Japanese Maples in Colorado...

oakirisMay 15, 2011

O.K., I am one of the many people who want to grow Japanese Maples in inappropriate climates. I know it gets too cold here, there is no reliable snow cover (Denver metro area) to help insulate them, it is windy, dry, and the soil is alkaline.

I am considering trying to grow one in an container, though I haven't figured out how to overwinter it. The cultivar I am considering is the 'Abigail Rose.'

I have never tried growing a tree in a container before. Any pointers on proper pot size, potting mix - and any overwintering suggestions (I do not have a garage or a basement)- would be much appreciated.


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Pot should be as large as possible without seeming too big for the plant. Abigail Rose is a smaller tree, and is fairly slow growing, so keep that in mind when selecting the pot. Soil Mix should be at least 50% bark and then gritty material for the rest. No Miracle Grow mix or anything of that sort. To over-winter I would wrap the entire thing very carefully with bubble-wrap or other insualting material and keep it in a shady but protected (if possible) place. The main thing is to keep it out of the sun and wind. An enclosed porch may work, as long as it stays fairly cold, but you will need to be sure to water it regularly thru the winter months, maybe once a month.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 9:31PM
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Thanks for your response, kaitain4!

After posting here on Sunday, I went to the Container Gardening Forum and was introduced to Al's Gritty Mix and I think I will use it for the potting medium; it sounds similar to what you are recommending, too - bark and gritty material. I've never used a soilless mixture before so I am a bit nervous but the mixture has won over a lot of folks here at GW - and on Dave's Garden - so I am going to give it a try. Finding all of the required ingredients (or their substitutes) and getting them together and mixed before the tree arrives is the challenge!

I am purchasing the tree from Davidsans Japanese Maples; it will be a 1 gallon tree and David recommends just using a 2 gallon pot for its first transplant so that the tree doesn't "swim" in too big of a pot. I have one that is just a bit bigger than 2 gallons that I plan to use.

The overwintering is the main problem. I do have a shed that I could put it in, though. It does get some sunlight in there during the winter because it has some small windows, but I should be able to keep the tree out of direct sunlight and it will have complete protection from the wind. Watering it shouldn't be a problem. The tree is only hardy to -15 degrees F but we seldom have below zero temps here in the Denver area, so, with the added insulation of the bubble wrap, as you suggested, I think it will be OK.

Do you think this will work?


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 12:39PM
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Yep, I think you'll be fine.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 12:55PM
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westy1941(Boulder County, CO)

Wow - I just plugged into GW to ask this very question. Living now in Illinois with Japanese Maples and we're thinking seriously about moving to the Denver area - daughter just had first grandchild - she's in Boulder. Son in Longmont. I am SICK about not being able to have my JM's and thought it was a lost cause! Here in the Chicago area, I still wrap them in burlap to keep out of sun and wind in winter...I didn't know I could keep them in pots!!! Thank you for the info Kaitain. Would a Crimson Queen be okay in a pot? Howabout a Bloodgood or others? (That will get a little bigger than the one Oakiris'. Where is Davidsons Japanese Maples, Oakiris? Or is your spelling (Davidsans) correct? Thank you for any help!


    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 2:06PM
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Where is Davidsons Japanese Maples, Oakiris? Or is your spelling (Davidsans) correct? Thank you for any help!

Davidsan's is the correct spelling- I almost had it right -"san" after the Japanese honorific. The nursery is actually located in Springfield, Illinois; here is the web site: Davidsan's Japanese Maples There is also an app on the site where you can choose Japanese maples according to seasonal colour, leaf type, size, hardiness, etc.: Sap Tree Selector The descriptions will even say if the tree makes a good container plant - at least they do for the smaller/dwarf trees I was searching for.

If you haven't left Illinois as yet, perhaps you can stop by the nursery and talk with David and look at the many selections he has; he is very knowledgeable and has been very helpful to me.

If you need more info about actually growing a tree/JM in a container, as I did (and do,) check out the Container Gardening forum here on GW as well as posting here in the Maples forum.

As far as what trees do well in a container - look at what gifted growers can do with bonsai trees! It would seem that any (??) tree can survive and thrive in a container given proper root pruning/training, fertilizer, potting mix, care, etc.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:58PM
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Larger growing selections - such as 'Bloodgood' - probably not the best choice for a container :-) Too much work involved with frequent upsizing or repotting to keep one like that happy. Bonsai'ing is quite different but stll requires a LOT of training, pruning and repotting.

Holly, I aplogize for not answering your post directly but the subject line is misleading.....I now nothing about growing JM's in unfavorable climates like Colorado, but I DO know quite a bit about growing JM's in containers :-) I've been doing it for years and have quite a big collection.

FWIW, if you've done much container growing at all, you've encountered 'soil-less' potting soil. Virtually ALL bagged commercial potting mixes contain no real soil - too heavy, too fine a particle size and offering insufficient drainage and aeration. Most potting soils are based on peat, coir or bark. But even peat or coir based mixes will start to collapse and compact during the course of a growing season and their smaller particle size impacts porosity. That's why a mix for a long term planting situation - like a JM or other tree - should be bark based and with minimal other organic matter.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 12:11PM
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gardengal - At the time I first posted my thread I was considering container growing JM's, but hoping someone would "enable" me to grow them in the ground here in Colorado! Thus the thread title. I have had success with a couple of green-leafed cultivars in very protected areas, but the red-leafed cultivars have all died, as have some green-leafed cultivars in the same protected spots.

Since I first started the thread, as you can see I have pretty much decided that container growing is the way to go here, and decided that Al's Gritty Mix, (which is bark based, bark in fact being the only organic material in it,) is the ideal potting medium. And, of course, I will still be growing the JM in Colorado with its intense sunlight, dry winds and cold winters, so the thread title is still somewhat accurate. :-)

I am pretty sure that the tree I am getting (it's scheduled to arrive next week) is going to be fully leafed out so I probably won't be able to use the Gritty Mix. I would need to bare root the tree before putting it in the mix, and bare rooting a JM that is not dormant is apparently a very bad idea. I will probably use Al's 5:1:1 mix - which is still bark based but is probably closer in consistency/particle size to the potting mix that the tree has been growing in - until next spring when I can bare root the tree while it is dormant.


    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 2:36PM
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If done carefully, bare rooting is not a bad idea at all :-) And it can save a lot of heartache down the road if the tree is potbound or has developed circling or girdling roots -- these must be corrected before potting up. You just want to bare root and replant out of the direct sun and preferrably in cooler weather. Replant ASAP and keep the tree in a shaded, cool location until it recovers. And water frequently as needed. I have repotted (and bare rooted) JM's at all times of the year without any fatalities :-) In fact, I pretty much bare root all my trees before planting or repotting.

Of course you can wait until later in the season to do so if you prefer. But you will need to keep a close eye on the plant in its orginal nursery container as it may dry out very easily as well as heat up excessively if exposed to much sun.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 5:43PM
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westy1941(Boulder County, CO)

Oakiris: Would you mind letting me know what part of Denver you are in? I know there are so many microclimates and I've heard that the city (older homes, of course) is the best for my hosta collection as well as the JM's I want to grow. We are now looking at the area and where daughter lives (Boulder) is a little pricey. Or are you in the foothills? It would help me so much to know where the gardeners are!


PS Please feel free to email me directly: cdwestg@att.net

    Bookmark   May 23, 2011 at 5:23PM
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