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Mr. Smarty Plants - Non-native Japanese red maple exposed to full sun

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Saturday - August 16, 2008

From: Bayonne, NJ
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Non-native Japanese red maple exposed to full sun
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I planted a Dwarf Japanese Red Maple tree about 3 yrs ago. Until about a month ago it was partially shaded by a massive chestnut tree, that has since been cut down. Now the new growth on my tree appear to be shriveling up. I have been watering it every day & have given it fertilizer about 3 weeks ago. Is it in shock because it is now in full sunlight during the day? I understand that they should be in a sunny location as preference. What do you suggest?

ANSWER:

Yes, while they are considered an understory, partial shade plant, Acer palmatum, Japanese Red Maple, can handle full sun. But suddenly?! All day?! In August? Those big leaves are part of the plant's adaptation to absorbing light in a low-light location. When the chestnut tree was cut down, the leaves were absorbing way more hot light than they could adjust to quickly. You would have probably shriveled, too, under those conditions. Obviously, you can't go out and hold an umbrella over your little tree until October. The extra water is a good idea, but nix on any more fertilizer right now. Your tree is obviously under stress and you never should fertilize a stressed plant. We don't know what kind of soil you have, but if it is a clay or poorly-draining soil, you need to be careful with how you water. You don't want to finish the tree off by drowning it. Stick a hose down into the soil around the tree and let it slowly dribble in until there is water on the surface and do this about every other day. If the water stays on the surface more than about a half an hour, then you are not getting good drainage. Cut down the amount of water that goes in at once, and water more frequently. And mulch the roots with a good shredded hardwood mulch. Not only will this hold in water, protect your tree's roots from the heat and later from the cold, but as it decomposes, the mulch will add extra organic material to the soil which will help with the drainage.

Bayonne is apparently on the northeastern corner of New Jersey, which appears to be Zone 6a. The Japanese red maple is hardy to that zone, but could probably use a sheltered location. It could be that not only was the now-gone chestnut sheltering the red maple from the sun, but also from harsh winter winds. So, you need to watch out for that. At this point, about the best you can do is keep the Acer palmatum well watered and well mulched and count the days until October. Hopefully, as Spring and more sunshine comes back, the Japanese red maple will acclimate slowly to the extra sun and be able to survive.

Acer palmatum is native to Japan and Korea. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we promote the use of plants native to North America as well as to the area in which they are being planted. Doing so will save on water, fertilizer, and maintenance. If you decide to replace your tree, we hope you will choose to replace it with a native tree that is more adaptable to your environment.

 

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