Grass around Japanese maples?

sprucemanNovember 3, 2006

Do Japanese maples, maybe primarily Acer palmatum, do better if the grass is kept away from them? If so, how wide an area should be kept grass-free and mulched? Grass should be kept away from Ilex opaca, American holly, for the best performance--it can make a substantial difference. But for a lot of other trees and shrubs it doesn't seem to make very much difference, or it makes no difference.


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I'd think you'd get some differing opinions on the advisibility of turf grass surrounding any tree, particularly those in the process of establishment. Turf grasses tend to be water and nutrient hogs and can easily outcompete young trees' feeder roots for these essentials and of course there is the omnipresent danger of damage from mowers or string trimmers, which contribute heavily to a high young tree mortality rate, not to mention the soil compaction that typically occurs with lawns from constant mowing and walking. And then there is the aesthetic consideration of what a tree plunked down in the middle of a lawn area presents - no grounding to the landscape or to the residence. May be OK in a large, park-like setting, but IMO not appropriate for residential properties.

Personally, I prefer to see trees, and Japanese maples specifically, in a dedicated planting area with some low growing groundcover-like plants or small shrubs as accents. They resent root disturbance, so whatever you select to underplant with should not require periodic division. I'd also question the amount of fertilizer they'd receive if planted in a regularly fertilized lawn. The addendum to that is that JM's prefer acidic soils, whereas turf grasses prefer soils that are nearly neutral in pH.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 11:30AM
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When we planted our first home we had turf grass or lawn in the center of both the front and back yards and then small to large planting areas surronding the lawns. The maples we planted might have been bordered on one side by the grass but not on the others. We never did fully surrond a maple with grass but did us other ornamentals, ground covers, ornamental grasses, etc.

The primary issue besides asthetics is that turf grasses require much more water and nutrients than most asian maples need. Some native maple species will do fine, but most of these are larger shade and stree trees. The compaction of the soil and excess water usually creates problems when turf grass is planted all the way around a japanese or asian maple. If a are to plant in a grass-covered area is is best to elevate the maple on a mound so that it has good drainage while it is extablishing. This in and of itself often looks silly.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2006 at 1:35PM
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Asian Maples like water. Not standing water but certainly frequent waterings.

Keep some turf away. You'll just end up damaging the bark at some point or be out there laying at ground level with a pair of scissors to maintain the turf near the trunk. Stringtrimmer + turf + Trunk of tree = bad. Same with mower.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2006 at 7:46AM
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I posted this question because my coral bark maple, which has grass right up to the trunk, seems to be a little weaker than it should be. The American hollies I have really have benefited from my getting the grass away from them--their vigor seems to have doubled. From what I am seeing in the responses here, maybe the same thing is true of these maples, but several replies seem to focus more on other issues, such as aesthetics and risk of damaging the tree while mowing. But I will kill the grass and mulch to about 5 feet in all directions and see what happens, but the small area where I have this tree would probably look better if I left the grass, or most of it.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2006 at 9:16AM
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The entire Maple collection at The US National Arboretum has turf up to each tree's trunk.

Maybe just watering it more and giving it a few acid fert spikes in the spring is all it needs.

Your call Spruce.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2006 at 12:50PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

GardenGal pretty well summed it up. I would like to add that broadleaf weed killer on the lawn near a tree is asking for trouble too.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 12:11PM
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myersphcf(z6a IL)

I think Dax is correct but I do think it would be unwise on a newly planted tree. As a tree grows and its roots spread the grass is less of a problem except as stated with mower/trimmer damage or damge from lawn care products some use...and remember as the tree gets big the canopy of most trees, JM's included tend to NATURALLY keep a small area around the tree grass free or at least very thinly grassed . I also think a 5 ft denuding of grass around the tree is a bit excessive and would just do maybe 18"-2' all aound and nulchng 4 " thick with cedar bark mulch 6" away from trunk...But as dax said ...your call ..David

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 1:28PM
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Thanks guys! Grass is obviously not the kind of problem I thought it might be for these trees.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 9:11PM
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