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New hardy tree varieties coupled with a changing climate means Japanese maples can thrive here

A short tree with wide brances and bright crimson leaves is the center of a lush botanical garden of shrubs and flowers.
Clark Warren
Japanese maple trees are often part of botanical gardens in more southern climes. Hardier varieties coupled with warming temperatures farther north means these beautiful trees can grow most everywhere in Vermont.

Japanese maples are beloved for their interesting leaves, beautiful shape and vibrant color. They grow easily further south, but warming temperatures are allowing hardier varieties to thrive in New England.

Japanese maples are traditional trees often seen as focal points in botanical gardens in climes further south.

That's changing, though, as our climate warms.

Japanese maples are native to Korea, Japan, China, as well as eastern Mongolia and southeast Russia. And these trees have the trifecta of great qualities: interesting leaves, beautiful shape and plenty of color.

Plus, they are relatively easy to grow provided you've found just the right spot. They either grow upright to about 20 feet tall with green, golden or red leaves, or as a cascading, weeping tree with long, arched branches. And with either type, even when the leaves have dropped in the fall, the tree still has a striking shape and looks beautiful in the landscape.

The "Jack Frost" series of Japanese maple trees are hardier to USDA Zones 4 and 5. That suits most of Vermont.

The one called "North Wind" grows 20 feet tall and is the upright type with very heavily serrated orange and red leaves. "Arctic Jade" is another tree with beautiful fall color — it grows 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide.

If you prefer an arching or cascading tree, try "Ice Dragon." That variety grows just 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide with yellow, orange and red color.

Some older varieties, like "Bloodgood," need to be planted in just the right spot, ideally a part-sun location.

And patience is key, as Japanese maples are very slow growers. Mulch them to keep the soil moist, protect them from the cold and fertilize when they're young. If space isn't an issue, you can even skip the pruning.

A white pine mystery, solved

Q: I’ve been noticing on my drive from the Berkshires to North Bennington that there are a lot of white pines that are turning brown. I realize it’s been dry, but they seem to be showing signs of distress much more so than anything else. - Deirdre, Southern Vermont

A: Earlier this spring and summer, a fungal disease did develop on white pines. When white pines get this, their needles turn brown and start dropping.

The fungus is weather-dependent and was fueled by cool, wet weather that we had earlier this spring.

The good thing is that the fungus will not kill the white pine trees, unless the pine tree was already diseased or overly stressed. Those needles will drop and new ones will form.

A question about this spring's heavy pollen

Q: What's up with all the tree pollen this year? Driving around central Vermont, you can see pollen blowing off the pine trees in clouds. Yellow pollen is coating everything outside, and people with allergies are having a miserable time. Why is there so much this year? - Barbara, in Brookfield

A: It has been a heavy pollen year, especially for tree pollens. A mild winter brought on by human-caused climate change creates perfect conditions for pollen production. Earlier springs, later falls and milder winters means trees produce more pine cones with more pine seeds in them.

All Things Gardening is powered by you, our audience! Send us your toughest conundrums and join the fun. Email your question to or better yet, leave a voicemail with your gardening question so we can use your voice on the air! Call Vermont Public at 1-800-639-2192.

Listen to All Things Gardening Sunday mornings at 9:35 a.m., and subscribe to the podcast to listen any time.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.