Japanese maples and late season foliage color

By mid November most tree foliage has turned color, faded, and leaves have fallen. If any foliage was hanging by a thread the hurricane winds surely took care to blow it into the next county, so that today most trees are bare. But, a few trees are almost fully in leaf, and now are at their peak color.

Most of the garden’s Japanese maples dropped their foliage several weeks ago, but several varieties typically hold their leaves until late in the season. The fern leaf maple (Acer aconitifolium, above) changes color early, but the leaves hang on long after most other trees have gone bare. This is perhaps the most spectacular of trees in my garden for autumn color, with parts of the tree turning dark red, others yellow, or orange, and some sections with a mix of all. In mid November the leaves are beginning to drop, but half of the tree remains in blazing full color.

There are two large Lion’s Head maples (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’, above) in the garden. Both are fully leafed, and both were completely green until a few days ago, when suddenly they turned. One tree is now fringed with brown leaves that hide the delightful color beneath, but the second tree is perfectly beautiful to my eye, only a smidgen less grand than the fern leaf maple. Both trees glow in the late afternoon sun.

The ‘Okushimo’ maple (Acer palmatum ‘Okushimo’, above) is only slightly less stunning, and like the Lion’s Head maple it showed no sign of color until the hard freeze a week ago. Both ‘Okushimo’ and Lion’s Head maples are green leafed through much of the year, but the leaves are crinkled and curled so that they are unique, though still more attractive to collectors than the general gardening public.

The branches of two large ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maples (Acer palmatum ‘Seriyu’, above) planted close to the house arch over the front walk. When the foliage is damp from rain the branches hang low, so visitors must stoop low to reach the front door, but in mid November the red and yellow canopy of foliage is quite wonderful. The delicate leaves drift slowly to carpet the bluestone walk late into November.


3 thoughts on “Japanese maples and late season foliage color

  1. Dave….Like you, we adore our Japanese maple. I don’t think it’s the same variety as the ones you pictured here, but the leaves have turned a brilliant red and seem to be hanging on for much longer than we expected. The sun strikes it twice daily at 0930 and 1530, from different directions. It’s almost like a neon sign, it’s so brilliant. Sadly, we’re headed for grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and won’t enjoy our tree every day. By the time we return, the leaves will probably all be gone, but there are hundreds of buds already formed so we should have a very nice spring growth spurt. We really enjoy your postings. Wish we had your energy and acreage.

  2. A great post and a wonderful blog, Dave, by far my favorite garden blog. Thanks.

    In my very small “beginner” garden I have four Japanese maples, all purchased this past spring and so quite small: two palmatums (“Fireglow” and “Seiryu”), one fern leaf maple (Acer japonicum aconitifolium), and one yellow full moon maple (Acer shirasawanum “Aureum”), the former two in the ground and the latter two in pots. All colored beautifully this fall, but while the two palmatums in the ground have been holding on to the color for many weeks, the other two held their color only a week or so before dropping their leaves. Is this because they are in pots? Or is it the specific cultivars? Or just random?

    By the way, you seem to have a large maple collection but I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned Acer griseum, which seems to be at or near the top of many favorites lists. Have you ever tried this tree?

    • It sounds like you’re off to great start in collecting Japanese maples. Growing in containers is likely to have some effect, but some of my maples dropped their leaves almost a month ago, including my Full Moon maple. So, it’s most likely that some maples drop their foliage earlier than others.

      I have a paperbark maple planted at the far back corner of the garden, but it’s shaded by huge bald cypresses on my neighbor’s property and a tall river birch so that it doesn’t get much or any autumn color.

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