15 Best Companion Plants for Japanese Maple | Good and Bad

The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is an ornamental tree grown for its bold colors and graceful demeanor. Small and slow growing, these trees are suited for growing in Japanese-style gardens. They have since become popular additions to modern suburban yards, thriving in pots or beds. 

Although Japanese maples make for a great centerpiece, growing a variety of other plants alongside it can further accentuate its beauty. You can choose plants that either coordinate or contrast with your Japanese maple as well as add texture, depth, and dimension. 

There are lots of species that make great companion plants for Japanese maples. The plants on this list I have chosen mainly for aesthetic reasons, but others are more practical such as attracting pollinators. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Companion planting with Japanese maples is a fantastic way to enhance their beauty and create an aesthetically pleasing garden. By choosing the right companion plants, you can prolong the blooming period, attract pollinators, and provide natural support and shade.
  2. The benefits of companion planting extend beyond aesthetics. It promotes biodiversity, attracts beneficial insects, and improves soil health while being eco-friendly and reducing the need for chemical-based pesticides and herbicides.
  3. When selecting companion plants for Japanese maples, consider environmental conditions, plant characteristics, and how they will look together. Opt for plants that thrive in similar soil and light conditions, and avoid planting species that have conflicting needs or aggressive root systems.

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What is Companion Planting?

Japanese Maple
Credit: Rebecca Wilson by CC: 2.0

Companion planting is an organic way of mimicking the natural environment by growing different plant species close together. The plants are chosen on the basis they will provide mutualistic benefits to one another. 

There are many different types of benefits that can be extracted from companion planting. It can increase biodiversity, attract beneficial insects and improve soil health to name a few. 

Companion planting is an old practice that has been implemented for thousands of years. Traditionally, this method was used for growing corn, beans, and squash as a way to increase crop yield. This is known as the “Three Sisters” method. 

The corn grows tall and sturdy creating a natural support structure for the beans to climb up as they grow. As the beans do this, they help to anchor the corn into the soil, protecting them from damage from harsh weather conditions. 

Beans fix nitrogen into the soil which they take from the atmosphere. All the plants can take up this nitrogen from the soil, which they need to help them grow. 

Unlike beans and corn, squash grows low to the ground, meaning it isn’t in competition for sunlight with them. Additionally, their large leaves shade the soil which helps to keep it moist and reduce evaporation. The dense foliage also suppresses weed growth. 

This method beautifully illustrates the idea and concepts behind companion planting. It’s not just crops that benefit from this method, but an array of plants that are used in landscaping and ornamental gardens. 

Companion Planting Benefits

As I previously brushed over, companion planting has a huge variety of benefits. Here are some of the main benefits derived from companion planting with your Japanese maple:

Biological Pest Control: Lots of plants naturally repel insect pests by releasing certain chemicals or giving off strong scents. Planting these species near vulnerable varieties can help protect them from pest attacks. Additionally, some plants attract predator insects, which will feast on pests and keep their populations down. 

Aesthetic Benefits: Too many people, having a garden that is aesthetically pleasing is important. By planting species together that have different blooming times, you can prolong the time your garden is in bloom. Moreover, having an array of plants is more visually interesting. 

Eco-Friendly: Companion planting is an eco-friendly method of growing. It removes the need to use chemical-based pesticides and herbicides which can harm the environment. By growing plants close together, you also save land space and water. 

Structural Support: Trees and sturdy shrubs act as natural supports for climbing plants. Their strong trunks and branches can support the weight of plants growing up them. Structural species can also provide protection to smaller, more delicate plants from the harsh environment. Aesthetically, natural supports are more pleasing than artificial ones. 

Provides Shade: Large shrubs, tall trees, and broad leaves are excellent at casting shade. Species that are less tolerant of sunlight can be planted near them to be provided with shade.  

Wildlife Diversity: A garden diverse in flora will lead to an increase in biodiversity. Different species will provide different benefits to wildlife such as pollen, shelter, and food. Pollinators are especially important to attract as they are responsible for pollinating around 90% of the world’s food crops. 

Credit: Louise Docker by CC: 2.0

Considerations When Selecting Companion Plants

There are many things to consider when selecting companions for your Japanese maple. Although lots of species make great partners for this tree, the wrong combination can have detrimental consequences for one or more of your plants.  

One of the most important factors to think about is the environmental conditions. If plants require opposing conditions, they won’t make good partners. For example, a plant that thrives in full sunlight would make a terrible companion for one that needs to be planted in the shade. 

You should also consider the characteristics of each plant. A fast-growing species may become invasive and engulf a slow-growing species if planted next to it. Moreover, if they have overlapping nutrient requirements, they are likely to be in competition with one another for them. 

The overall look of how companion plants will look together is also important. Choosing species that have different blooming times will extend the flowering period of your garden. Furthermore, you can get creative and decide if you want your display to be coordinating or contrasting in terms of color, shape, height, and texture. 

