Dwarf Japanese Maple Varieties For Small Gardens Or Containers

There is always something a little magical about autumn. Comforting in nature, the fall months are inspiriting with crisp breezes, everything involving pumpkin, and of course, the lush green foliage slowly change to striking oranges, reds, and yellows.

If you want to experience the changing of colors in your own yard without having to plant cumbersome trees, or maybe your yard isn’t big enough to fit a large tree, the dwarf Japanese maple can give you vibrant colors throughout the spring, summer, and fall without getting too unmanageable for your landscape.

Perfect for small gardens or container gardening on terraces and patios, certain compact varieties of Japanese maples provide a touch of drama and romance while remaining practically sized.

Ranging from 1.40 to 2 meters in height, these smaller varieties stand apart from other Japanese maples that can grow up to 10 meters tall. As an added bonus, their naturally diminutive stature makes them ideal for bonsai creations.

Although Japanese maples generally do not require pruning, you can trim these compact varieties to maintain their size and control growth.

Notable for their delicate foliage, vibrant colors, and unique growth habits like upright or weeping forms, dwarf varieties of Japanese maples offer conjure a symphony of vibrant hues right outside your doorstep.

As summer winds down to an end,, immerse yourself in the captivating drama and romance of ever-changing foliage by introducing Japanese dwarf maple varieties to your garden or patio containers.

These enchanting trees set the stage for a magical autumnal affair right in your own outdoor space. Whether you prefer deep reds, sunny yellows, or warm oranges, there’s a Japanese dwarf maple varieties that’s perfect for you.

So, let the wondrous world of dwarf Japanese maples steal your heart, and immerse yourself in the dreamy warmth of fall’s embrace.

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1: Waterfall (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Waterfall’)

Of the weeping variety, the Waterfall dwarf Japanese maple is one of the smallest. This maple gets its name from its drooping branches and long leaves that cascade downwards like water.

Most dwarf Japanese maples are slow growers, but this one is a little quicker in growth. In 10 years, it will reach about 6 feet. Granted, it stops growing at about 10 feet tall. So, this is a good option if you want your maple to mature quicker.

The mounding shrub will emerge light green in the spring, slowly darkening into a warm green throughout the summer months.

Autumn transforms the green foliage into a golden yellow, before turning a glowing orange with hints of red by the end of the season.

Don’t wait any longer – head over to Nature Hills Nursery today to get yours Waterfall Japanese Maple in a one- or three-gallon container!

  • Hardiness: Waterfalls grow best in USDA zones 5-8, but cannot thrive in zone 9, as other dwarf Japanese maples can, because of too much sunlight.
  • Light exposure: Full sun with partial afternoon shade, but sheltered from drying winds.
  • Size: maximum of 10 feet tall with a spread of 12 feet.
  • Soil requirements: well-drained, slightly acidic soil, mulch to keep roots cool; grows well in sandy loams.

2: Tamukeyama (Acer palmatum ‘Tamukeyama’)

One of the oldest cultivars of the Japanese maples, the Tamukeyama is a sight for sore eyes with long lobes that branch off to create a beautiful lacy appearance.

Actually, the Tamukeyama has some of the longest lobes of any Japanese maples, creating a very elegant weeping effect.

This is another slow to moderate growing dwarf, as it can reach more than 5 feet after 10 years.

An advantage to this maple is the density. If you’re looking for a color-rich filler tree for your compact garden, the Tamukeyama might be for you.

Where you can see the branches through most Japanese maples, this dense tree will cascade to the ground with thick coverage.

Another difference with this variety is that it not so flashy with bright shades that many others have. Instead, it offers rich, deep colors of wine and burgundy that can bring drama and romance to your landscape.

An added bonus to the Tamukeyama is that it grows small purple flowers that produce samaras, which will ripen in the beginning of autumn. 

Get your stunning Acer palmatum ‘Waterfall’ tree from Nature Hills Nursery today! Available in 2-7 gallon containers and 2-3 feet tall.

