need help with Japanese Maple Red Dragon

vivian_2010August 12, 2014

Hi, I am new to Japanese Maple but have been craving for one for a few years. I recently bought a 3 gallon potted Red Dragon (~ 3-4 ft tall). I am really enjoying the beautiful shape and color. I want it to survive the cold weather in our Zone 5a and grow year after year.

I can plant it now (with the cool summer). What precautions I should take to winterize it?

If I leave it in pot, what are the things I can do to help it surviving the winter? I have a unheated garage, but not sure if it gets cold enough in the winter.

Thanks for your help in advance!

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I'm in 5B, so not far away. You'll probably get a number of different opinions, so I'll tell you how I would approach it. I've had few losses outside of my own mistakes last winter.

If the plant is badly root bound, I would overwinter the plant in a protected area that is out of any wind. Ensure a heavy layer of mulch and possibly chicken wire. I had a lot of rabbit damage last year due to them not being able to find normal foods. Be sure it's watered up through November.

If the plant is not badly root bound, I would soak in water and untangle the roots. Some will say that this is absolutely the wrong time to do that. Personally, I have done this throughout the summer with no casualties.

You may want to factor in where you will plant. If the plant is going to be in blistering sun, I would wait until spring. If it's partially shaded, I would plant now.

If you'd like to pull the plant from the pot and include a picture of the roots, that would be helpful and we could probalby give more confident advice.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 12:37PM
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John, Thanks for the helpful input. The maple is in a burlap bag and then the bag is inside the pot. So I don't know if the plant is root bound or not. Should I cut off the bag before planting or examining it?

Here is the picture of the pot. Not sure if this provides sufficient details?

The site I plan to plant has ~ 3 hours late afternoon sun (4-7 pm). The rest of day is in shade or dappled light. This summer has been cold so temp has been in the 70's or lower 80's.


    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 8:39PM
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I'm confused, do you mean that it's a small ball and burlap? Can you take a picture with the plant gently pulled part way out of the pot?

If it's some sort of root bag, I have no experience. If it's a b&b, we can walk you through planting.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 9:39PM
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As Illinois John stated, it absolutely IS the wrong time to bare root a tree, but yes, it can be someone with experience bare-rooting and re-potting containerized trees. It would not be a good thing to do as your first.

That being said, seeing the pic of the tree I would ABSOLUTELY NOT bare root it! It appears in great shape and not at all in distress.

You could do either, but I prefer planting in spring. I feel it will do just fine in your garage.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 2:18PM
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Thank you for the information. We were able to cut a small hole of the side of the container and examined the root. The roots were nice. The contain is actually at least 5 Gallon and the tree is at least 4 ft tall. So we will plan to winterize in the unheated garage, then plant next spring.

Thanks again for the help!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 3:49PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I agree - there's really no good reason to bare root deciduous material while it's in leaf unless you plan on a hard pruning and some aftercare that includes an environment where you can keep humidity high, and are going to repot into a highly aerated soil that optimizes root function. It's not worth the risk ...... and, if you do bare root and don't prune the tree hard, and the roots can't keep up with the water demands of the top, the tree will use it's own chemical messenger system to determine which branches it wants to shed - you'll have no say in the matter and there's a good chance you'll lose branches that detract from the eye appeal of your tree.

I overwinter lots of maples and other deciduous material hardy to zones as high as 8 in my attached/unheated garage. I toss a little snow on the soil every month or so to keep the soil from drying completely and all is well. One problem with the garage over-wintering is a flush of growth that's ahead of the tree's counterparts in the landscape by several weeks. I would plant it in spring while it is still fully quiescent, AFTER removing enough soil to allow you to correct all root problems. Make sure you eliminate encircling, girdling, j-hooked roots as well as any roots growing upward or back toward the center of the root mass when you plant. Once a tree becomes root bound to the point that the root/soil mass can be lifted from the container intact, there is virtually a 100% chance that the tree will always be limited by those root issues unless you correct them.

If done while dormant, your tree will tolerate removal of up to 75% of it's roots with no complications. Here's a maple repot of a tree I acquired by layering the top off another tree:

You can see I removed at least 90% of the roots at the first hint of spring budswell, and you can see the wire tourniquet I used in the layering. The tree is eventually going to be a bonsai, so I drilled through the cambium in 7 places and filled the holes with rooting gel so I would get horizontal and perfectly spaced roots, which is an extremely important characteristic of quality (bonsai) trees.

Same tree this spring immediately after a trunk chop to build taper, and a few days ago. The foil is holding sphagnum moss over the wound so it heals much faster.

I offered the pics and added conversation so you could see I have a pretty good working knowledge of how trees behave and wouldn't be quite so hesitant to follow the advice.

Grove/clump style

Mother/daughter style

Best luck! ~ Al

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 3:40AM
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