How to Grow and Care for Weeping Japanese Maples

Acer palmatum var. dissectum

Whether it’s a screaming infant in the theater, a breakup gone horribly wrong, or the ‘It’s Not Your Fault’ scene from “Good Will Hunting,” weeping speaks volumes: “Don’t bring a baby to the movies.” “Let ’em down easier next time.” “Matt Damon has range.”

This is true in the botanical world, as well. Plants with a weeping form stand out from the upright clumps of greenery that we’re so used to seeing.

The uniqueness of foliage not attempting to stretch up for sunlight is intriguing, to say the least. And the beloved Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, comes in weeping form!

A close up vertical image of the foliage of a Japanese weeping maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum). To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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Also known as A. palmatum var. dissectum, Japanese weeping maples add the majesty of dissected leaves and a cascading habit to an already-awesome plant. It’s well worth learning how to grow one in your own landscape or garden.

So much so, in fact, that we’ve whipped up this little guide here. We’ll cover everything you’ll need to know to grow these plants yourself.

Here are the specific nuggets of knowledge that you’ll be nibbling on up ahead:

What Are Japanese Weeping Maples?

Although plants can secrete tear-like water droplets from the ends of their leaves – a process known as guttation – this isn’t what “weeping” is referring to in this case.

When a plant’s common name contains the word “weeping,” this is in reference to the drooping growth habit of its branches and foliage.

A horizontal image of a weeping Japanese maple tree growing in the lawn outside a residence.

Along with this weeping form, A. palmatum var. dissectum also has dissected leaves with seven to eleven lobes each.

Each lobe is jagged, feathery, and finely cut down to its point of attachment, or node. The end result is lace-like foliage that sways a bit more gracefully in the wind than standard Japanese maple foliage.

For these reasons, this variety is also commonly referred to as threadleaf, cutleaf, or laceleaf Japanese maple.

A. palmatum var. dissectum has an average height of eight to 10 feet so it’s a bit shorter than a standard Japanese maple, with a typical A. palmatum ranging in height from 15 to 25 feet.

Both the standard species and this variety possess a spread that is typically equal to or greater than their width.

I’ve generalized these details for a reason, though – with all of the natural variations and different cultivars out there, one all-encompassing description is difficult to provide if not impossible.

But a weeping habit and finely-dissected leaves are common features that all maples of this variety share.

Cultivation and History

Best grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8, A. palmatum var. dissectum hails from China, Japan, and Korea. This plant owes the “Japanese” part of its common moniker to the way it was heavily cultivated by the Japanese people for centuries.

A close up horizontal image of the foliage of a red Japanese weeping maple.

Japanese maples were first mentioned in writing way back in the 7th century, and they were introduced to England and the eastern United States in 1840 and 1862, respectively.

The majority of Japanese weeping maple varieties were carried to America by Japanese immigrants, who traveled across the Pacific to the West Coast of the USA.

These cultivars, formerly unknown to Western gardeners, were brought to light by J. D. Vertrees, a retired county extension agent from Oregon who published a book titled “Japanese Maples” in 1978.

This was the first text to cover A. palmatum var. dissectum cultivars in English, and it was also the first publication of Timber Press.

Japanese Maples

Copies of the most recent edition are available now on Amazon.

Many different cultivars have been bred since then, with each possessing a unique combination of characteristics that give this variety of Japanese maple its own ornamental niche in the landscape.

Propagation

Many A. palmatum var. dissectum cultivars were propagated by taking cuttings from a mutated branch of a standard Japanese maple, so it’s best to avoid growing Japanese weeping maple cultivars from seed.

Cuttings will produce a pure genetic copy of the plant that you’re propagating, while seeds may leave you with a plant that’s not quite what you were looking for.

Feel free to give it a shot if you’re patient and you like unexpected surprises – you can learn more about the process in our guide to propagating Japanese maples from seed.

Along with rooting cuttings, you can also transplant a Japanese weeping maple that you purchased from a nursery or an online vendor.

From Cuttings

Begin by taking softwood cuttings of new, fresh growth from a mature tree in May.

With a sterilized blade, remove a three- to four-inch cutting from the tip of a branch. Choose one with nodes that are spaced close together, if possible.

Remove the leaves from the lower half of the cutting and dip the defoliated end in rooting hormone powder or gel.

A close up of a bottle of Bonide Bontone II Rooting Powder isolated on a white background.

