Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are one of the most iconic species used in bonsai. They are valued for many characteristics, from their color changing leaves to the propensity to grow wide nebari with fused roots. Many cultivars of Japanese maple exist in bonsai, show-casing different properties of this species as well as offering varying horticultural challenges.
In this blog we'll explore some of the best Japanese maples for bonsai, including their aesthetic value and horticultural nuance.
- Acer palmatum
- Deshojo maple
- Acer palmatum 'Atropurpureum'
- Kiyohime maple
- Arakawa maple
- Katsura maple
- Shishigashira maple
- Seigen maple
The regular variety of Acer palmatum is still one of the very best Japanese maples you can use as a bonsai subject. They are hardy trees that provide wonderful aesthetics throughout the growing season.
As the pure form of the species, plain Acer palmatum is a hardier and healthier plant than some of its specialty cultivars which makes it a great choice for beginners. It is also widely available and easy to find raw material or established specimens.
Plain Acer palmatum bonsai tend to be less expensive than some of the other varieties in this list, which is an added bonus.
Acer palmatum bonsai can be trained through many commonly used bonsai techniques, including:
- Wiring shaping (beware of scarring, as a thin barked tree these may take decades to fade)
- Pruning in shape and to balance energy
- Pinching to encourage interior growth
- Partial defoliation to increase ramification
- Regular repotting and root pinning to create a flared out nebari
The Deshojo maple is a popular choice for bonsai enthusiasts due to its striking red leaves that make it stand out in your garden. Leaves begin growth in spring as a bright red color. As the summer progresses, the leaves turn to a reddish-green hue, adding a touch of elegance to any bonsai display. Finally, in the autumn, the Deshojo maple leaves transform back to a brilliant red, completing the cycle of color that this variety is known for.
One of the great things about the Deshojo maple is that it is relatively easy to care for, with requirements similar to the plain Acer palmatum. This makes it a perfect choice for those who are new to bonsai cultivation, as well as seasoned veterans. With proper care, these trees can thrive for decades, adding beauty and color to your collection.
Another advantage of the Deshojo maple is that it is widely available from garden centers, nurseries, and specialist bonsai suppliers. This makes it easy for bonsai enthusiasts to source this variety and add it to their collection.
The Deshojo maple is a great choice for those looking to add a splash of color to their bonsai collection. Its fantastic color, ease of care and widespread availability make it a popular choice for bonsai enthusiasts of all levels of experience.
Acer Palmatum 'Atropurpureum'
The atropurpureum Japanese maple is a stunning variety that features a deeper burgundy or purple color to its leaves that lasts throughout the year. This unique characteristic makes it a popular choice among bonsai enthusiasts who are looking to add a splash of vibrant color to their collection. One of the benefits of this variety is that it is widely available in mainstream garden retailers or available online, making it accessible to even those who may not have access to specialty nurseries or bonsai suppliers.
It's worth noting that the atropurpureum Japanese maple is a slower-growing variety compared to plain Japanese maple. As such, it requires a bit more patience and care when cultivating as a bonsai. Another factor to consider is that the atropurpureum Japanese maple requires more shade than other varieties. This is because the red nature of its leaves means it is less tolerant of full sun, making it an excellent choice for those in cloudier or shadier climates.
Despite these challenges, the atropurpureum Japanese maple is well worth the effort for its stunning color and unique character. With a little bit of extra care and attention, it can make a fantastic addition to any bonsai collection.
Kiyohime maple is a stunning variety of Japanese maple that is ideal for bonsai enthusiasts who are looking for a dwarf cultivar. This variety is characterized by its smaller leaves and more lateral growth habit, which makes it a perfect candidate for bonsai cultivation. Because of its smaller size, the Kiyohime maple is also well-suited for smaller bonsai pots, making it a great choice for people who live in apartments or have limited outdoor space.
In addition to its smaller size and lateral growth habit, the Kiyohime maple is also known for its interesting color pattern. During spring, the leaves have a reddish border and are green in the center, which creates a striking contrast. As the season progresses, the leaves will gradually transition to a uniform green color over summer. However, as the autumn approaches, the leaves can turn yellow, orange, or red again, creating a beautiful display of fall colors.
Overall, the Kiyohime maple is an excellent choice for bonsai enthusiasts who are looking for a small, yet striking variety of Japanese maple. Its unique growth habits and color patterns make it a standout among other bonsai trees, and its smaller size makes it an ideal choice for people who are looking to create a beautiful bonsai display in a limited space. With proper care and maintenance, the Kiyohime maple can thrive for years to come and continue to be a beautiful addition to any bonsai collection.
