Shade Gardening in Fall: Coral Bark Maple

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Sugar Maple

I have a love/ hate relationship with fall.  I try to take joy in the fall colors and the plants that come into their own in fall.  But I can’t quite ignore the feeling, even though it’s wrong, that the garden is dying.  And, I have to admit that, although I like snow, I don’t like cold and that’s what fall is heading towards.

I think that is why plants that turn beautiful fall colors like the sugar maple pictured above and those that bloom in winter have always been a priority for me.  The riot of color distracts me.  I can rearrange my mental state by viewing winter blooms as the start of  spring (more about that in a later post).  So, to improve my mental state right now, I want to mention a shade tree that has outstanding fall color as well as year round interest.

The four photographs above are of coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’).  Once you have your splashy sugar maple, you should make room for this elegant tree.  Although rightfully famous for its dazzling  coral-red bark in late winter and spring, I think it should be equally prized for its long-lasting apricot-gold fall color.  I can’t take my eyes off it this time of year especially when the sun shines through it—it’s magical!

Culturally it is a 20-25′ understory tree with an elegant, spreading vase shaped habit.  Easy to grow in part to more shade.  It is also readily available in nurseries around the mid-Atlantic area.

Some other trees at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens with amazing fall color:  flowering dogwood (native), kousa dogwood, Rutger’s hybrid dogwoods (native hybrid), pagoda dogwood (native), other Japanese maple species and cultivars, American hornbeam (native), red maple (native), ‘Okame’ cherry, Yoshino cherry, and Katsura.

Please send me a comment/leave a reply with the names of your favorite trees for fall color.

For more information on the coral bark maple and any other plant you want to know about, I highly recommend the Plant Finder provided by the Missouri Botanical Garden‘s Kemper Center for Home Gardening.  I have added this site to my favorites and use it frequently to get information on plants I am researching.  I have provided a permanent link to this wonderful site under Plant Information on my sidebar so you will always be able to find it.


18 Responses to “Shade Gardening in Fall: Coral Bark Maple”

  1. Love fall colors. I planted a paper bark maple tree in my backyard and will probably never see it be very tall. Presently it is about 8 – 10′ and I love it. I have it sitting right in view of my living room french doors. When it’s leaves fall off it’s time for my Christmas tree to occupy that visual spot in my house. Great idea on my part, even my hubby thanks me for it….

    My great concern is Spring. I may have missed my chance of planting for our upcoming Spring… I was out of town and now what do I do? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated…

    • Paper bark maples have beautiful bark all year round–great choice. You have missed your chance to plant woody plants and perennials for spring (at least I think it’s too late). But you can still plant bulbs. As soon as the ground can be worked in 2011, you can start on your spring plantings and still enjoy them that season if you use good size plants. Carolyn

  2. Carolyn, this is my first chance to check out the blog. Don’t know which is better – all the great info or the beautiful pictures! My favorite part of winter, after decorating for Christmas, is planning for new or redesigned gardens. It’s great to have this additional inspiration!

  3. Love your blog and hope to learn a lot from you and fellow bloggers! 

    I planted a paper bark maple in my front garden.  The fall foliage is beautiful and the paper bark creates beautiful winter interest for the neighborhood.  It is a slow grower but is a delight to watch each year.  

    Also planted a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick this spring. Can’t wait for the leaves to fall to see the beauty of the corkscrew branches all winter!  I’ve heard Christmas lights are especially pretty on this specimen. 

    • Thanks, Betsy. One of the great things about a paper bark maple is that it is very ornamental at an early age. I love your idea of Christmas lights on the Harry Lauder—I wonder if you could send a photo, some cameras have a setting for that. Carolyn

  4. Just come across this nice blog and love your beautiful photo compositions. Envy your big mature ‘Sango kaku’, and the shade garden in the wonderful woodland. My favourite fall colour trees are Acer palmatum ‘Seiyu’, ‘Osakazuki’ ………etc.

