Fall-transplanted Japanese lace leaf maples require time to develop roots before the ground freezes.

How to Transplant Japanese Lace Leaf Maple in the Fall

by Jessica Westover

The Japanese lace leaf maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum and Acer palmatum var. dissectum atropurpureum) receives its name from the thinly lobed, finely textured, palmate leaves. Depending upon the specific cultivar, this deciduous tree grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. Occasionally a Japanese lace leaf maple may require transplant due to overgrowth, poor cultural conditions or construction. For best results move the tree in the fall, at least four weeks prior to the first fall frost date, while the soil temperature remains 55 F or above. If possible, root prune the tree in the spring, six months before transplanting.

Water the Japanese lace leaf maple one day before root pruning to soften the soil and hydrate the tree. Apply 2 inches of water from a garden hose to moisten the soil to a depth of 24 inches.

Dig around the tree with a shovel in a 12-inch diameter circle if the tree is 2 feet tall or less. Add 2 inches to the circle's diameter for every additional foot up to 5 feet. Dig to a depth of 10 to 15 inches, pushing the shovel's blade through the roots to sever them. Cut through large stubborn roots with a pair of pruning shears or loppers. Leave the tree to sit for six months.

Water the tree one day before digging it up for transplant. Apply 2 inches of water to the ground covering the root ball and 12 inches beyond. Tie a cloth strip on one of the Japanese lace leaf maple's branches that faces to the north for later orientation.

Remove debris, objects and pull weeds from a new planting site that receives full to partial sunlight, contains fast-draining, fertile soil with a pH less than 7.0 and has 10 to 12 feet of open vertical space. Dig a hole twice as wide and equal in depth to the tree's root ball. Space the hole 9 to 15 feet away from other plants, trees and buildings.

Dig around the tree, just outside of the root pruning circle's perimeter. Dig to a depth of 15 inches, then push the shovel horizontally across the bottom of the root ball to cut it from the ground.

Spread a piece of burlap or a tarp on the ground next to the tree. Lift the tree out of the ground by its roots, using the shovel as a lever. Place the tree in the center of the burlap or tarp. Wrap the material around the root ball and tie its edges together around the trunk with a piece of string. Load the tree into a wheelbarrow or wagon and transport it to the new site.

Place the tree on the ground beside the planting hole. Untie the string and remove the material from around the root ball. Cut off any broken, mushy, dead, shriveled or discolored roots with pruning shears.

Place the tree in the hole, turning it until the branch containing the cloth strip points north. Add or remove soil from the hole's bottom as needed to position the root ball's top even with the encircling ground.

Fill the hole half full of soil, tamping it down firmly around the tree's roots. Break up any clods before placing them in the planting hole. Fill the hole with water, then wait of it to soak completely into the soil.

Add soil to the hole, tamping it down as before. Fill the hole completely full of soil. Do not bury the root ball deeper than it was previously growing or overfill the hole.

Build a 3- to 4-inch tall ring of soil around the perimeter of the buried root ball. Fill the ring's interior with water. Allow time for the water to drain into the soil.

Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch over the planting site with a rake. Cover the area underneath the tree's canopy and at least 12 inches beyond. Pull the mulch 3 inches back from the trunk to provide proper air circulation.

Water the tree once per week when less than 1 inch of rain falls during the previous 7 days. Apply 1 inch of water to the soil ring's interior. Never overwater the plant to the point that the soil becomes soggy. Do not let the soil dry deeper than 2 to 3 inches.

Items you will need

  • Garden hose
  • Shovel
  • Pruning shears or loppers
  • Cloth strip
  • Burlap or tarp
  • String
  • Wheelbarrow or wagon
  • Pruning shears
  • Mulch
  • Rake


  • Never try to lift a mature or overly large Japanese lace leaf maple by yourself. Recruit help from additional individuals to prevent injury to your back, legs, etc.
  • Do not fertilize the tree for the first one year after planting.

Photo Credits

  • Dynamic Graphics Group/Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty Images