Arakawa maple is a unique cultivar that stands out from the other Japanese maples used in bonsai. Its rough bark gives it a rugged, almost ancient appearance that adds a sense of character to a bonsai composition. While other maples are prized for their serene, refined look, Arakawa's bark makes it look like it has weathered many seasons and experiences, making it an ideal choice for those who want to create a bonsai with a distinct personality.
However, this rough bark also presents some challenges when it comes to creating fine ramification. The coarse nature of the bark makes it harder to create the intricate branching that is typically seen in Japanese maple bonsai. Additionally, Arakawa maple is more prone to branch die-back in the apex if it is lacking energy. These factors make it a better choice for bonsai practitioners with some experience who are looking for a challenge.
Finally, it's worth noting that Arakawa maple can be fairly expensive and sometimes difficult to find. However, for those who are willing to invest in this unique cultivar, the results can be truly spectacular. The rough bark and distinctive growth pattern make Arakawa maple an ideal choice for bonsai enthusiasts who want to create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.
Acer palmatum 'Katsura' is a stunning and unique cultivar that is highly sought after for its vibrant color and striking appearance. The leaves of this cultivar are a beautiful shade of yellow or orange, often with a subtle hint of pink during the spring season. This color gradually transitions to a rich green over the summer months, before returning to its brilliant orange hue in the fall.
The unique coloration of the leaves makes 'Katsura' a popular choice for bonsai enthusiasts who are looking to add a splash of color to their collection. However, it's important to note that this cultivar can be more delicate than some of the other Japanese maple varieties, and may require a bit more care and attention to thrive.
In addition to providing adequate shade to prevent leaf scorch, 'Katsura' also benefits from regular pruning to maintain its shape and structure. However, with the proper care and attention, this stunning cultivar can be a truly breathtaking addition to any bonsai collection.
Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira' is one of the most distinctive and fascinating cultivars of Japanese maple trees that is highly valued by bonsai enthusiasts. Its unique and dense growth habit, coupled with its small, deeply-lobed leaves, make it a great option for bonsai practitioners looking for a compact, visually striking tree.
The leaves of the Shishigashira maple are typically darker green than many other Japanese maple cultivars. The deep, lush green color of the leaves can create a dramatic contrast in a bonsai composition, making it stand out in your collection. The leaves themselves are quite small, which can help create a sense of scale when designing your bonsai. This cultivar is also known for its tight internodes, meaning the distance between leaves is relatively short, which can make it easier to create a dense and compact bonsai tree.
While the Shishigashira maple is a popular cultivar, it can be slightly harder to find compared to some of the more common varieties. It also has specific care requirements, as it prefers a slightly more acidic soil than other Japanese maple cultivars. However, with proper care and attention, this cultivar can produce some truly stunning bonsai trees.
Acer palmatum 'Seigen' is particularly valued for bonsai because of its small size and delicate appearance. It has a slow growth rate, which means that it can be trained and pruned into a range of different shapes and styles. Additionally, the leaves of 'Seigen' are smaller than those of many other cultivars of Japanese maple, which makes it easier to maintain the tree's overall proportion and balance as a bonsai.
Acer palmatum 'Seigen' has similar leaf coloration to other cultivars of Acer palmatum, but the exact shade and intensity of the color can vary depending on environmental factors such as sunlight exposure and soil nutrients.
In general, the leaves of Acer palmatum 'Seigen' are typically a deep green color, with some red or purple tinges in the spring or fall. During the summer, the leaves may turn a lighter green color, but this can depend on factors such as soil moisture and temperature.
The care of Acer palmatum 'Seigen' as a bonsai is similar to the care of other cultivars of Acer palmatum.
Which Japanese Maple Species To Use For Bonsai?
In conclusion, Japanese maples are a beloved species for bonsai enthusiasts worldwide. Their unique characteristics, such as small leaves, interesting bark patterns, and vibrant colors, make them ideal for creating visually stunning miniature trees.
When it comes to selecting the best japanese maples for bonsai, there are many options to choose from. Some popular varieties include the delicate and graceful Acer palmatum, the hardy and resilient Acer buergerianum, and the stunning red foliage of Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'.
Ultimately, the best variety for your bonsai will depend on your personal preference and the conditions in which you plan to grow and maintain it. Whatever variety you choose, with proper care and attention, your Japanese maple bonsai is sure to be a beautiful addition to your collection.