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Japanese Maples in the South

Although Japanese maples are often thought of as northern trees, certain cultivars can thrive in the Southern US under the right conditions. Before you plant a Japanese maple in a hot climate, it’s important to understand the best growing practices as well as common issues.

Besides providing the ideal location and environment, it’s also essential that you choose a variety that is suited for the heat and humidity of the South. We’ll provide a list of varieties that have been proven to thrive in southern states.

Growing Japanese Maples in the South

To understand how to care for your trees, it’s helpful to understand how Japanese maples grow in southern states. Even when you choose a variety that is suited for high temperatures, you’ll still need to provide the right care.

Light Tolerance

In their native environments, Japanese maples grow as understory trees. That means they are used to a large amount of shade and dappled light.

The exact amount of sun a Japanese maple can handle varies on your location and the variety. As you head further north, trees will be able to tolerate more sun.

In the South, where sunlight is more intense, it’s essential to provide your trees with ample amounts of shade. Afternoon shade is non-negotiable since sunlight is more intense in the afternoon than in the morning.

Planting your tree along the eastern or northern side of your house will provide your tree with afternoon shade. Another option is to plant your Japanese maple under larger trees or shrubs that provide shade.

Heat Tolerance

While most Japanese maples are best suited for USDA hardiness zones 5-8, some varieties can succeed in the higher temperatures present in zone 9.

Even though these maples can tolerate sustained temperature in the 90s and even 100s, some still require afternoon shade.

Water Needs

Japanese maples require regular watering in hot, southern climates. The amount of water these trees need depends on the time of year, wind, humidity, light, and more. In general, plants will do well with a deep watering once or twice a week during the spring and summer.

However, they don’t like sitting in damp soil, so be sure to avoid overwatering. Saturated soils can lead to problems with fungi and bacteria.

Problems with Foliage Burn

Even varieties that are suited for life in southern states can suffer problems from too much heat and light. If trees experience too much sunlight, especially afternoon light, they can develop foliage burn.

This leaf scorch can occur in both red and green varieties, but it is more prevalent in red-leaved varieties. While drought can exacerbate leaf scorch, increasing irrigation won’t cure this problem if the tree receives excessive sunlight.

Season Length and Dormancy

Even in most southern states, Japanese maples will still have times of leaf emergence, color change, leaf fall, and dormancy. Leaves start changing color in September or October and eventually fall from the trees in October–December.

Although the exact dates depend on location and variety, most Japanese maple trees are in their dormant period between December–February. Leaves start unfurling in the spring and fully leaf out soon after.

Bronzing Out of Red Cultivars

While the leaves of Japanese maples naturally change over time, too much sunlight can cause stress-induced color change. Red varieties may bronze out if they receive too much afternoon sun, especially in hot conditions.

Varieties that Can Tolerate Morning Sun

The following varieties can tolerate morning sun. The amount depends on your location, but these varieties can perform well in the following locations:

  • Northern and Central Texas
  • Southern Oklahoma
  • Louisiana
  • Arkansas
  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina,
  • Northern Florida

As you go north from these areas, the varieties listed below will be able to tolerate more sun without experiencing issues with leaf scorch.

Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’

This green leaf maple has deeply divided leaves that turn brilliant shades of red and orange in the fall, leading to the name “dancing peacock.” One of the most sun-tolerant Japanese maples, this variety can handle full morning sun in southern states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama.

Leaf shape: laceleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: large

Acer japonicum Aconifolium Maiku jaku dancing peacock Full Moon Maple laceleaf large green
Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’
Acer japonicum Aconifolium Maiku jaku dancing peacock Full Moon Maple laceleaf large green
Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (‘Maiku jaku’)

Acer japonicum ‘Green Cascade’

With bold, lacy leaves, Green Cascade is a showstopper in the garden. Fortunately, it can perform well in southern states as long as you provide dappled shade or afternoon shade.

