Coral Bark Maple – A tree for all seasons

One of the challenges of creating a great garden is to get great color and foliage throughout the year. Most plants peak during a certain season and then fade into the background of the garden. Few plants can offer more than one or two seasons of interest.

Coral Bark Maple in full fall color

One of my favorite ornamental trees , the Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum “Sango Kaku”) breaks all the rules and looks incredible for 4 seasons of the year.  This japanese maple is a small tree that is prized for its bark that turns coral pink in cold weather.  But the interest isn’t limited to just the winter.  This tree will add color and interest to your garden all year long.

In the summer, the tree has deeply cut green leaves typical of other japanese maples.  It has an elegant vase shape and delicate branching.

In the fall, the show really starts.   The fall foliage is a striking bright yellow sometimes mixed with orange.  As the autumn progresses, the bark starts to turn its trademark coral pink color making the tree appear to glow.

In the winter, the bark color intensifies with the cold and almost becomes flourescent.  The color really pops when there’s snow on the ground.

The bark really puts on a show

In the spring, new leaves emerge as a bright lime green and make a great contrast with the coral bark.  As the spring progresses, the bark eventually loses it’s pink color and the leaves fade to their summer green.

Here are some tips for growing the Coral Bark Maple:

It’s a small, moderately growing tree that reaches about 20-25 feet at maturity.  It is considered hardy to USDA zone 6.  It likes part shade and makes a great specimen plant in a part of the yard where it can really be put on display.

The spring show

The bark turns coral pink in the cold weather and is gray during the warm months.  The main trunk and older branches will tend to lose their pink color with age, so prune it regularly to promote new more colorful growth.  Keep it out of the hot afternoon sun.

Since it’s not a fast grower, be sure to chose a specimen that has a nice shape and lots of young branches.

The Coral Bark Maple is one of the best specimen trees for year long interest.  If you see it in the nursery in spring or fall, it’ll be hard to resist getting one for your garden.

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