The maples you see at the nursery will change as the season progresses. The following pointers will acquaint you with the characteristics of different trees.
Leaves often start out infused with red or purple, fade to green in summer, then color up again in fall. However, some leaves hold their spring color (be it green, purple, or red) until autumn, when they flush burgundy, scarlet, orange, or yellow before dropping.
• Laceleaf types, with deeply divided leaves, suffer more than most maples in hot, dry, and/or windy locations.
• Red-leafed varieties and the fullmoon maples can handle more cold than other Japanese maples.
Bark can change color with the seasons. Coral-bark varieties develop the most color in winter on the sunny side of the tree. Green-bark varieties have good color year-round, showing deepest green on new twigs in summer.
Forms can be upright, spreading, or weeping; the weeping form often takes a distinctive mushroom shape.
• If you want a tree, buy an upright variety with a single trunk. If you prefer a shrubby look, choose one of the spreading varieties, which tend to have multiple trunks.
• Weeping varieties usually grow slowly, topping out in the 6- to 10-foot range.
• Laceleaf types are almost all grafted (the rootstock will be a plain maple species, while the top--the part that produces leaves and branches--will be a named variety from a different tree). The trunk will be straight below the graft, then start meandering and spreading above it, giving the tree a mushroom shape.