  • Hardiness: Tamukeyama thrives best in USDA zones 5-9.
  • Light exposure: Full sun or partial shade, but don’t suffer bleaching effects off too much sunlight.
  • Size: reaches6-10 feet tall with a spread of 10-12 feet.
  • Soil requirements: light soil with pH between 5.7 and 7.0, easy draining, and nutrient rich; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

3: Inaba Shidare (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’)

If you decide on the Inaba Shidare to add to your plant family, you won’t be disappointed. With stunning colors, thick foliage, and lacy leaves, it far from lacking in character.

Resembling a bush more than a tree, this thick maple has a drooping effect that looks like it was plucked right out of a Dr. Seuss book. With long, unique lobes that are slit in dozens of different patterns, it is charming in an unruly, yet delicate fashion.

The Inaba Shidare is a very quick growing dwarf Japanese maple and can actually reach its full height and spread within 10 to 15 years.

Getting established in its new home quickly gives you more time to enjoy its brilliance in maturity, but I would suggest this one as more of a compact garden tree than container for that reason.

One of the most striking features of this tree is the color. Emerging a bright red before finishing the fall season back at the stunning scarlet, the Inaba Shidare is a great statement piece to any garden or patio. Not to mention it has a rich burgundy coat during the summer months that is equally beautiful.

With a mushroom crown and branches drooping all the way to the ground, the Inaba Shidare is a great addition to any compact garden that needs a plant with lots of volume and a pop of color.

Get a beautiful Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple from Nature Hills Nursery in a #2 container, 2-3 feet tall.

  • Hardiness: Inaba Shidare is hardy in USDA zones 5-9.
  • Light exposure: Tolerates full sun but partial shade is recommended to keep from bleaching the leaves.
  • Size: maximum of 5 feet tall and a spread of 6 feet.
  • Soil requirements: fertile, slightly acidic soil, moist, fertile, and well-draining; clay, loam, clay, or sand-based soils.

4: Shaina (Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’)

Shaina is a cascading, ornamental tree that will range from red to maroon to crimson throughout the seasons. Instead of the long lobes that create a weeping effect, this maple has smaller leaves with 5 pointed leaflets and is a mounding variety.

Shaina trees make great container plants because of their slow growth rate and the convenience of their size of 6 feet tall. It makes an excellent candidate as a “thriller” in the famous “Thriller, Filler, Spiller” combo for container plants.

Other dwarf Japanese maples can go long periods of time without water, but Shainas are not drought-tolerant and don’t do well if not watered enough. An extra fun fact is that it can live to over 70 years old if well cared for and under the right conditions.

If you’re drawn to the beauty of this maple (and who wouldn’t be?), don’t wait any longer to get your two year live plant from Amazon.

  • Hardiness: Shaina is hardy in USDA zones 5-9.
  • Light exposure: Full sun or partial shade.
  • Size: maximum of 4-6 feet tall and a spread of 4 feet.
  • Soil requirements: slightly acidic, well-drained but moist soil; soil types chalk, clay, loam, and sand- based soil.

5: Orange Dream (Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’)

One of my personal favorites, the Orange Dream is a mid-size deciduous shrub thatis a showstopper in every season.

Spring brings forth glowing gold-yellow leaves with pink-tinted edges that fan out into 5 leaflets. It slowly transforms into chartreuse during the summer months before bursting into color in autumn with a radiant yellow and orange blend.

Rather than the typical umbrella or mound shape, the Orange Dream will grow upright into a vase shape with the branches spreading upwards. It is a slow growing maple and will reach its maximum height of 10 feet tall in about 8 years.

The Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple tree is up for sale at The Tree Center, and you can purchase it now in a #5 container.

