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Myth of growing Japanese maples debunked
Paul Jones, an expert on Japanese maples, is framed by some of the 14 colorful varieties he brought to the Manteca Garden Club meeting Monday at the Manteca Public Library. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Japanese maples are shade-loving trees. That is a wide belief, and that is a myth. So says Paul Jones who has spent more than 30 years collecting and propagating this popular garden staple and now has more than 200 varieties in his collection.

The retired garden-supply businessman brought more than a dozen varieties of the acer palmatum plant from his large private garden on River Road in Ripon to show to the Manteca Garden Club members some of the Japanese maples that thrive even in the San Joaquin Valley where temperatures often shatter the century mark in the summer.

“I’m here to dispel the myth that they have to be in the shade,” said Jones who started collecting these aesthetic garden specimens some 30 years ago when he lived in Manteca.

While there are a few varieties that demand shady treatment, “approximately 85 percent of Japanese maples will take full sun when planted correctly and watered correctly,” he stated.

The Sango Kaku, for example, which is one of the many colorful varieties whose coral bark and stems in winter turn light green and yellow in summer, will take full sun, Jones said.

Another variety that is not intimidated by a full-sun exposure is the Bloodgood variety, “the most popular” of all Japanese maples, he said. It looks very much like the Emperor; however, what separates the two is that the latter “was developed for the East Coast;” hence is less heat tolerant, explained Jones.

The Shirazz (the name is a Trade Mark), one the most beautiful and colorful varieties with its variegated leaves – cream, maroon, and dark green – which turns a blazing purple red in the fall, “will take a lot of sun” as well, he said.

Even the very delicate-looking variety aptly named acer palmatum Fairyhair with very fine green and thread-like leaves, can take full sun exposure, said Jones about the smallest of the gallon-sized sample plants he brought to the garden club meeting at the Manteca Public Library on Monday.

“It’s the toughest little devil you’ve ever seen,” he laughingly said of the roughly 12-inch plant.

This is one variety that is not as widely popular as the Bloodgood and therefore not often seen at garden nurseries, but is one that is sought-after by collectors like him, Jones said.

“It’s a novelty,” he said. This plant also embodies the one quality that Japanese maple lovers should have – patience. This variety grows just three feet in 10 years, Jones explained.

“There’s a lot of work involved growing them,” which is largely the reason the plants that you buy at nurseries and garden centers, which are usually two to three years old if not more, are quite expensive, he added.

Maintaining Japanese maples is also not that intimidating, Jones said. They are “pretty easy to prune” which is something that you can do “any time” and not just in January when it is the best time to do it, said Jones.

For other information or questions about growing and caring for Japanese maples, Paul Jones can be reached at or call (209) 599-5836.