Growing Japanese Maples In Containers

Years ago I had a gardening magazine with an article about growing trees in containers. The idea intrigued me. But somewhere along the way, I lost or threw out the magazine.

When they cut down the two trees on my apartment patio, the idea of trees in containers became even more appealing.

Intrigued With Japanese Maple Trees:

A tree I’d always longed to have is a Japanese Maple tree. One day when I was at the nursery, I walked around and looked at them. The price for Japanese Maples started around $69.99. 

So one day I bought one.

I got a big pot and transplanted it into that pot. And I put it on a plant dolly so I could roll it around if it needed to be moved.

It Grows Well On My Apartment Patio:

Before long my Japanese Maple was growing like crazy and it’s gotten bigger every year. I’ve now had it about three years on my apartment patio.

I love to watch the birds hopping about the branches and then dipping down to get a drink in the bird bath.

I love trees. And I love taking photos of trees. All kinds of trees.

But I especially love taking photos of various varieties of Japanese maples. Their leaves are so distinct and pretty.

Below is a look at Japanese Maple trees I found online planted in containers.

Various Photos Of Japanese Maple Trees:

Aren’t they beautiful? Each a different color with leaves that look like works of art. I just adore these trees.

In fact I’ve never come upon a Japanese maple tree that I didn’t love. What’s not to like?

How To Grow Japanese Maple Trees In Containers:

So now you’re probably wondering, how do you actually grow Japanese Maples in containers? And here’s some information for you:

  • Dappled or afternoon shade, especially when young
  • Protect from strong wind
  • Well-drained, consistently moist soil, neither excessively wet nor dry
  • Protection from late spring frosts, especially when young
  • Choose a dwarf cultivar that matures at less than 10 feet. Larger plants will also work if you prune them annually.
  • Select a container that’s no more than twice the volume of roots.
    Make sure there’s a drainage hole — Japanese maples will not survive in
    soggy soil.
  • Use quality potting soil — but not one that contains slow-release fertilizer that might burn roots.

How & When To Fertilize:

  • Fertilize sparingly. Apply a water-based fertilizer, diluted to half-strength, when growth begins in spring.
  • Prune in midsummer to shape the plant or keep it at a desired size.
    Individual branches can be coaxed to hang downward in a more elegant
    habit by hanging light weights on the branches for one growing season.

When To Repot Your Japanese Maple Tree:

  • Repot once roots reach the sides and bottom of the pot — generally
    every couple of years. Prune the roots by cutting away large, woody
    roots to encourage small fibrous ones to form.

My Japanese maple did not do well in full sun, so it is in partial sun and does quite well there.

I so enjoy the changing of the leaves come fall.

When I want to do something but confront a problem doing it, I always like to challenge myself to find a way. 

And since I rent an apartment and no longer have trees growing on my patio, I decided to grow trees in containers.

jade tree

Ginkgo Biloba Jade Butterfly Tree:

I also have a Ginkgo Biloba Jade Butterfly tree in a container on my patio. The leaves look like butterflies in flight and are variegated.

In case you’re interested in more information, I found this site for Japanese Maple lovers.

Just because you might not have a yard or own your home does not mean that you can’t have a tree in a container.

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  1. Brenda, thank you for the information. Very timely that I found your article through Pinterest as I’m considering doing this in my yard. Two questions:, first, which small maple are you using and second, I currently have a small Japanese Maple growing in the ground, can I move it to a container?
    Thank you again

    1. I don’t know about moving it. I think it would be easier the other way around. Moving from pot to ground. I don’t know what kind of maple I have. I just asked at the nursery which one would be good for a container and he picked this one.

      1. Hi Brenda..thank you for such detailed information about the Japanese Maple.

        My wife is planning to plant this in a pot at our back yard. If she needs a maximum height around between 2 to 2.5 M; hence, how big (pot) that she needs to have. BTW, she and I like a green Japanese Maple.

        Your advice is really appreciated.

  2. Hello. In the first picture at the top of your page you have a maple tree in a beautiful japanese style pot….reddy brown colour. Could you possibly tell me where I might be able to get a pot similar to this?