Bonide Bontone II Rooting Hormone

Bonide offers 1.25-ounce containers of IBA root hormone powder – enough for rooting 2,800 average cuttings – via Arbico Organics.

Stick the hormone-dipped end of the cutting into a well-draining, 1020-sized plastic seed tray that’s filled with a 50/50 mix of sphagnum peat moss and perlite. Place the tray adjacent to a sunny window and keep the media moist.

Hardening off can begin once the cutting has developed a set or two of new leaves.

On a spring day after the threat of frost has passed, place the cutting outside in a partially-shaded spot, and leave it out for 30 to 60 minutes. Once that time’s up, bring the cutting back inside.

A horizontal image of a Japanese weeping maple tree growing outside a residence pictured in bright sunshine.

The next day, do the same thing, but add an additional 30 to 60 minutes. Repeat this addition of time with each successive day until the cuttings are acclimated to a full day’s worth of outdoor exposure.

At this point, you’re ready for transplanting!

Via Transplanting

Prepare holes in your garden that are as deep as each transplant’s root system is tall. Make the holes a bit wider than the roots, though – this makes for easier backfilling.

A horizontal image of a specimen Acer palmatum var. dissectum growing in the middle of the lawn.

Place the transplants into their respective holes, then backfill with the dug out soil. Water in the transplants, and keep the adjacent soil moist until they become established.

How to Grow

As with any plant, proper cultivation is essential for ideal health and aesthetics.

Climate and Exposure Needs

Japanese weeping maples grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8, so make sure you don’t plant north or south of these regions.

A close up horizontal image of a Japanese weeping maple growing in the garden.

A. palmatum var. dissectum loves partial shade exposures. Full sun is a bit too harsh, while full shade will diminish a Japanese weeping maple’s fall color. Think Goldilocks – not too much, not too little, but just right.

Soil Needs

Above all else, the soil must be well-draining. This can be accomplished with many different soil textures, but trying to improve the drainage to plant in clay is a hassle. Choose a space with a silt loam or sandy texture if possible.

A close up horizontal image of the bright red foliage of a Japanese weeping maple growing in the garden.

Slightly acidic soils are also your best bet, so shoot for a pH somewhere in the range of 5.5 to 6.5.

Water and Fertilizer Needs

Until established, the soil where Japanese weeping maples are planted should be kept moist. Afterwards, they only need moderate supplemental irrigation. In practice, wait until the top couple inches of soil are dry before watering in the absence of rain.

A close up horizontal image of a small Japanese weeping maple growing in a garden border.

Every spring, A. palmatum var. dissectum could use some fertilization before the leaves emerge.

This is best achieved by working two to four inches of organic material into the soil above the root zone. Organic materials such as compost and well-rotted manure are solid choices.

Read more about fertilizing Japanese maples in our guide.

Growing Tips

  • Partial shade exposure is optimal.
  • Be sure to provide well-draining soil.
  • Irrigate moderately by letting the top one to two inches of soil dry out in between watering.

Pruning

Feel free to remove diseased, dying, and sickly branches whenever you happen to notice them. Use sterilized blades when doing so.

Interested in shaping your A. palmatum var. dissectum to better suit your aesthetic vision? Find more tips on pruning here.

Cultivars to Select

There are many different varieties of Japanese weeping maples to choose from… it’s almost overwhelming! Here are several that – in my humble opinion – truly stand out.

Crimson Queen

Known for its crimson red growth that emerges in spring and persists throughout the growing season, ‘Crimson Queen’ practically demands fealty with its gorgeous leaves.

Come autumn, the foliage’s redness changes from a blood-red crimson to a bright-red scarlet. All of that in combination with beautifully cascading branches, ‘Crimson Queen’ makes for a wonderful addition to the garden.

A close up square image of the foliage of Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen.'

‘Crimson Queen’

To purchase a two- to three-foot-tall ‘Crimson Queen’ in a #2 container, visit Nature Hills Nursery.

Inaba Shidare

For a red, large-leafed, and sturdy A. palmatum var. dissectum cultivar, ‘Inaba Shidare’ is the one for you. During the growing season, the six-inch-wide foliage emerges a purple-red before turning a bright crimson in fall.

A close up vertical image of the bright red fall foliage of Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’ pictured on a soft focus background.
Photo via Alamy.

