Japanese maple blushes crimson

It’s December, when our thoughts turn to Christmas trees and holiday baking and battening down the hatches of the garden for the winter. My green Japanese maple takes this moment every year to go all autumnal, flaming into the most spectacular fall display in my garden right about the time we’re dragging a Fraser fir through the door.

It happens in an instant. Last week I noticed a hint of orange along the leaf margins and said to myself, Aha, it’s beginning. But over the next few days it seemed to be turning a dull rust color. Just yesterday, as my daughter and I climbed into the car to head to school, I glanced over at it and said, “I don’t think the Japanese maple is going to be very colorful this year.” “Um,” she said in agreement, or perhaps polite disinterest.

And then this morning, as I stepped outside to move tender potted plants indoors ahead of a predicted freeze, I looked up and saw this.


The color is fleeting. If the expected freeze and possible freezing rain materialize, the leaves will swiftly brown and curl and drop to the ground. That’s the way of the garden and its transitory, seasonal beauty.

I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

41 Responses

  1. deb says:

    It is stunning!

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your home looks so inviting with that big orange lantern of a tree shining.

  3. peter schaar says:

    It is gorgeous, Pam. Do you know the variety? It would probably be good for us in Dallas.

  4. Rachelle says:

    I could have looked at a dozen more pictures of it! It is truly a stunner!

  5. Kris P says:

    Wow! If the leaves would hold awhile, you could skip Christmas decorations!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      The color is right. But even after 19 years here in Austin, I’m still not used to fall color hanging on into December. The trees need to be bare for Xmas lights! —Pam

  6. Scott Weber says:

    It’s gorgeous, Pam!

  7. Mike in Austin says:

    I just noticed mine today too. One is more burnt orange and the other is a deeper crimson.

    You have done a beautiful job Pam of pruning the trees and giving them great structure. Love to know any tips of yours.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Thanks, Mike. The maple already had attained its full size and was nicely shaped when we purchased the home. Once a year I prune out any extraneous and crossing branches as well as any that try to grow up against the house. —Pam

  8. Thanks so much for sharing. I love Japanese maples, since I’ve fallen in love with them, I’ve only had gardening space Houston, TX. They do poorly there.

    And since now I only garden as a volunteer and mostly grow native demonstration gardens, I count on people like you who share their beautiful gardens with the world.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’m so happy to share with you, Marilyn! Kudos to you on your volunteer gardening. —Pam

    • Kathy says:

      Marilyn, don’t give up. I have grown acer palmatum for the last 20 years here in Houston and they are flouishing at 15′ in the shade of giant live oaks. There are some years when they dont turn orange until Feb. because of the protective microclimate under the trees. Joshua’s has them for a reasonable price.

  9. Jenny says:

    What a beauty. Is it my imagination or is there more color on the trees this year? Maybe it was the fall rain and several cold spells.

  10. Ann Myers says:

    I was just trying to decide whether to put in a Japanese Maple, your pictures today convinced me that I definitely need to have this beauty for the fall. I love your blog and thank you so much.

  11. TexasDeb says:

    I’m with Jenny – I think leaf colors are more dramatic this year for whatever reason.

    I’ve resisted putting in a Japanese Maple, focusing rather on babying along a few flaming sumacs, but every time I see such a brilliant example of the maple’s December color display I kick myself and think “Next year!”. I’m noting our Althea bushes are turning a brilliant yellow while the Mexican buckeye and redbuds seem to be just about finished with their golden displays Trowels crossed the freezing rain doesn’t materialize and put an end to our late color show.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      My Mexican buckeye is just turning yellow, but it is in a protected spot, and that’s probably why it’s late. Flameleaf sumacs are gorgeous. I had one in my former garden. But since they like sun and Japanese maples like shade in our climate, maybe you have a spot for both! —Pam

  12. Phillip says:

    I’ve noticed that happens with our Japanese maples. You think that they are not going to be colorful and suddenly, overnight, they turn on the magic. It is really pretty!

  13. Katina says:

    It kinda vexes me that it’s all the understory trees that do the heavy lifting of autumn color change – or at least the ones that are crazy bright (japanese maple, mexican buckeye, etc.) I guess I’ll have to find a way to shoehorn in more trees in my little lot.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Some of our bigger trees have decent fall color too. Cedar elm is one of my favorites. And I’ve seen some pretty red oaks this fall. But understory trees are easier to squeeze in than shade trees! Do you have any room around the perimeter of your yard, maybe? Or do like Mother Nature and tuck one under the canopy of a bigger tree. —Pam

  14. Joanne says:

    Is that a partially buried wine barrel in the landscape?

  15. lovely! makes me miss home!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Japanese maples don’t seem to fit well into a “xericstyle” garden, do they? But if you have a north-facing shady spot, a Japanese maple underplanted with shade-tolerant natives like river fern or pigeonberry might be just the thing. —Pam

  16. Just when I decide what part of your amazing garden is my favorite, another part says “pick me, pick me!!” Thanks so much for sharing the beauty. Adding to comments on leaf color changes, my oak leaf hydrangea has gone all deep burgundy.

  17. Anna K says:

    Lovely, yet so fleeting. Would you believe it – Portland is covered in snow as I write this. The maples of last month are far gone. I hope yours lasts a while!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I heard about the Portland snow. I hope it remains just long enough to enjoy (about one day, in my limited experience) and then melts quickly away, with no harm done to your garden! —Pam

  18. Bob Pool says:

    The color is even brighter than the Flameleaf Sumac and I’m sure it’s life span is much longer. How many days do you think the color will last?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      I’d say about 2 weeks from the first tinges of color to the end. The brightest red lasts a little less than a week, I’d say — less this year, with the early hard freezes. —Pam

  19. Your tree has such a gorgeous shape, too. Nice pruning, Pam! I have a ‘Shaina’ outside of my front door that turns brilliant shades of red. I love my little tree (I say little because it’s probably the slowest growing variety on earth, and after 10 years is only 5′!) It’s ideal for really tight spaces.

  20. Very Christmasy with the green groundcover!

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