Japanese Maples - Bonsai Lesson Plan

Informal Upright Style Bonsai
Scientific Name: Acer Palmatum

The Japanese Maple is the most widely used maple in the art of bonsai. It is also used extensively in Chinese and Japanese style gardens. The main features are its compact size, its delicate foliage which is green in summer, later turning from a rich golden colour to the deepest blood red. There are many species of maple, I believe over 300 cultivars with a variety of leaf size, shape and colour. Also dwarf examples of these different varieties are used in small garden features.

Japanese Maple varieties most suitable for Bonsai training:

  • Kiyo hime
  • Murasaki kiyo hime
  • Tama hime
  • Kashima (Chiba)
  • Koto hime
  • Goshiki koto hime
  • Ara kawa
  • Nishiki gawa
  • Sekka yatsubusa
  • Sango kaku
  • Katsura

On selecting maples for bonsai you need to consider the elements of the tree: natural twigginess, numerous branches and the colour of the leaves. All these features need to be taken into account. Advantages of using the himes or dwarf multiple budded trees are the nice small leaves and the wonderful radiating root systems.

Placement and exposure:

The ideal situation for Japanese Maples is morning sun and afternoon shade. A sheltered area from harsh winds because the leaves tend to dry out and shrivel. Strong sunlight will cause leaf burn and dieback. You may have to rotate the placement of your maple from summer to winter in your garden. This will ensure the best conditions for maximum health in your tree.

Soil recipes used in repotting:

The conditions for black pines and maples are very similar for they both like a good well drained soil. We all have our favorite recipes and these will change from time to time in order to get the best combinations for our trees. One combination is unsieved equal parts of pine bark mulch, course Turface, Metro Mix 500 and grower granite. This retains water, but drains readily. My personal favorite is 1 part Akadama to one part Debco bonsai mix and 1 part fine sharp gravel. For younger trees I will use pure Akadama and supplement with liquid fertilizing.


In watering my maples I use an overhead hand held sprayer attached to the garden hose. They are watered very heavily and are not watered again until they begin to dry out. If on the other hand they have dried out because of extreme conditions, then they are immersed until all bubbles have stopped coming from the pot and placed in a shaded position for 6 to 7 days and gradually re-introduced to its original position.


Maples I find prefer a combination of mineral and organic fertilizers. These consist of Maxicrop (mineral) and Nitrosol (organic) combined in a liquid form. Bio Gold is another alternative. This should be applied at the beginning of spring or bud swell (September). Also you can supplement in summer with a dose of vitamin B, but I find that the day after watering, 1 cup of the liquid form mentioned above applied once a week from the beginning of September right through till the end of March gives me the best results. This creates vigorous growth and enhances the health of the tree. The only thing is that you have a lot more pinching and trimming to do in the growing season.

When late autumn comes or early winter, this is the best time for total ramification and the adjustment of branches. For the removal of major branches the best time to do this is spring as the wounds will heal much faster.


Spring is the time to pinch out the ambitious or unwanted shoots with the main pruning to be carried out at this time of year. When new shoots have developed to around three to five nodes, prune them, but make sure to leave at least 1 cm (1/2in) extra to allow for die back. This is very important when pruning all types of maples. Trim the leaves in late spring.


I don�t have any severe problems with pests, possibly a few aphids. This can be remedied with Safer soap or a good spraying of Confidor. A few moth balls on the soil will prevent moths from laying eggs that may be harmful. Good air circulation and sunlight do wonders to eliminate insects and keep your tree in the best of health.

"Bonsai is the creation of living art and the blending of elements"

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