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Top 10 Winter Plants

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
Japanese maples can add fiery colors to your bleak yard.
Japanese maples can add fiery colors to your bleak yard.

­The Japanese maple is a deciduous tree native to Asia. Some varieties can grow to a height of 25 feet (7.5 meters), with a spread of 15 feet (4.57 meters) in some cases, although most varieties are smaller. They're prized for their fall foliage, which is often red and sometimes golden. There are also a number of dwarf varieties available that are easy to grow and make interesting focal points in the landscape.

The overall silhouette of the Japanese maple can vary from vase-shaped to cascading, depending on which type you select, and the leaf shapes are variable too. One thing you can be sure of: The fall display­ of the Japanese maple will make your garden a standout in the neighborhood. Memories of the vivid red, golden or ruby leaves will stay with you long after the last leaf has fallen. It's a great first act for the winter season to come.

Soil: Japanese maples will tolerate poor soil but do best in loamy soil (a combination of clay, silt and sand) with a pH from 3.7 to 6.5. They don't like wet roots, so make sure the surrounding soil drains well.

Water: Although somewhat drought tolerant, young plants may suffer from stress in summer if not watered regularly. Japanese maples are shallow-rooted, so keep that in mind when the temperatures soar, and don't rely on the rain to do all the watering work.

Zones: 5 to 8

Planting: Start new plants in spring after the last frost. They do best in dappled light with some protection from the wind.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Japanese maples are slow growers. ­
  • They make excellent potted trees or shrubs and are a perennial favorite in the art of bonsai.
  • They're prone to aphid infestations, so watch for telltale honeydew, and try companion plantings of nasturtiums or petunias to keep aphid populations down.

In the next section, we'll look at a holiday favorite: holly.