Feel the thickness of a Japanese maple leaf, especially a cutleaf (dissectum) type, and it doesn't take much imagination to understand how they might sunburn or get wind-tattered if planted in the wrong place. For that reason I'm especially happy when someone says they want a Japanese maple and have an east-facing exposure. Love the idea of the morning sun to fully color the burgundy leaved varieties, but afternoon shade to prevent sunburn. Deep shade for most of the day will muddy maroon leaves and turn them green/brown. Not a color you hoped for when you chose to own a Japanese maple.
|Cutleaf (dissectum) type foliage|
Another bonus to an eastern exposure is the shelter it provides from prevailing northwest winter winds. That isn't to say you can't grow one successfully in a south or west (with no afternoon shade) facing site. Just avoid planting it against brick walls or surrounded by paved surfaces where it will get reflected afternoon heat and sun, both on its leaves and roots. I have certainly seen good looking specimens planted in afternoon sun, but they've always been placed away from reflective surfaces and were well mulched!
Japanese maples are perfectly happy in average garden soils that aren't excessively compacted or ever experience standing water. If you can meet these site requirements perhaps you should consider adding a Japanese maple to your landscape. Want something distinctive?
'Koto-No-Ito' (Harp strings) - An unusual mixture of slender string-like green leaves, two different sizes at the same time! Golden-yellow fall color, bright green bark. Have one myself, love it.
'Osakazuki' - Durable, non-burning green summer leaves. Considered by many to have the most intense scarlet fall color of any Japanese maple.
'Asahi zuru' (Dawn swan) - Stunning variegation of white, rich green with pink tones that later turn white. Afternoon shade is a plus.
'Beni maiko' (Red-haired dancing girl) - Emerges fire-red, maturing to pinkish-red and green leaves. Stunning pink-red fall color.
'Shishigashira' (Lion's head or mane) - Dwarfish tree with densely tufted green leaves that are sun-proof. Gold and crimson fall color. Very compact with ornamental green bark. Elegant is the adjective to use. Have one, wouldn't be without it.
'Oridono nishiki' (Rich colored fabric of the master) - Deep, shiny green changing with wide ranges of pink, white and cream variegation. Yes, really pink.
'Seiryu' (Blue-green dragon) - The only upright growing cutleaf type. Emerges bright green with reddish tones, green in summer, fall brings gold, yellow and red!
'Inaba shidare' (Cascading rice-like leaf) - Deep-purple red leaves retain their color well all season, then brilliant purple-red for autumn.
The addition of even a single Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, A. palmatum dissectum) to a landscape can quickly elevate the beauty of a space. Many of us are familiar with the standard varieties, 'Bloodgood', 'Crimson Queen', and 'Garnet'. Don't let the exotic names of the many hardy varieties mentioned above keep you from "branching out" and considering them for your garden.