What is a Dwarf Japanese Maple?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A dwarf Japanese maple is a Japanese maple cultivar which has been bred to be small and heavily branched. There are a number of dwarf cultivars bred for a variety of foliage, from lace-leaf types to dwarf Japanese maples with variegated foliage which is designed to add color to the garden. Nurseries may carry or be able to order dwarf Japanese maple cultivars for their clients, and gardeners can also visit nurseries which specialize in Japanese maples to see an array of cultivars on display.

Dwarf Japanese maples are bred to be small, with many branches.
Dwarf Japanese maples are bred to be small, with many branches.

Depending on the cultivar, a dwarf Japanese maple can reach a maximum height of six to nine feet (two to three meters), and the tree is usually slow growing. Some cultivars are designed to spread out as they grow, creating a low-lying tree or shrub. Others may have drooping, weepy branches, a more erect growing habit, or be bred to develop tight balls of branches and foliage. The trees can also be shaped with judicious pruning and training to achieve desired looks.

These trees are well suited to small gardens with limited space, along with rock gardens and container gardens. Dwarf Japanese maples can also be used in bonsai, with some cultivars being bred expressly for this purpose. Bonsai growth usually requires much more precise trimming and training to achieve desired aesthetics. Some nurseries sell bonsai which has already been established, for people who are interested in bonsai as ornamentation, but not necessarily in the culturing of bonsai trees and plants.

All Japanese maples belong to the same species, Acer palmatum, which also includes regular Japanese maples. These trees have been developed through many years of careful breeding and culture to bring out desired traits. Some examples of dwarf Japanese maple cultivars include: Aratama, Kashima, Beni Hoshi, Kiyohime, Beni Hime, Kinra, Green Star, Geisha, Ukon, Yubae, Wou Nishiki, and Baby Lace. Some nurseries have developed their own unique cultivars which may only be available through them, and gardeners who spot a particularly stunning Japanese maple may want to ask where the tree was purchased for this reason.

The climate sensitivity of a dwarf Japanese maple can vary, depending on the cultivar. As a general rule, these trees do not appreciate direct sunlight, and they need an area of the garden which is sheltered from wind. The soil around a Japanese maple should also be well conditioned and fertilized to promote healthy growth. Gardeners who are not sure about which cultivars would be suitable for their area should ask the staff at a nursery for recommendations, or look for healthy mature trees and find out what cultivar they are.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


We have the droopy, weepy variety of Dwarf Japanese Maple called Crimson Queen (Acer palmatum). Right now it is about 4 feet tall but will grow to about 10 feet eventually. This type has burgundy red leaves and drapes, almost like an opened umbrella. It’s ideal for us because we live in deer country and it is deer resistant. We’ve never had an aphid problem but you might try dish soap and water.


We have a beautiful Dwarf Japanese Maple in our courtyard and it’s true that they are slow growing! It hardly seems to have grown at all in the five years it’s been there. They’re great trees but they’re also prone to aphid infestations. Every year our tree has leaf drop due to the aphids and because I won’t use chemicals on it, they can be hard to control. They can also be affected by borers, but we haven’t had that problem.

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