    1. Hi…just another reader here on Pinterest. That picture with the lovely pot was from 2009. However i have seen pots with a similiar shape at our local lowes here in Sacramento over the summer. They were selling for $129.

  3. How often throughout the year would you feed potted Japanese maple? (Using 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer) It’s now early spring.

    1. Hah! I landed here looking for good advice too and was thinking I now need to fertilize. I’m going for once a month I think – half strength because mine is brand new. 4’ not yet repotted and will try that weighted branch idea and trim in august. I’m in SoCal. I don’t want to burn it out as the soil likely has some good stuff in it. But what do I know? Best of luck with your beautiful plant!

  4. I had a beautiful red lacy maple at my old house. loved the changes of the colors. It was very delicate. Did well in the winters, but the hot California sun burnt the leaves. That is my favorite one that I've seen so far. So many different ones. We got lots of saplings, potted them and gave them to friends. Love trading plants. Now that we've moved up into the foothills, my brother gave me 2, that are in pots flanking my entry way of my front door. I'm still trying to figure out how to make a statement with the front of my new little cottage. You'll have a lot of enjoyment with the trees in the pots. Planting flowers around the bottom. I can see little pansies already! But remember if you ever move, those trees will be heavy to move. You'll need help when they get big. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I live Japanese maples! I watched our local Volunteer Gardener on PBS the other night and they were at the yard if a man who has collected them for 2 decades. Gorgeous! He had some delicate ones in containers. I just assumed that he overwintered them in his greenhouse. So they don't have to? They won't die in hard freezes? We planted 2 in the ground this spring but I'd live to have some in containers as long as we don't have to overwinter them.

    1. I don't seem to have much luck with many seeds. But I've found that if I get small plants from the nursery, they seem to live longer. The ones I've gotten at the big box stores haven't fared as well.

  6. We have always loved Japanese Maples and always wanted one or two but will never purchase one because we live in a sunny and hot state, Texas, similar to Oklahoma's weather. As an instance, last fall our plant-knowledgeable neighbor down the block from us purchased a beautiful one and it has been slowly dropping leaves and now looks as if the last leaves on it are dead – while the rest of his landscape is gorgeous. Even when the tree is planted in the shade it will probably get hot sunbeams as the sun rounds about it during the day and sneaks it's rays in among the foliage and/or forms that were shading it in the morning. Of course, planting a Japanese Maple in a pot on wheels, you could move it during the day from place to place to find shade, which would seem to me to be not worth it. Good luck and our good wishes if you decide to do it! P.S. Have a look at a Mimosa tree, which thrives in the hot weather and has the same type shape as a Japanese tree, with feathery leaves that are beautiful and pods of beautiful pink, puffy flowers. Since you have lived in Texas before, you may remember this tree – some think of it as a scrub tree and not worth much but I think of it as beautiful!

    1. I'm familiar with Mimosas. I'm going to ask the nursery what the best tree would be for me to plant in a container. No point in getting one only to have it die.

    2. I live in north Texas. I planted a blood good Japanese maple in the ground, north facing, about 6 years ago and it is thriving. It has survived both drought and extreme cold with ice. I have several other varieties I keep in pots. Ask the nurses about ones for your area. They like shade and dappled morning sun. In Texas some varieties won’t do well even in dry humid shade, those I bring inside during july and august, they do fine. Slow release fertilizer twice a year and quality mix with grit that drains well. These trees are stunning. With a little care they will not disappoint.

  7. Is the winter temperature in your area ok for potted trees? The pot doesn't provide the same stability of temperature as the earth,
    Do you think your complex would pat for a tree replacement or is that too much to ask?

    1. Shoot, they won't spring for much of anything. So no. I buy something when I want it. Have never been able to get them to do much of anything.

  8. I like the idea of a Japanese Maple in a container. I need one on my deck but it gets mostly afternoon sun so I just might research other trees in containers. I have two JM's, one in the front which is huge and one in the back not quite as large but two different types of JM's. They're very pretty trees planted anywhere and I really like the first picture you showed us.