‘Inaba Shidare’ also has a fast growth rate and is cold-hardy to boot, making it more than just a pretty face. Er, tree…

Seiryu

In defiance of its Japanese weeping maple kin, ‘Seiryu’ has an upright growing habit, standing tall while its brethren are fit to droop. With a rich green color during the growing season, its foliage turns shades of gold, orange, and orange-red in autumn.

It’s a bit taller than average as well, with a mature height of 10 to 15 feet.

Long story short – if you like the Japanese weeping maple but dislike the “weeping” part, and you also want something other than a standard Japanese maple, then ‘Seiryu’ is for you.

A close up square image of the foliage of an Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Seiryu' pictured on a soft focus background.

‘Seiryu’

Interested in this cultivar? Order one now from Nature Hills Nursery.

Viridis

With seven- to nine-lobed leaves that start off green in spring and turn yellow-gold or red in fall, ‘Viridis’ is a widely available cultivar of A. palmatum var. dissectum.

With its varied color scheme at different times of year, many gardeners will be able to find a suitable space in the landscape where the hues of ‘Viridis’ will complement the plantings around it.

A close up square image of 'Viridis' Japanese weeping maple growing in a rock garden.

‘Viridis’

It reaches six to eight feet in height and six to 10 feet in width, and specimens can be purchased from FastGrowingTrees.com.

Waterfall

‘Waterfall’ is very similar to ‘Viridis,’ except for its large, three- to five-inch-long and equally wide leaves. It’s a bit more shrub-like than ‘Viridis,’ with a more rounded form.

Subtle differences, sure… but ‘Waterfall’ is nevertheless an essential cultivar for any diehard Japanese weeping maple collector to own.

A close up square image of 'Waterfall' Japanese weeping maple with orange fall foliage growing in the garden.

‘Waterfall’

To buy a two- to three-foot-tall ‘Waterfall’ specimen, check out FastGrowingTrees.com.

Managing Pests and Disease

One notable factoid: A. palmatum var. dissectum is notably resistant to rabbit damage! But this plant is far from indestructible. Let’s examine what types of pests and diseases can threaten a Japanese weeping maple’s health.

Insects

In addition to the damage that they already cause, insects can be vectors for disease. By dialing in their management, a gardener can help to prevent disease outbreaks as well.

Aphids

Aphids are small, green, soft-bodied insects that feed directly from the phloem of plant tissues with sucking mouthparts.

Along with the stress and structural destruction that this causes the plant, aphids excrete honeydew as they feed, which can attract ants and lead to black sooty mold infections as well as further tissue damage.

The best forms of control include strong sprays of water and applications of horticultural oil. The former will physically knock the aphids off of leaf surfaces, while the latter will snuff them out.

A bottle of Monterey Horticultural Oil isolated on a white background.

Monterey Horticultural Oil

Monterey sells horticultural oil in ready-to-spray and concentrate that are available at Arbico Organics.

Read more about managing aphid infestations in our guide.

Asian Ambrosia Beetles

Also known as the granulate ambrosia beetle, Xylosandrus crassiusculus shows up in early spring to attack deciduous trees with thin bark such as Japanese weeping maples.

Their presence is indicated by wilting leaves and toothpick-like woody trunk protrusions.

The beetles bore into trunks, feed on sapwood and heartwood, and vector fungal pathogens. Suffering from the combined damage of all these issues, infested plants often die.

Pyrethroid insecticide applications can work as a preventative measure, and permethrin formulations can be applied in February, a month before the beetles usually show up to bore into trees.

If pruning dead wood doesn’t save an infested tree, it’s best to remove and destroy the entire specimen to prevent further spread.

Green-Striped Maple Worms

Dryocampa rubicunda feeds on a few different types of tree, but maples are its favorite host. The worms are the larval stage of the adult moths, aka rosy maple moths.

A close up of a pink and yellow furry moth on a wooden surface.

These moths lay yellow eggs on the underside of leaves. The larvae that hatch out are about an inch and a half long when fully grown, with black heads, green and white stripes, and red markings on both ends of their bodies.

A close up of a caterpillar walking upside down on the branch of a tree pictured on a soft focus background.

After hatching, the mapleworms start feeding on foliage, which can end up severely defoliating infested trees.

The damage is usually temporary, but overall growth can be stunted if defoliation occurs repeatedly in consecutive years. All this damage and stress can leave the infested tree vulnerable to more severe issues down the line.

For prevention, it’s important to avoid fertilizing excessively, as an overabundance of nutrients can make plant tissues more appetizing to the pests.

