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Japanese Maples naturally occur in the forests of Japan as an understory tree, growing beneath larger trees or along the edges of woodlines, much like a dogwood or redbud. Although they can grow in anywhere from sun to light shade, sun with some mid-afternoon shade is the most ideal exposure, especially for the lace-leaf varieties. Purple-red leaf varieties need mostly sun to maintain their leaf color. Japanese maples have more a fibrous root system than other maples. They prefer a moist, well drained soil type with ample organic matter that is slightly acidic.
When planting, a hole at least twice as wide as the container needs to be dug, but no deeper. Simply scoring the bottom of the hole with your spade will help in directing roots to the deeper subsoil. When setting the plant in the hole, make sure the soil from the pot is level with the surrounding soil, as Japanese Maples resent being planted too deep. When backfilling the hole, incorporate 20-30% peat moss and/or compost, well mixed with the original soil back into the planting hole.
Mays Greenhouse 2010