  • Hardiness: Orange Dream thrives best in USDA zones 5-8.
  • Light exposure: Full sun with partial afternoon shade, but too much direct sunlight will dampen the vibrant leaf shades.
  • Size: maximum of 8-10 feet tall and a spread of 6 feet.
  • Soil requirements: moist, slightly acidic, organically rich and well-drained soil; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

6: Red Dragon (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Red Dragon’)

After seeing a Red Dragon dwarf Japanese maple, it is sure to be as memorable as its name. Part of the “laceleaf” family of maples, the Red Dragon gets its title from its striking leaves that are shaped like dragon claws (some people say it has the silhouette of a dragon, but I don’t see it).

Slow growing at about 1 foot per year, this is a perfect maple for compact gardens as it thrives in full sun without the bleaching effects that the others on the list are susceptible to. Besides in zone 9, they do need some shade there.

This weeping bush grows upright before cascading down with lacy, long-lobed leaves that creates an ethereal drama, sure to command attention.

Appearing in spring with purple-burgundy leaves, the Red Dragon then grows true to its name, slowly transforming to different shades of red until settling on a bright, blood red in autumn.

Sometimes, this maple can have different colors at once, with a wine color on top, and flaming red-orange tones on the bottom branches.

If you’re eager to include the spectacular tree in your garden, Planting Tree has one- to two-foot ‘Red Dragon’ plants that are available for purchase.

  • Hardiness: Red Dragon is hardy in USDA zones 5-9.
  • Light exposure: Full sun but requires partial shade in zone 9 to keep the leaves from bleaching.
  • Size: maximum of6 feet tall and wide.
  • Soil requirements: well-draining, neutral to slightly acidic, moist, nutrient rich soil; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

7: Beni-Hime (Acer palmatum ‘Beni-hime’)

14 Dwarf Japanese Maple Varieties For Small Gardens Or Containers 7

Dwarf Japanese maples are known for their slow growth, but the Beni-hime grows at a formidably unhurried pace of 2 inches (5 cm) per year.

They thrive well in gardens, but the Beni-hime is a perfect container plant as it will remain at a fitting size for the container that it is in.

Typically, it won’t grow larger than 2 feet tall and wide when in a pot, making it great for adding color underneath patios.

The Beni-hime grows small palmate leaves that are smaller than the size of a quarter and are able to sport all leaf colors of fall at one time.

It emerges a red-pink mix in the spring, before turning a dark green in the summer, and finally popping with a vivid raspberry color in the fall. In between seasons, you can many of these colors at once in different shades.

You can purchase the ‘Beni Hime’ Dwarf Japanese Maple from Planting Tree.

  • Hardiness: Beni-hime thrive in USDA zones 5-9.
  • Light exposure: Full sun with partial afternoon shade.
  • Size: maximum of 4 feet tall with a spread of6 feet, but maximum of 2 feet tall and wide in containers.
  • Soil requirements: well-drained, moist, neutral acidic soil; clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

8: Dissectum Atropurpureum (Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum Dissectum’)

Another lace leaf maple, the Dissectum atropurpureum is a deciduous shrub that can be grown in containers, compact gardens, or even as a lawn tree (I would only suggest this in zones 6-8). Very slow growing before maturing at 8 feet tall, this dwarf maple has weeping, lacy leaves that resemble feathers from afar.

The Dissectum atropurpureum makes a presence in spring with deep purple hues, while also producing small red flowers. It then lightens to a green with bronze tones, before exploding into a red-orange color in autumn.

You get an added bonus in the winter with this shrub as it keeps an intricate, twisted branch design that is quite fascinating.

  • Hardiness: Dissectum atropurpureum grows best in USDAzones 5-8.
  • Light exposure: Full sun with partial shade hotter areas.
  • Size: maximum of8 ft tall and wide.
  • Soil requirements: well-drained soil, rich in humus, slightly acidic; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

9: Crimson Queen (Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’)

The “Crimson Queen” is a weeping dwarf maple that is famous for its bright scarlet leaves that resemble feathers. With 7-9 lobes on each leaf, it creates the illusion of lace and gives this shrub a delicate aura.

