Japanese maple trees are prized for their foliage throughout the growing season, including during fall foliage season. Below I focus on kinds known for the red color they display, but I also furnish an example of a green-leaf cultivar that transforms into a mass of gold when autumn arrives. Click "More Images" under the picture to your right for a tree leaf identification for three distinct types of Acer palmatum.
Japanese maple trees can be classified in various ways. I'll focus on a couple of classification criteria: fall foliage color and leaf type. For while Japanese maples with red fall foliage are better known, some kinds have golden fall foliage (e.g., Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum'). Meanwhile, particular Japanese maple tree cultivars are prized for their lacy, or "dissected" leaf type. The taxonomy given for these Japanese maples will include the term dissectum.
Red Japanese Maple Trees
There are fine examples of red Japanese maple trees that fall into either the Acer palmatum atropurpureum group or the Acer palmatum dissectum group. They often display red-colored leaves all summer that become a brighter red in fall, making them spectacular fall foliage specimen trees. Grown in zones 5-8, the species plant typically reaches a height of 30', with a spread of 20'. Plant in full to partial sun and well-drained soil. In zones 7-8 they can profit from the respite from the heat that they'll receive if planted in an area with partial shade or dappled sunlight. Many colorful cultivars are available. I discuss two of them below.
'Bloodgood': Blood-Red Japanese Maples
The Bloodgood Japanese maple tree (Acer palmatum atropurpureum 'Bloodgood') is one of the most popular cultivars. This fall foliage standout can be grown in zones 5-8 and attains a maximum size of about 20 feet x 20 feet, making it just about the right size if you need a shade tree for your patio landscaping. It likes sun but can profit from a bit of light shade. Its leaves in summer are a reddish-purple (but tend to green up some in full sun). At fall foliage time those leaves can become more of a crimson, depending on growing conditions.
'Crimson Queen': Queen of the Reds
Crimson Queen Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen') can be grown in zones 5-8. A small specimen, it reaches a height of just 8'-10' and a spread of 10'-12'. This petite monarch will grace any lawn with its pleasing weeping habit and dissected leaf type. As with Bloodgood, the dark red summer leaves will mature to a crimson color for great red fall foliage. 'Red Dragon' is another red dissectum cultivar.
Cutleaf Japanese Maple Trees: Enough With the Red, Already
Cutleaf Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum dissectum 'Filigree') are even more compact than the preceding entry, reaching 4'-6' in height, with a spread of 6'-9'. Also suitable for zones 5-8, they, too, bear dissected leaves. But what's really different about these Japanese maple trees is their foliage. Their leaves are green in summer, turning golden in fall.