If it is still small, you can build a shelter to protect the Japanese maple tree from snow and ice. But in general, there are a couple of things you can do to ready a specimen for winter:
1. Water your Japanese maple tree properly during the fall season. When the ground freezes, trees are deprived of water and young ones, particularly, can suffer damage as a result. Providing them with adequate water at the correct time in autumn alleviates the problem. Please consult my FAQ on watering trees in fall.
2. Apply 3-4 inches of mulch around your Japanese maple tree. But don't apply mulch right up against the trunk (that invites pests such as voles to gnaw at it) -- keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk.
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