    • Hi Chen. You are right, most Japanese maples have beautiful fall color. I was noticing today that ‘Butterfly’ is changing from pale pink to coral to red and that I have another one that is a beautiful shade of orange right now. One of their big advantages is that they color up later when most other trees have already lost their leaves. Carolyn

  5. Ben Hayward Says:


    Thanks for a great blog!

    I am inundated with leaves in the fall, and I have been grinding those falling in proximity to my driveway for the last three years. Our beds have benefitted significantly from the resulting mulch — which I save in huge plastic bags and apply in the spring. Only drawback is I must go over the leaf pile mustiple times to grind into dime-size pieces.

    I loved your idea of leaving my other leaves in place on lawn after mowing with my mulching mowers. My only concern is the leaves don’t get uniformly ground to a size I feel will totally be absorbed by spring (ground leaf sizes left consist of ~ 20% 1″x3″). I’m so taken by the idea, though, I plan to try it in one section of lawn this fall to see if I’m being too persnickity. What’s your take on this “grind-size” issue?

    Separately, as of this fall, my twin 3-year-old Hammemelis virginiana trees have become one of my favorites for fall color — leaves turned buttery yellow, and when they dropped (about 2 weeks ago), left a profusion of yellow flowers on bare stems for another six days. Spectacular in morning sun!


    • Thanks Ben. I know the Scotts video says dime-size pieces. The smaller the grind the quicker it will break down. However, we do not keep grinding until everything is that small, and it all breaks down by spring. I would just keep going until you feel comfortable. When the grass is mowed in spring any remaining pieces will be ground again. They won’t hurt the lawn over the winter.

      Our native witch hazel is beautiful and under used. Thanks for mentioning it. Most trees and shrubs in the witch hazel family have beautiful fall color. The disanthus shrub in my Make a Spring Shopping List post is in that family and has deep claret colored leaves and bright purple flowers right now. Carolyn

  6. Oh, I have Sango Kaku envy 🙂 I have a very small Coral Bark in my garden. Maybe someday it will look like yours! I also just love the spring and fall color of ‘Orange Dream’ Japanese Maple. Wonderful lime green spring color and yellow/orange fall color. And my favorite red is ‘Fireglow.’ It holds is burgundy color the longest in our blistering Texas summers. And for a larger maple, ‘Fire Dragon’ Shantung Maple has wonderful red fall color. It was grown and patented by a local grower here in North Central Texas (Keith Johanssen at Metro Maples).

    • Hi Toni, ‘Sango-kaku’ grew quite quickly in my garden. I have the Japanese maple ‘Butterfly’ with white variegated leaves and pink fall color and another with very dissected green leaves and unbelievable orange fall color (can’t remember the name). Japanese maples are addictive. Carolyn

      • ‘Viridis’ or ‘Waterfall’ possibly on the green dissectum variety?? Has gorgeous yellow/orange fall color. Yes, I agree, the maples are addictive!!! Our local maple nursery has literally a forest of maples, and I cannot visit the nursery without coming home with something or another!! I have 20 maples so far with plans to add a couple more.

      • I think you are right–the name ‘Viridis’ sounds very familiar. Grows very slowly and low to the ground. I am kicking myself that I didn’t get any photos of it this fall. I try to avoid looking at Japanese maples because I want them all! Carolyn

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed your post! Your coral bark is amazing! Your fall tree choices are wonderful. You have a great selection of dogwoods too. I tried the Kousa dogwood but I’m afraid it was in a spot with a little too much sun.

  8. This is very lovely… my coral bark is new and small and questionably hardy here… but it’s still worth the effort and I’m hoping placement and providing protection will do the trick! Larry

    • Larry, ‘Sango-kaku’ is definitely the Japanese maple I would keep if I could only have one. You won’t regret all your effort to get it going. It is very hard to photograph though, and I am never quite happy that I have captured its majestic beauty. Carolyn

Leave a Reply to carolynsshadegardens Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: