Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum ‘Tsuma-gaki’)

Plant: Table of Contents

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma-gaki’): A Complete Guide

Acer palmatum, widely known as Japanese maple, is a species of woody plant native to Japan, Korea, and China. It is a very popular ornamental tree in many gardens and landscapes due to its striking foliage, attractive bark, and overall aesthetic appeal. Among the various cultivars and varieties of Acer palmatum, ‘Tsuma-gaki’ stands out for its unique leaf colors and shapes. In this guide, we will explore the key aspects of the Japanese maple cultivar ‘Tsuma-gaki’, including its culture, uses, care requirements, common diseases, and botanist’s tips.

What is Plant: Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma-gaki’)?

The Japanese maple cultivar ‘Tsuma-gaki’, with the scientific name Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma-gaki’, is a stunning ornamental tree renowned for its exceptional foliage. The name ‘Tsuma-gaki’ translates to “Wife’s Fingernails”, a reference to the vibrant red color of the leaf margins, resembling the color of traditional Japanese lacquered fingernails. This cultivar is celebrated for its compact size, making it an excellent choice for small gardens, containers, and bonsai.

Key Takeaways – Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma-gaki’)

Before we delve into the detailed aspects of ‘Tsuma-gaki’, let’s take a quick look at the key takeaways of this distinctive Japanese maple cultivar:

  • Scientific Name: Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma-gaki’
  • Common Name: Japanese Maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’
  • Leaf Color: Variegated with shades of green, red, and pink
  • Leaf Shape: Palmate (hand-shaped)
  • Mature Size: Typically 6-10 feet in height, making it an excellent choice for small gardens and landscapes
  • Growth Habit: Slow-growing, compact, and upright
  • Sunlight: Thrives in partial shade to full sun
  • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-8
  • Special Features: Striking fall colors, attractive bark, and suitability for containers
  • Uses: Ideal as a focal point in landscapes, container gardening, and Japanese-themed gardens

Now that we have an overview of ‘Tsuma-gaki’, let’s explore its culture, uses, care requirements, common diseases, and botanist’s tips in detail.



Proper watering is crucial for the health and vitality of Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’. It is essential to maintain consistent moisture levels in the soil, especially during its early establishment and in periods of drought. However, overwatering should be avoided as it can lead to root rot and other water-related issues. Here are some key points to consider regarding watering:

  • Consistent Moisture: Maintain even moisture in the soil, especially during the growing season.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the tree to help retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature.


Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ exhibits a versatile tolerance to sunlight, thriving in both partial shade and full sun. However, providing some protection from intense afternoon sun in hot climates can prevent leaf scorch and sunburn. Here are some sunlight-related considerations for ‘Tsuma-gaki’:

  • Partial Shade: Ideal in regions with hot summers to protect the foliage from excessive sun exposure.
  • Full Sun: Can tolerate full sun if the soil moisture is well-maintained and protected from harsh afternoon sunlight.


Proper fertilization contributes to the overall health and vigor of Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’. It is important to use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to avoid excessive vegetative growth. Here are some fertilization tips for ‘Tsuma-gaki’:

  • Balanced Fertilizer: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer specifically formulated for woody ornamental plants.
  • Avoid Excessive Nitrogen: Excessive nitrogen can lead to lush growth, making the tree more susceptible to damage from environmental stressors.


The soil requirements of Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ are critical for its long-term health and performance. It thrives in well-draining, slightly acidic soil with good fertility. Here are some important soil considerations:

  • Well-Draining Soil: Ensure that the soil has good drainage to prevent waterlogging.
  • pH Level: Aim for slightly acidic soil with a pH range of 5.5-6.5 for optimal growth.
  • Organic Matter: Incorporate organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve fertility.


Pruning is an essential aspect of Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ care, contributing to its overall form, health, and aesthetic appeal. Proper pruning practices help maintain the desired shape and size of the tree. Here are some key pruning considerations:

  • Prune in Late Winter or Early Spring: Perform major pruning tasks during the tree’s dormant season to minimize stress.
  • Remove Dead or Diseased Branches: Regularly inspect the tree for dead or diseased branches and promptly remove them.
  • Selective Pruning: Utilize selective pruning techniques to enhance the tree’s natural form and improve air circulation within the canopy.


Propagation of Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ can be achieved through various methods such as seed propagation, cutting propagation, and grafting. Each method has its unique advantages and challenges. Here are some propagation considerations for ‘Tsuma-gaki’:

  • Seed Propagation: Requires patience as it may take several years for the seedlings to develop into desirable trees with the desired characteristics.
  • Cutting Propagation: Utilize semi-hardwood cuttings for propagation, ensuring that the cuttings have the potential to develop roots and establish as new plants.
  • Grafting: Consider grafting onto suitable rootstocks to ensure the retention of the desired traits of ‘Tsuma-gaki’.

Container Popularity

Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ is highly sought after for container gardening due to its compact size, elegant foliage, and suitability for small urban spaces. When grown in containers, it adds a captivating element to patios, decks, and outdoor living areas. Here are some considerations for growing ‘Tsuma-gaki’ in containers:

  • Container Selection: Choose a container that provides adequate room for the root system to develop and has drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.
  • Well-Draining Potting Mix: Use a high-quality, well-draining potting mix suitable for woody plants to ensure proper root aeration and moisture retention.
  • Regular Watering: Maintain consistent moisture in the container soil, ensuring that it does not dry out completely.

Common Diseases

Disease Diagnosis

While Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ is relatively resistant to many diseases, it can be susceptible to certain fungal infections and other issues. Proper diagnosis of common diseases is essential for implementing appropriate management strategies. Here are some common diseases and their diagnostic features:

  • Anthracnose: Characterized by irregularly shaped brown lesions on the leaves, often with a dark border. In severe cases, it can lead to leaf drop and defoliation.
  • Verticillium Wilt: Symptoms include wilting, leaf scorch, and dieback of branches. The vascular tissues may show discoloration upon close examination.
  • Powdery Mildew: Manifests as a white, powdery coating on the upper surfaces of the leaves, often causing leaf distortion and premature leaf drop.
  • Root Rot: Excessive soil moisture can lead to root rot, indicated by a decline in overall vigor, yellowing or browning of the foliage, and stunted growth.

Common Pests

Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ may encounter pest issues, requiring appropriate management to mitigate their impact on the tree’s health. Vigilance and proactive measures can help prevent severe infestations. Here are some common pests that may affect ‘Tsuma-gaki’:

  • Aphids: These small, sap-sucking insects can cause leaf distortion and the development of sticky honeydew on the foliage.
  • Scale Insects: They appear as small, immobile bumps on the stems and leaves, often leading to weakened growth and yellowing of the foliage.
  • Spider Mites: These tiny pests often create fine webbing on the undersides of leaves and can cause stippling and discoloration of the foliage.
  • Caterpillars: Certain caterpillar species may feed on the foliage of ‘Tsuma-gaki’, leading to visible defoliation and damage.

Botanist’s Tips

Growing Tips

  • Soil Preparation: Prior to planting, ensure that the soil is well-prepared with organic amendments to provide a favorable environment for root establishment.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, leaving space around the trunk to prevent moisture-related issues and improve soil structure.
  • Monitor Moisture Levels: Regularly monitor the soil moisture, especially during hot and dry periods, to ensure that the tree’s water needs are met.
  • Protect from Wind: In regions with strong winds, consider providing a sheltered location for ‘Tsuma-gaki’ to prevent leaf desiccation and mechanical damage.

Pruning Techniques

  • Selective Pruning: Focus on selective pruning to maintain the natural shape and form of ‘Tsuma-gaki’, avoiding excessive or aggressive pruning that can compromise its aesthetic appeal.
  • Thinning the Canopy: Periodically thin out congested areas within the canopy to enhance air circulation and light penetration, promoting overall tree health.
  • Proper Tools: Use sharp, clean pruning tools to minimize stress on the tree and reduce the risk of introducing pathogens through improper cuts.

Fun Facts

  • The name ‘Tsuma-gaki’, meaning “Wife’s Fingernails”, alludes to the vibrant red color of the leaf margins, resembling the traditional lacquer adorning the fingernails of Japanese women.
  • Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ is prized for its striking fall colors, showcasing vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow, adding captivating visual appeal to autumn landscapes.
  • The compact size and elegant foliage of ‘Tsuma-gaki’ make it a popular choice for bonsai enthusiasts, showcasing its versatility in various horticultural practices.

Links to External Resources

For further information and resources on Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’, please refer to the following links:

In conclusion, Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’ (Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma-gaki’) is a captivating and versatile ornamental tree with unique foliage characteristics, making it a standout feature in gardens, landscapes, and container displays. By understanding its culture, care requirements, and performance attributes, enthusiasts and horticulturists can appreciate and cultivate this exceptional cultivar to its full potential. With its striking colors, elegant form, and adaptability, ‘Tsuma-gaki’ continues to be cherished by plant enthusiasts and gardening aficionados around the world.

Remember, the information provided in this guide serves as a comprehensive overview of Japanese maple ‘Tsuma-gaki’, offering insights into its cultivation, uses, and maintenance. For specific guidance and professional advice, consulting with local horticulturists, arborists, and plant experts is highly recommended. Happy gardening and may the beauty of ‘Tsuma-gaki’ enrich your outdoor spaces with its enchanting presence!

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Peter Taylors

Expert botanist who loves plants. His expertise spans taxonomy, plant ecology, and ethnobotany. An advocate for plant conservation, he mentors and educates future botanists, leaving a lasting impact on the field.