Indeed, you can grow a Japanese maple in your apartment or on your balcony/porch. Okay, you may think I'm stretching the "indoor" designation a bit. Perhaps. But you can grow a Japanese maple bonsai indoors. Still, I didn't exaggerate having one on your balcony/porch.
The Acer Palmatum, commonly called Japanese maple, is native to Japan, North Korea, South Korea, eastern Mongolia and southeast Russia. It has been cultivated in Japan for centuries but the first known specimen didn't reach England until the last 1800's.
There are over 1000 cultivars! How's that for choices. According to an article on Dave's Garden, Japanese Maples For Containers ":
The article goes on to list 40 cultivars that Mr. Boland has had personal successful experience.
I've successfully grown two in containers: a green bark maple. I had eventually planted in the ground when I had moved to a single family home. (I would be very happy if anyone could accurately identify its species name.). My second maple which I have now is an Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku,' commonly called coral bark Japanese maple (It's hardy in zones 5-8, see detailed specifications at Dave's Garden). It's about 2-1/2' high. This will be my third year with this darling and I'll be re-potting it into a larger container just before it "wakes" which is very soon. I'll be posting pictures of my porch garden later. In the meantime to the right here is an image close up of a coral bark maple--bright chartreuse five-palm feather leaves against a deep coral bark.
There is a wonderful Sap App application that I encourage you to try it out. It was created by and resides at the website of Davidsans Japanese Maple to help you select the best Japanese maple for your environment and terrace/balcony design. You enter features your looking for from winter hardiness to tree size to seasonal color to leaf type. With each selection, a list of Japanese maples is displayed along with its description and then an image of the leaves.
Japanese maples are deciduous, meaning they drop their leaves in the fall. Flowers tend to be insignificant. However, they offer a wide range of characteristics from which to choose and for which they are highly valued:
- Leaf colors. Two main colors can be found with wonderful variations in spring, summer and fall showings from green, chartreuse to red to blood-red. Fall colors can range from red to pink to yellow/gold to orange.
- Leaf shapes. This will vary from the basics which are palmatum (palm shaped) to Japonicum ("leaves deeply incised and bright red in autumn") to the Acer shirasawanum (nine-lobed shaped fingers). Also, there are dissected (lace-like leaf shape) to a bamboo shape to reticulated (visually pronounced network of veins).
- Size and Profile Shape. This can range from a 1' dwarf to a 12' tree, including upright, dome (or bushy) and weeping.
Here are some leaf and color examples of the Japanese maples.
Japanese maples are also well know for their graceful and architectural presence in bonsai gardens. A discussion on this topic deserves a post all on its own which I hope to do at a later time. In the meantime, I can refer you to a site on the subject: Japanese Maple Bonsai.
Personally, I have yet to drum up the courage to try a bonsai. Should I feel the challenge someday, I would buy one already established and get clear instructions on care. If, however, you do have a Japanese maple bonsai or any other bonsai, such as one with an azalea, do share your experience with the rest of us.