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Do Japanese Maples Lose Their Leaves in the Winter?

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Japanese maples are beautiful trees with red, lacy leaves that will make your backyard pop with color. They can grow up to 25 feet tall and prefer being planted in spots with afternoon shade and well-draining soil. If you are wondering if Japanese maples lose their leaves in the winter, you’ve reached the right article for your answer. Read on to learn about Japanese maples in the winter, including what temperatures they can survive and how to detect different health conditions of your tree.

Do Japanese maples lose their leaves in the winter?

Yes, they do. Japanese maples are deciduous trees and the word deciduous directly translates to “fall off.” This means their leaves fall off the trees every year. For Japanese maples, the leaves will change color in October and November and start to drop in late November or December. You’ll start seeing buds and fresh new leaves in February and March.

These trees drop their leaves in the winter because the weather is cold and dry. So, instead of spending extra energy to protect their leaves, they shed them to conserve their resources through the winter months.

What do you do with a Japanese maple in the winter?

You’ll want to protect your tree from the elements as much as possible during the winter. Tactics to adopt, include:

  • Watering your trees before winter freezes to prevent water loss in the cold
  • Adding up to 4 inches of mulch over the roots to insulate and protect them
  • Wrapping your tree in burlap to protect it from frigid winds and heavy snowfall
  • Water only when the soil is almost completely dry to prevent overwatering

Some signs to watch out for that show winter damage include:

  • Broken branches from heavy loads of snow or ice
  • Dead stems or buds from cold temperatures
  • Frozen roots, especially if your tree is growing in a container above ground
  • Sun-scalded leaves or cracked bark from cold weather and bright sunshine

How cold can Japanese maples survive?

Japanese maples can survive temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the roots can survive down to only 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil and added mulch to cover the roots usually provide extra insulation to keep the temperatures warmer around the roots.

If you have your tree in a potted container that doesn’t fully cover the roots, you might want to bring it indoors to a warmer location to prevent root freezing. If you can’t do that consider putting a sheet over the tree at night to protect it when it is coldest.

What does overwatered Japanese maple look like?

Although Japanese maples like wet soil during the first few years after planting, overwatering can lead to the leaves turning brown or black at the tips. This can signify a bigger problem if the overwatering has led to root rot. Make sure the soil around the tree is not too moist by checking with your finger.

Other situations that can lead to leaves looking burned or scorched include sun blisters since these trees grow best with partial shade. You also want to keep water off the leaves and water only at the base of the tree to prevent leaves from scalding.

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Is my Japanese maple dying?

Sometimes when your Japanese maple has lost all its leaves and looks bare during the winter, it can appear to be dead. However, this is a natural occurrence and they are still alive and healthy. There are instances where your tree may be dead or dying, so it’s important to understand the differences.

newly planted crimson queen Japanese maple

For instance, if your tree still looks dead into June without new leaves, it could be a sign the tree is dead. Sometimes, the buds simply died in the freeze, but the branches are still alive. To check if the branch is alive, cut a small sliver of the bark to see if the wood underneath has a green tinge. If it looks dry or tan, then that part of the tree is dead. You’ll want to prune the dead limbs if the other parts of the tree are still healthy.

What kills a Japanese maple tree?

During the winter, your tree can experience sunscald where the bark cracks open and splits vertically down the stem. This can cause the roots to die from the cold and will kill your tree. There are also a few Japanese maple diseases and pests you have to watch out for throughout the year that could kill your trees. Three common diseases are:

  • Canker: which causes sap to ooze from the bark and heavy infection can kill the tree
  • Verticillium: can make the wood look discolored as well as yellow the leaves and cause them to fall prematurely
  • Anthracnose: can kill young trees when the leaves look bruised and eventually rot

While most pests won’t kill the tree, a heavy infestation can destroy your tree’s looks or cause other problems such as sooty mold. Some common pests on Japanese maples include:

  • Japanese beetles
  • Scale
  • Mealybug
  • Mites
  • Aphids
  • Borers


Yes, Japanese maples lose their leaves in the winter to conserve energy and survive the cold and dry conditions. If you find your Japanese maple is dropping leaves earlier in the season, this could be a sign your tree is unhealthy. Make sure to protect your tree during the winter and watch out for the signs of diseases, pests, or overwatering!

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