Leaf shape: laceleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer japonicum Green Cascade Full Moon Maple laceleaf intermediate green
Acer japonicum ‘Green Cascade’
Acer japonicum Green Cascade Full Moon Maple laceleaf intermediate green
AP ‘Green Cascade’

Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’

Named after large leaves that resemble grape foliage, ‘Vitifolium’ can handle morning sun in hot areas. It’s leaves emerge with bronze colors before changing to green and developing rich orange, red, and purple colors in the fall.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer japonicum Vitifolium Full Moon Maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’
Acer japonicum Vitifolium Full Moon Maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’

Acer palmatum ‘Arakawa’

Known for its thick, corky bark, ‘Arakawa’ performs well in morning sun or dappled shade in areas including Northern Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. It can perform well in Middle Texas and Louisiana with ample shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Arakawa Pine Bark Japanese maple cork bark broadleaf intermediate green
Acer palmatum ‘Arakawa’
Acer palmatum Arakawa Pine Bark Japanese maple cork bark broadleaf intermediate green
Acer palmatum ‘Arakawa’

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’

One of the standards in red Japanese maples, ‘Bloodgood’ has deeply lobed leaves that hold their crimson color throughout the summer. They’re well-suited to the South, as long as you provide adequate afternoon shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: red, purple, burgundy

Growth rate: large

Acer palmatum Bloodgood Japanese maple broadleaf large red
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’
Acer palmatum Bloodgood Japanese maple broadleaf large red
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’

Acer palmatum ‘Emerald Lace’

The finely-dissected, small green leaves of the Emerald Lace make it a statement tree in Southern gardens. As long as it receives shade during the hot afternoon hours, it can thrive in hot weather.

Leaf shape: laceleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: large

Acer palmatum Emerald Lace Japanese maple laceleaf large green
Acer palmatum ‘Emerald Lace’
Acer palmatum Emerald Lace Japanese maple laceleaf large green
Acer palmatum ‘Emerald Lace’

Acer palmatum ‘Emperor I’

Similar to “Bloodgood” but with better color retention, Emperor I is a good choice for a large, red Japanese maple. While it doesn’t like intense afternoon sun, it can handle morning sun in areas with high temperatures.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: red, purple, burgundy

Growth rate: large

Acer palmatum Emperor I Japanese maple broadleaf large red
Acer palmatum ‘Emperor I’
Acer palmatum Emperor I Japanese maple broadleaf large red
Acer palmatum ‘Emperor I’

Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’

One of the most heat-tolerant Japanese maples, ‘Fireglow’ keeps its brilliant burgundy color even during periods of intense heat. As long as you provide shade during the hottest hours of the day, ‘Fireglow’ is resistant to scorching.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: red, purple, burgundy

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Fireglow Japanese maple broadleaf intermediate red
Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’

Acer palmatum ‘Goshiki kotohime’

This dwarf variety puts on a show with variegated green leaves that eventually turn a striking orange in the fall. As long as you provide proper shade, ‘Goshiki kotohime’ will perform well in southern gardens.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum Goshiki kotohime Japanese maple broadleaf dwarf green
Acer palmatum ‘Goshiki kotohime’

Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’

In the spring, ‘Katsura’ has bright yellow leaves with stunning red margins. While color fades in the summer, this variety stands strong in temperatures in the 90s and even 100s.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: yellow

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Katsura Japanese maple broadleaf intermediate yellow
Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’
Acer palmatum Katsura Japanese maple broadleaf intermediate yellow
Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’

Acer palmatum ‘Koto no ito’

With slender green leaves that turn bright orange and red as temperatures drop, ‘Koto no ito’ is a great dwarf variety for southern gardens. It can withstand hot temperatures as long as it is protected from the afternoon sun.

