Dwarf maples grow considerably slower than the majority of Japanese maples do. Many of these varieties are found as slow-growing seedling mutations selected for their densely-set buds and sculptural branching. These varieties are very popular for bonsai as well! Slow-growing maples are the most desirable for urban landscapes or small residential gardens. Their slow rate of growth keeps them from growing to be large trees that produce many leaves or provide unwanted shade.
Green Dwarf Japanese Maples
This species is known as the Trident Maple for its small leaves with 3 short lobes as opposed to the more palmate leaves of most Japanese maples. Light orange-brown twigs have reddish colored buds that give way to glossy green leaves in mid-spring. This dwarf variety is an excellent small tree for a compact garden or in use as bonsai.
Commonly referred to as “Mikawa,” this truly unique dwarf Japanese maple is an excellent choice for small landscapes. This cultivar is one of our favorites, producing layers of small leaves that overlap each other because of close leaf spacing and short petioles. The effect is striking: a rather dense yet sculptural plant with a diverse assortment of leaf size and color. New growth seems to include the whole color spectrum between yellow and green, with older growth turning dark green. In fall, a different color palette takes over, spanning the range between yellow and scarlet.
This sculptural Japanese maple is similar to the popular ‘Mikawa yatsubusa’, but has a more compact branching habit. Tattoo seems to grow more slowly, eventually developing a somewhat rounded crown. Its slow rate of growth makes Tattoo another excellent choice to grow in containers or for bonsai. The prolific flowers not only attract honeybees and other beneficial pollinators but also give way to colorful samaras (seeds) in late summer.
Fairy Hair is such a unique and very slow-growing Japanese maple. This dwarf green cultivar has very narrow, string-like leaves, not much wider than leaf veins. In summer, the thin, fringe-like leaves change from a bright green to have a bit of an orange blush when grown in a sunny location. Fall color is a fiery crimson-red. More sturdy than its deceptively delicate look would suggest, ‘Fairy Hair’ is a selection that will be less than 3 feet tall in 10 years—a true dwarf!
Small crinkly green leaves are densely arranged along the branches. The lack of lateral branching makes the main limbs have a pillar-like appearance, resembling the arms on a saguaro cactus! Leaves are subtly highlighted with an orange color in spring, transitioning to orange and red in autumn.
Little Sango is also known as “Little Coral.” This variety is a slower-growing, denser version of the popular 'Sango kaku' or coral-bark Japanese maple. Bright red twigs and compact growth habit make this uncommon variety especially showy, even in the smaller garden! The winter display is absolutely stunning, and because of its dwarf rate of growth, the red color of the young twigs lasts into maturity better than the full size Sango kaku.
This outstanding small maple really looks like a bonsai. In spring, small peach-colored new leaves are neatly stacked close to one another. The majority of the foliage changes to a light-green color by mid-summer with only the branch tips remaining quite colorful. Mature plants develop quite a sizable trunk with stout branches arranged in a sculptural way. Fall color display is a fiery orange-red!
Although Ryuzu is a dwarf maple, it is a strong grower, quickly developing a nicely structured compact, shrubby tree. Colorful new growth has a mix of apricot tones and light-green color. The leaves and buds are quite densely-arranged, giving this slow-growing maple a congested appearance. In wintertime, the twigs are somewhat orange in color. Easy to grow so it is an excellent choice for new gardeners or for yards that are low on planting area!
Red Dwarf Japanese Maples
There is a great demand for Japanese maples that have rich red color like ‘Bloodgood’ but that do not grow too large. At Conifer Kingdom, we have selected only the best dwarf red-leaf Japanese maples to offer. Read about some of our favorites below!
Kurenai jishi is one of the most desirable of all the dwarf maples: it is like a red Shishigashira! In spring, the deep red, crinkled leaves have their most vibrant color, later becoming a more burgundy and purple color in the heat of summer. Kurenai jishi's compact growth habit and beautiful structure make it very attractive, and the orange fall display is especially spectacular.
This dwarf upright Japanese maple is highly prized for its incredibly cute, star-shaped foliage. Bright red in spring, the leaves turn greenish during summer. Then, a second flush of new bright red growth creates a striking contrast against the mature green foliage. Sold by some nurseries as 'Beni hoshi,' which means "red star," but we prefer using the English translation.
Rhode Island Red is one of our favorite dwarf maples. It has a deep red color that only darkens during summer instead of bleaching out like some varieties. It naturally maintains a somewhat rounded habit, forming a nice miniature tree shape with its purple twigs. Rhode Island Red is a good grower, easy to keep alive and great for growing in containers.
Uniquely-Colored Dwarf Japanese Maples
Although green and red are the two primary colors associated with dwarf Japanese maples, a host of other color options are available for collectors or gardeners who simply want something a bit more unusual. Some of the best, most colorful varieties we offer are listed below.
This compact maple has a globose shape and two-toned new growth, displaying light-green leaves with pink to ruby-red margins. Outstanding orange-red fall color is highlighted by undertones of deeper greens and purples even late into fall. Kuro hime means “black princess” in Japanese, named such for its dark green leaf color in mid-summer. This beautiful maple naturally develops a globose habit as it ages, making this a desirable alternative to the typical weeping laceleaf maples that are often used in landscaping.
Ryugu is incredibly unique with its tiny leaves flecked with a pink and white variegation and brilliantly red twigs in winter. The dwarf rate of growth allows this variety to develop a very compact, shrub like form, not readily developing a single leader/trunk like many other varieties. Very colorful and quite unusual!
A pink Japanese maple! Reticulated leaves show splashes of strawberry-pink color with deeper burgundy and purple tones underneath. Spring leaves are especially colorful. Mid-summer is when the frosting appears with a white and green color prevailing but pink highlights jumping in on the newer foliage. Fall color brightens to red and rust-orange.
Spring color is a remarkable glowing orange color, later evolving to a tapestry of green with pink and white highlights! The petite leaves are held so close to the branches that they look like pipe cleaners! Goshiki kotohime is a slender, upright dwarf maple that forms a narrow, handsome tree with age.