While many Japanese maples turn many different colors throughout the seasons, this variety is popular because it will retain its red color from early spring to late fall. It can range from a cherry red to a dark maroon but won’t stray from the red spectrum.

A very slow growing dwarf Japanese maple, the Crimson Queen typically won’t even reach 4 feet tall and a spread less than 6 feet wide after 10 years of age.

The slow growth does not prevent it from giving you beautiful foliage early on as it produces lateral, drooping branches for a soft, weeping effect at a young age.

The Crimson Queen is much more tolerant of full sun than many other varieties on this list. Rather than getting its color getting bleached by the sun, it won’t suffer the effects of scorching and will keep its distinguished red coat.

If you’re interested in the Crimson Queen Japanese Maple, you can find it at Tree Center available in one-, three-, and five-gallon containers.

  • Hardiness: Crimson Queen is hardy in USDA zones 5-9.
  • Light exposure: Full sun or partial shade but it is the most sun tolerant and can take full sun with little effects.
  • Size: maximum of 8-10 feet tall and a spread of 12 ft.
  • Soil requirements: moist, organically rich, slightly acidic, well-draining soil; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

10: Geisha Gone Wild (Acer palmatum ‘Geisha Gone Wild’)

I am an avid lover of variegated plants, and the Geisha Gone Wild is no exception.

With the spring leaves a green-purple color that is tinged with bright pink that is almost the color of a highlighter, this tree is arresting with its beauty.

The summer brings a new combination of green with a cream variegation that is also stunning, before finishing the season in autumn with striking orange and purple leaves.

Added to their colorful charm is a unique tendency to twirl at the tips of the leaflets that add a gracefulness to its showy character.

Geisha Gone Wild is an upright tree that will max out on its height of 6 feet and spread of 3 feet at around 10 years. This makes it a great container plant that is sure to brighten up any patio.

Bring some diversity to your yard with the addition of a Geisha Gone Wild Japanese Maple tree from The tree center, available in one, gallon containers.

  • Hardiness: Geisha Gone Wild thrives in USDA zones 5-8.
  • Light exposure: Needs partial shade to maintain color.
  • Size: maximum of 6 feet tall and a spread of 3 feet.
  • Soil requirements: moist, originally rich, slightly acidic, well-drained soil; clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

11: Viridis (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Viridis’)

Where the Viridis lacks the plethora of colors that the other dwarf Japanese maples possess, it is sure to make a statement being one of the only dwarf maples to stay green throughout the spring and summer months.

Being a laceleaf variety, the Viridis has fern-like leaves that gracefully weep from its low spreading, cascading branches.

Viridis is slow growing and will reach about 6 feet in height in 10 years. It is great for gardens, but also makes a good container tree with a height capping off at 10 feet.

If you want to have more attention on the fresh colors of your Gerbera Daisies and Cranesbill geraniums in the spring and summer months, this maple is a good choice to prevent autumn foliage from interfering with the lively lavender, blush and lemon colored spring perennials.

No need to worry, you will get the famous maple colors in the fall as the foliage turns from light green to a golden yellow with splashes of red.

  • Hardiness: Viridis is hardy in USDA zones 5-8.
  • Light exposure: Full sun with partial shade to prevent color dampening.
  • Size: maximum of 6-10 feet tall and wide.
  • Soil requirements: well-drained, moist, organically rich, slightly acidic soil; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

12: Fairy Hair (Acer palmatum ‘Fairy Hair’)

14 Dwarf Japanese Maple Varieties For Small Gardens Or Containers 12

If you get the opportunity to get this high-demand maple, you won’t regret it.

Definitely one of the most interesting of the dwarf maples on this list, the Fairy Hair is easily distinguished from the others with thin, string-like leaves that are true to its honorific.

Best as a container plant, it will reach its maturity of 3 feet tall within the first 10 years. I don’t recommend planting it in the garden because its size is so small, coupled with drooping branches and long leaves, that it does not grow as well unless grafted high on standard. It is much more captivating when pouring out of the sides of a pretty container anyway.