Scrape off the yellow egg clusters when you find them, or just remove the entire leaf. Severely infested branches can be pruned away and disposed of.

Bacillus thuringiensis will target the mapleworms while leaving beneficial insects alone.

A close up of three bottles of Monterey Bt isolated on a white background.

Monterey Bt Liquid Concentrate

Monterey sells pint-, quart-, and gallon-sized containers of Bt insecticide concentrate that are available from Arbico Organics.

We’ve just hit the highlights of the most common pest issues here. You can use our in-depth pest guide to learn more about identifying and controlling other creepy crawlies that may harm your trees.

Disease

Using sterilized tools, disease-free soil, and proper cultivation practices will go a long way in keeping specimens healthy.

Anthracnose

Caused by fungi, anthracnose causes darkened foliar spots, leaf cupping, leaf curling, and premature leaf drop.

Cool and wet weather conditions are often precursors to anthracnose infections. The fungal spores overwinter in trees and fallen leaf detritus, and are splashed by water and carried by wind in spring.

Anthracnose is rarely more than a cosmetic issue, so it can be ignored and the tree will most likely be fine. But if control is warranted in the case of severe infections, there are some things you can do.

Raking up and destroying leaf detritus, pruning infected branches, and proper cultivation practices are all excellent preventative measures. In the event of severe defoliation several years in a row, fungicides can be applied to prevent reinfection.

Leaf Scorch

While not a disease per se as it isn’t caused by an infectious pathogen, leaf scorch is a physiological condition that occurs when there isn’t enough water for plants to cope with harsh heat and sun.

As a result of leaf scorch, foliage will brown and dry along the leaf margins. As the scorch progresses, entire leaves will blacken and die.

There is no known cure for scorched foliage, but plants can bounce back if the causal stressors are remediated. This means proper watering and proper fertilizing, since the former leads to leaf scorch and the latter damages water-collecting roots.

Best Uses

A Japanese weeping maple makes for an ideal specimen planting, so be sure to put yours in a place where it will stand out as a focal point in the landscape.

A close up horizontal image of the deep red foliage of Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen' growing in the garden.

Most specimen plants also make good accents… but not this one. Its size, growing habit, and foliar interest make it pretty tough for an A. palmatum var. dissectum to share the spotlight. But hey – a plant could certainly have worse qualities.

With how these plants weep, you wouldn’t want to put any smaller plants underneath the canopy, much like you wouldn’t want someone with an attractive forehead to sport bangs.

But this weeping habit makes background plantings stand out all the more, so… pros and cons!

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type:Deciduous treeFlower/Foliage Color:Gold, purple, red/Green, orange, purple, red
Native to:China, Japan, KoreaTolerance:Shade, rabbits
Hardiness (USDA Zone):5-8Maintenance:Low to moderate
Season:Spring (fall color)Soil Type:Fertile, sandy, silt loam
Exposure:Partial shadeSoil pH:5.5-6.5
Time to Maturity:10-15 yearsSoil Drainage:Well-draining
Planting Depth:1/4 inch (seeds), depth of root ball (transplants)Uses:Specimen
Spacing6-12 feetOrder:Sapindales
Height:8-10 feetFamily:Sapindaceae
Spread:10-12 feetGenus:Acer
Water Needs:ModerateSpecies:Palmatum
Common Pests and Disease:Aphids, Asian ambrosia beetles, green-striped mapleworms; anthracnose, leaf scorchVariety:Dissectum

The Japanese Weeping Maple: It’ll Bring You to Tears

For some people, it becomes harder and harder to cry with age.

Set your eyes on an A. palmatum var. dissectum, however, and you may find yourself welling up… or, if you dislike revealing your sensitive side, you may wonder aloud who’s cutting onions nearby.

A close up horizontal image of a purple and a green Japanese weeping maple growing side by side in the garden.

Hyperbole aside, the Japanese weeping maple is truly beautiful. It’ll make a wonderful addition to your garden or landscape!

Any remarks or questions can go in the comments section below. We get a kick out of reading your comments here at Gardener’s Path, so don’t be shy!

For more A. palmatum guides, behold what we have in store:

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About

As a native Missourian, Joe Butler grew up exploring midwestern forests and landscapes. Holding a BS in Plant Sciences from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Joe’s horticultural experiences include home gardening, landscaping, botanical garden work, and plant virology. When he’s not writing about or working with plants, Joe can be found buried in a book, performing stand-up comedy, or eating nutritionally concerning amounts of peanut butter.
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