideal for patios, courtyards, decks and balconies.

Choose a large pot that is twice the size of the rootball and has plenty of drainage holes in the bottom.

Use a good quality potting mix that is easily draining.

Caring for potted Japanese maples is fairly easy, you just make sure the pot is situated in a spot that receives full or partial sun during the day.

I recommend getting a pot stand with wheels which will make it a lot easier to move it around to catch the sun.

Water regularly during spring and summer to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

Apply a liquid fertilizer in late spring and early summer to give your potted maple the nutrients it needs to thrive.

japanese maple tree in a container

Pruning maple trees

Japanese maple trees can grow 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm) per year, reaching 10 to 25 feet (3 to 7.6 metres) after 15 years but you can keep them to a smaller, manageable size with yearly pruning.

The best time to prune Japanese maples is during winter when the trees are dormant.

Remove any diseased branches and cut back the small branches from the lower part of the tree.

Trimming the top of the tree helps to limit the height of the tree and encourages new branches to grow at the sides of the tree to give it a fuller shape.

You may need to hire an arborist or tree surgeon if you have a large maple that needs heavy pruning to reduce its size.

Potted Japanese maples grow much more slowly than trees planted in the garden but they’ll also benefit from regular pruning to keep them to a small size. [1]

dwarf japanese maple trees

So there are my tips for keeping Japanese maple trees small and compact.

Small maple trees look stunning in fall with their beautiful colors and with the right care you can grow a small maple even if you have limited garden space.


Have you tried growing a Japanese maple tree in a small garden? Let me know in the comments below.

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keeping japanese maple trees small

Kelly Martin

Hi, I'm Kelly Martin. I'm passionate about gardening and horticulture and I love growing just about everything including herbs, vegetables, flowers, succulents and indoor plants. I've been gardening most of my life and I created this blog to inspire beginner gardeners to create their own urban garden. Read more