Starting out a bright green with red tips in the fall, darkening to a more natural shade of green in the summer, and then bursting into a crimson red in autumn, this tree is sure to capture the attention of anyone around.

Because of the small nature of this variety, they make exceptional container plants that can easily fit under your patio but can also make a great addition to any garden.

Visit Essence of the tree to get a ‘Fairy Hair’ Japanese Maple.

  • Hardiness: Fairy Hair thrives best in USDA zones 6-9.
  • Light exposure: Full sun with partial afternoon shade.
  • Size: maximum of 3 feet tall and a spread of 3 feet.
  • Soil requirements: moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil with a slight to moderate acidity of 5.6-6.5 (tolerates alkaline soils).

13: Kurenai Jishi (Acer palmatum ‘Kurenai jishi’)

Translating to mean “red lion,” the Kurenai jishi is a compact, deciduous shrub that will mature to a manageable size of 4 feet tall.

One of the unique characteristics of this maple is its leaves. They are in the palmate leaf family, but rather than expanding to show their leaf or folding over itself as other varieties, the Kurenai jishi will curl backwards toward the branch of the tree. It may sound strange but gives it an elegant and dramatic look that is unmatched in poise.

Adding to its grandeur, this shrub is not found lacking in the color department. The Kurenai jishi will transform from bright red to burgundy to shades of green from the start of spring to the end of summer, before producing gorgeous red-orange foliage in autumn.

Go to Maple Ridge Nursery to purchase a Red Lion’s Head Maple tree in either a one or three-gallon container.

  • Hardiness: Kurenai jishi is hardy in USDA zones 5-9.
  • Light exposure: Full sun with partial shade.
  • Size: maximum of 4-foot height and a spread of 3 feet.
  • Soil requirements: moist, organically rich, neutral slightly acidic, well-drained soil; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

14: Orangeola (Acer palmatum ‘Orangeola’)

One of the smallest Japanese maples, Orangeola maples usually won’t surpass 6 feet tall. They are unique in shape, favoring a pyramid over the more popular umbrella shape that these trees usually have.Their prizewinning leaves have thin, long lobes that resemble lace and create a weeping effect as they mature.

Orangeolas have a reverse color evolution that other Japanese maples, starting out red in the spring, lightening to orange in the summer, and turning green in the fall.

However, this maple can grow new foliage throughout the entire season, having all three colors on the tree at one time.

This slow growing maple has a yearly growth rate of 1-2 feet per year, before reaching maturity at 6-8 feet.

You can buy a 1-3 feet Orangeola Japanese Maple at Planting Tree.

  • Hardiness: Orangeolas are hardy in zones 6-9 but can be grown almost anywhere in the US.
  • Light exposure: Tolerate full sun but need shade in zone 9.
  • Size: maximum of 8 feet tall with a4-footspread.
  • Soil requirements: moist, well-draining, organically rich, slightly acidic soil; chalk, clay, loam, or sand-based soil.

The Ultimate Autumn Ambience

Maples are the universal figure of fall foliage. Lucky for you, you can easily bring this splendor to your own front lawn with dwarf Japanese maples without requiring too much pruning or outgrowing your lawn.

Staying under 12 feet tall, all of the dwarf maples on this list will offer rich foliage throughout spring, summer, and fall to bring a hearty and warming aura to your home.

With one of these trees as a statement piece of your lawn or patio, you’ll be autumn ready before you even pull out your decorations from the attic.

Margie Fetchik

Written By

Margie Fetchik

Margie and Arkansas native has an extensive background in gardening and landscaping.  For the last 40 years, Margie has called the Colorado Rocky Mountains her home. Here she and her husband of 36 years raised three kids and owned a successful landscaping company. Margie has a CSU Master Gardener certification. She specialized in garden design & installation, perennial gardens, turf grasses & weeds, flower containers, and the overall maintenance of allHOA, commercial and residential accounts.  She and her husband now reside in Denver and are excited about the new experiences’ city life holds.

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