Leaf shape: strap-leaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum Koto no ito Japanese maple strap leaf dwarf green
Acer palmatum ‘Koto no ito’
Acer palmatum Koto no ito Japanese maple strap leaf dwarf green
Acer palmatum ‘Koto no ito’

Acer palmatum ‘O jishi’

‘O jishi’ grows well without succumbing to leaf burn, so it’s a good variety for hot locations including Central Texas and bordering states. Its lack of lateral branching provides an interesting shape in the garden.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum O jishi Japanese maple broadleaf dwarf green
Acer palmatum ‘O jishi’
Acer palmatum O jishi Japanese maple broadleaf dwarf green
Acer palmatum ‘O jishi’

Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’

The yellow leaves and red margins of ‘Orange Dream’ are stunning. While this variety can do well in the South, it prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: yellow

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Orange Dream Japanese maple  broadleaf yellow intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’
Acer palmatum Orange Dream Japanese maple  broadleaf yellow intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’

Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’

Since it’s more leaf scorch resistant and drought-tolerant than most other Japanese maples, ‘Osakazuki’ can grow even into zone 9b in Central Florida! Plus, its red fall leaves are vibrant.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: large

Acer palmatum Osakzuki Japanese maple broadleaf green large
Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’
Acer palmatum Osakzuki Japanese maple broadleaf green large
Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’

Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’

While ‘Ryusen’ may appear delicate due to its weeping form, it can survive well in hot temperatures. As long as it is protected from the intense afternoon sun, it can perform well into Central Texas and Northern Florida.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Ryusen Ryusei Japanese maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’

Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’

Even when this maple drops its leaves, it still adds color with its bright coral colored branches. Protect it from the afternoon sun, and it can thrive in climates as hot as 9b.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Sango kaku Coral Bark Maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’
Acer palmatum Sango kaku Coral Bark Maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’

Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’

With exceptional hardiness and heat tolerance, ‘Seiryu’ is one of the best Japanese maples for hot conditions. It grows well in Zone 9, which means it can thrive in parts of Texas and Florida where few other varieties can. Plus, the unique pairing of an upright habit and lacy leaves will make a statement.

Leaf shape: laceleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Seiryu Japanese maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’
Acer palmatum Seiryu Japanese maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’

Acer shirasawanum ‘Sensu’

‘Sensu’ can survive temperatures in the 90s with heat indexes in the 100s without showing any signs of damage. The flaming red fall leaves made this one a stunner.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer shirawanum Sensu Full Moon Maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer shirasawanum ‘Sensu’
Acer shirawanum Sensu Full Moon Maple broadleaf intermediate green
Acer shirasawanum ‘Sensu’

Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’

A stubby variety with clumps of leaves leading to a name meaning “lion’s mane,” this variety has interesting curled leaves. It prefers dappled light or morning sun and afternoon shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum Shishigashira Japanese maple broadleaf green dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’
Acer palmatum Shishigashira Japanese maple broadleaf green dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’

Acer palmatum ‘Summer Gold’

The bright yellow leaves of ‘Summer Gold’ can survive the hot summer sun without burning, which makes it stand out from many other yellow leaf varieties. It can survive direct sun, but also does well with afternoon shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: yellow

Growth rate: large

Acer palmatum Summer Gold Japanese maple broadleaf yellow large
Acer palmatum ‘Summer Gold’
Acer palmatum Summer Gold Japanese maple broadleaf yellow large
Acer palmatum ‘Summer Gold’

Acer palmatum ‘Tamukeyama’

Similar to the popular ‘Crimson Queen’ variety but with a more rigid leaf, ‘Tamukeyama’ is a sun-tolerant variety. The bright red leaves turn a brilliant deep purple-red in the fall, which remains throughout even hot and humid summer conditions.

Leaf shape: laceleaf

Leaf color: red, purple, burgundy

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Tamukeyama Japanese maple laceleaf red intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Tamukeyama’
Acer palmatum Tamukeyama Japanese maple laceleaf red intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Tamukeyama’

Acer palmatum ‘Trompenburg’

With an upright habit and magnificent purple/red color that lasts throughout the year, ‘Trompenburg’ is a gorgeous large variety. It prefers afternoon shade in southern states to escape the intense afternoon sun.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: red, purple, burgundy

Growth rate: large

Acer palmatum Trompenburg Japanese maple broadleaf large red
Acer palmatum ‘Trompenburg’

Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma beni’

Similar to ‘Tsuma gaki’ but with more divided leaves, ‘Tsuma beni’ has springs leaves that appear green with red margins. As long as you provide afternoon shade, it can perform well in Central Texas and similar climates.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: multicolor

