While there are many different cultivars of Japanese Maple, all are suited to the art of bonsai due to their adaptability to training and their vibrant leaf shapes and colors. They can be trained in multiple bonsai growing styles, particularly in the informal upright (moyogi), slanting (shakan) and cascade (kengai) styles. When grown in the wild, a maple can reach more than 30-feet in height with multiple trunks that grow to the ground, and naturally dome-like foliage.
Although Japanese Maple are dormant during the winter months, during the growing season many varieties sport beautiful red and purple leaves that change throughout the year and set this species apart from other plants commonly cultivated for bonsai.
The Japanese Maple is generally adaptable in lower light and temperature conditions. This maple tends to grow best receiving sun only in the morning and afternoon, due to its delicate leaves, which can burn when exposed to the hotter mid-day sun.
When choosing a Japanese Maple bonsai, begin with a trunk that is at least four inches in diameter. That way, you will have the option to pursue a variety of styles when growing your bonsai. Due to their popularity among both beginners and more advanced growers, these maples are fairly easy to find either as seedlings or as already started bonsai (usually at around four to six inches tall).
Although it is not necessarily required to water a Japanese Maple bonsai every day, check daily to make sure the soil is not dry. The soil should be moist at all times. Also, be mindful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot. Especially prior to new growth, this plant can become very thirsty and are susceptible to drying out quickly. It's important to regularly mist it to keep up its humidity level. If the plant has been root pruned, you must mist it so that the leaves are able to absorb an adequate amount of water to live on until the roots are able to supply the tree with water.
It is best to prune a Japanese Maple during the spring, when it is beginning its growth cycle. Occasionally, this maple may begin to grow a spiral of branches from dormant buds. If there are dormant buds in between the nodes, your tree may be at risk for this. If you plan to purchase a Japanese Maple or grow it from a cutting, make sure to carefully inspect the plant.
Japanese Maple trees vary in how fast they will grow. It is important to be patient and not use any growth-accelerating fertilizers with this bonsai. This can shock the tree and cause damage that can either destroy the tree or at least cause a major setback to its proper growth.
Overall, the Japanese Maple is a great choice for either the beginning or advanced bonsai enthusiast!