  9. Hi, Brenda. Don't know if you read the comment I posted yesterday, but in it I suggested you might like to grow a tree in a container. And Lo and behold, today you are writing about doing so! I think it's a great idea and you could take it with you if you moved. Putting it on wheels is a good idea, too. Not only could you take it with you, you could change its location on the patio. Probably Spring is the best time to start one. The birds would love it!

    I'm glad to know the information you posted about growing Japanese Maples in pots. I might want to try it next Spring, depending on where I am living. Something to think about.

  10. Hi, Brenda. Don't know if you read the comment I posted yesterday, but in it I suggested you might like to grow a tree in a container. And Lo and behold, today you are writing about doing so! I think it's a great idea and you could take it with you if you moved. Putting it on wheels is a good idea, too. Not only could you take it with you, you could change its location on the patio. Probably Spring is the best time to start one. The birds would love it!

    I'm glad to know the information you posted about growing Japanese Maples in pots. I might want to try it next Spring, depending on where I am living. Something to think about.

  11. That is a great idea! I love the small Japanese maple trees and they sound perfect for pot planting. Also, I think crape myrtles can be grown in pots. They are a beautiful flowering tree.

      1. I just purchased two large 7 gallon trees and 4, 1 gallon trees
        I am putting them both in large pots but leaving them in the garden my question is do I put any kind of broken terra-cotta pieces or stones in the pot first even though they have plenty of holes in them for drainage ?

  12. I have a vine maple out back in a pot. Bought it as a small little thing. It has survived quite nicely on ordinary top soil in the pot.

  13. We have never planted a tree in a pot, but when buying flowers for out patio, I asked the garden center about what was best to plant them in. They said that if we planned to leave the pots outdoors in the winter months that it's best to use ceramic pots. They said that plain clay pots have a tendency to break when the weather is cold. Just something to think about or discuss with your garden center when you plant a potted tree. xo Of course a wooden barrel is always an option as well.

  14. I love that idea and the Japanese maple tree is so pretty. It be a lot of pretty color on your patio. I look forward to seeing what you decide. Carol

  15. We had a huge one in a previous house and we took two saplings and transplanted them. That's a possibility and you could raise it from a baby tree. Of course, that would take a little longer to get to a reasonable height. The Japanese maple is a beautiful tree and the leaves are so small that they don't cause a big pileup of leaves in the fall.

    1. I'm interested in other trees as well. But the Japanese Maple has always been a favorite of mine, yet I've never had one in my yard!

  16. Love this idea! We planted one in our front flower bed which has kind of a nook for protection. I wonder if it would freeze where you are. They are so expensive I'd really make sure before purchasing.

      1. I loved reading your article! I have had a few acers 4’-5’ in pots for several years. You have inspired me to repot them into larger pots and prune them slightly. I also have a few small ones which I intend to keep in their small pots and keep on a wall by the pond. They could also do with a little TLC. The colours of all of them are starting to ‘light up’ as autumn is slowly creeping up. A very exciting time!

  17. I love the elegant and timeless look of Japanese maples and would like to have one. But, I have a large yard and if I got one I would plant it in the yard rather than a container. (On the other hand, if it was in a container I could take it with me if I moved!) My suggestion is to try to find one that is more sun-tolerant than a lot of Japanese maples tend to be. Tags on a lot of them indicate they prefer partial shade. Regarding the roots and re-potting — I wouldn't want to mess with re-potting one. But, I did some quick research and read that you can do the root pruning while the tree is in its current pot, pruning away some of the large roots in order to encourage smaller roots to grow. I guess you'd have to dig out the potting soil, do the pruning, and then refill the pot with more potting soil. Doesn't sound too awful. There are a lot of other dwarf trees and flowering bushes that can be grown in pots, so you could create a little potted forest on your patio. Sounds like it could become a fun hobby.

    1. I don't think I'll do it right away, but at least it is a possibility that I may finally have a Japanese Maple. What I was thinking: If you have it in a pot and perhaps put it on rollers, you could take it with you if you moved.

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