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum Tsuma beni Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma beni’
Acer palmatum Tsuma beni Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma beni’

Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma gaki’

Stunning cupped yellow-green leaves with red tips emerge in the spring and turn red in the fall. In southern states, leaf scorch can be a problem with full sun exposure, so it’s best to plant in an area that receives afternoon shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: multicolor

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum Tsuma gaki Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’
Acer palmatum Tsuma gaki Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma Gaki’

Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’

With a rare, columnar form, this variety will stand out in the garden. If planted in zones 8 or 9, it will do best with afternoon shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: red, purple, burgundy

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Twombly's Red Sentinel Japanese maple broadleaf red intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’
Acer palmatum Twombly's Red Sentinel Japanese maple broadleaf red intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Red Sentinel’

Acer palmatum ‘Waterfall’

Although it performs well in cool and shady conditions, ‘Waterfall’ can also survive higher temperatures found in southern states. With sun exposure, the leaves develop orange highlights. However, with too much sun exposure, they will scorch.

Leaf shape: laceleaf

Leaf color: green

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Twombly's Red Sentinel Japanese maple broadleaf red intermediate
AP ‘Waterfall’
Acer palmatum Twombly's Red Sentinel Japanese maple broadleaf red intermediate
AP ‘Waterfall’

Varieties that Can Tolerate 1-2 Hours Morning Sun

The following varieties can perform well in southern areas including North and Central Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Northern Florida. However, in these hot areas, they can only tolerate 1-2 hours of morning sun.

Acer palmatum ‘Aka shigitatsu sawa’

The beautiful reticulated leaves on this variety require protection from the sun, so they can only handle a few hours of morning sun in hot climates.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: multicolor

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Aka shigitatsu sawa Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Aka shigitatsu sawa’

Acer palmatum ‘Amagi shigure’

A showstopper with bright leaves and dark red veins, ‘Amagi shigure’ is not a fan of the sun in the hot South. To help it perform best, make sure it receives mostly dappled light or shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: red, purple, burgundy

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum Amagi shigure Japanese maple broadleaf red dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Amagi shigure’
Acer palmatum Amagi shigure Japanese maple broadleaf red dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Amagi shigure’

Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’

This variety is noted by its green/purple leaves coupled with pink and cream margins. While the colors are spectacular, this variety can only handle a small bit of sun in southern states.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: multicolor

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Geisha Gone Wild Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’
Acer palmatum Geisha Gone Wild Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’

Acer palmatum ‘Olsen’s Frosted Strawberry’

If you’re looking for pink maple, you’ve found it! The reticulated leaves of this variety don’t handle sun well, so make sure to provide an adequate amount of shade.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: multicolor

Growth rate: dwarf

Acer palmatum Olsen's Frosted Strawberry Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Olsen’s Frosted Strawberry’
Acer palmatum Olsen's Frosted Strawberry Japanese maple broadleaf multicolor dwarf
Acer palmatum ‘Olsen’s Frosted Strawberry’

Acer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream’

The bright spring colors that are reminiscent of peaches and cream make this reticulated variety a stunner. Make sure to protect this maple from the sun except for a couple of hours in the morning.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: multicolor

Growth rate: intermediate

Acer palmatum Peaches and Cream Japanese maple  broadleaf multicolor intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream’
Acer palmatum Peaches and Cream Japanese maple  broadleaf multicolor intermediate
Acer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream’

Acer shirasawanum ‘Jordan’

Yellow spring leaves with orange margins will turn to yellow-green in the summer. Since this variety does best with shade in hot locations, it’s leaves will stay light green.

Leaf shape: broadleaf

Leaf color: yellow

Growth rate: large

Acer shirasawanum Jordan Japanese maple broadleaf yellow large
Acer shirasawanum ‘Jordan’
Acer shirasawanum Jordan Japanese maple broadleaf yellow large
Acer shirasawanum ‘Jordan’

Choose a Japanese Maple Suited for the South

Now that you know you to select and care for a Japanese maple for hot climates, it’s time to select one that’s right for your conditions.