Getting To Know Your Japanese Maple In Detail

Plant Family
Sapindaceae (Soapberry family)
Watering Conditions
Well-draining soil, keep consistently moist
Mature Size
Varies by variety, typically 6-25 feet tall
Soil Requirements
Rich, well-draining soil; pH slightly acidic to neutral
Sunlight Needs
Partial shade to full sun (varies by variety)
Temperature Tolerance
Hardy in USDA zones 5-9
Growth Habit
Deciduous tree or shrub with delicate, lacy foliage
Flowering Period
Flower Color
Small, inconspicuous flowers; range from red to yellow depending on variety
Foliage Characteristics
Finely dissected leaves, various colors including green, red, purple, and variegated
Propagation Methods
Softwood cuttings, grafting, or air-layering
Pruning and Maintenance
Prune in late winter or early spring; remove dead or crossing branches; minimal pruning for shaping
Common Pests and Diseases
Aphids, scale insects; verticillium wilt, root rot
Companion Planting
Hostas, ferns, azaleas, rhododendrons, and other shade-loving plants
Edible Parts
Leaves (though not typically consumed)
Wildlife Attraction
Provides habitat for birds and insects
Leaves are non-toxic, but seeds are mildly toxic if ingested
Special Care Instructions
Protect from harsh winds and hot afternoon sun; mulch to retain moisture

Best Companion Plants for Japanese Maple

japanese maple companion plants

The Japanese maple grows best in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8. It may be grown as a small tree or a large shrub and both have elegant branches that range from upright to cascading. 

The beautiful leaves of the Japanese maple can be red, green, purple, white, orange or pink through spring, summer and fall. 

Any good companion plant will thrive under the same conditions as its partner. Japanese maples should be grown in moist but well-draining soil. Sandy, slightly acidic soil is best. Ideally, they should be planted in a sheltered spot that provides partial shade and protection from harsh winds. 

Some of the best companion plants for Japanese maple are: 

Flowering Annuals and Perennials 

Aster: Low-growing varieties of aster look great grown around the base of a Japanese maple. Asters maintain delicate color in your garden during the fall when most other plants are beginning to die back. The pink, purple, and blue flowers look striking against the fiery fall leaves of the Japanese maple. 

Begonia: Like Japanese maples, begonia loves the shade. This makes them a great filler plant around the base of the tree. Begonias boast unique foliage and pretty flowers. 

Azalea: These flowers grow best in acidic soil with good drainage, making them a great partner for Japanese maples. Their vivid, trumpet-shaped flowers look stunning beside Japanese maple trees. 

Crocus: These flowers bloom in early spring whilst Japanese maples are still dormant. This allows them to soak up the sun and produce pastel-colored flowers before your Japanese maple blooms. Crocuses also attract many pollinators such as bees. 

Columbine: These perennials flower in the late spring, just before the rest of the garden comes to life. Columbine attracts lots of beneficial pollinators such as insects and hummingbirds. They grow well in shady areas with cool, well-draining soil. 

Ornamental Grasses

Japanese Forest Grass: Also known as Hakone grass, this species flourishes in the shade that a Japanese maple tree can provide. It grows in mounds, matching the rounded shape of weeping maples or contrasting against upright varieties. 

Black Mondo Grass: This ornamental grass is unique in the fact it’s dark purple-black. It’s shade tolerant and will grow short but wide, making it a great companion to grow around a Japanese maple. Black mondo grass is also resistant to deer grazing. 

Ground Cover

Coral Bells: The foliage of these herbaceous perennials comes in a variety of colors. You can choose to compliment or contrast them with your Japanese maple. Coral bells grow dense and low to the ground, creating a lovely leafy carpet effect around the tree trunk. 

Hosta: Hosta requires the same soil conditions as Japanese maple meaning they grow well together. They have short, shallow roots so grow easily around the base of trees. The Japanese maple will provide the hosta with vital shade.  

Creeping Sedum: The low-growing, creeping sedum has shallow, non-invasive roots so can be planted around the base of the tree without causing it harm. These hardy succulents can survive a range of conditions. Creeping sedum will add color and texture to your tree.

Fern: The elegant green fronds of ferns are striking against the red leaves of Japanese maples. Both species come from the same region so grow well together. Ferns grow best in shady areas and the Japanese maple will cast some upon it when planted underneath. 

Trees and Shrubs

Hydrangea: This flowering shrub makes for an ideal companion for Japanese maples as they have very similar care requirements. Hydrangea prefers partial shade, acidic soil pH, and good drainage. The large, colorful blooms contrast beautifully with Japanese maples. 

Flowering Dogwood: Around mid-springtime, this tree will blossom delicate pink or white flowers. Dogwoods grow similar sizes to Japanese cherry trees so look good when paired next to each other. Dogwoods provide flowers that Japanese maples lack. 


Holly: Like Japanese maples, holly grows best in acidic, well-draining soils. Holly provides a dark green background against the red leaves of Japanese maples. Female holly shrubs will also produce red berries which complement the red leaves. 

Fringetree: Hardy and adaptive, fringe trees grow well in a variety of soil types, including well-draining acidic soils as preferred by Japanese maples. Fringe trees produce delicate, white flowers which look stunning against Japanese maples. 

Arborvitae: Often planted as ornamental evergreens, the thick, green foliage of arborvitae provides an excellent backdrop for a Japanese maple. If grown as a hedge, the growth rate of arborvitae will quickly shelter your tree from the wind and cast shade on it.  

Bad Companion Plants for Japanese Maple

Although there are a lot of great companion plants to choose from, there are some that you should steer clear of. Plants to avoid growing next to your Japanese maple include: 

Plants that Favor Full Sun: Since Japanese maples require shady conditions to grow, any plant that thrives in the full sun will suffer if grown alongside it. The Japanese maple would also cast shade on the plant, further harming it. 

Alkaline Loving Plants: Japanese maples love acidic soil so any companion plants should love a low pH as well. Plants that need alkaline soil to grow would suffer under acidic conditions. 

Shallow Rooted Shrubs: The Japanese maple has relatively shallow roots. A lot of shrubs provide excellent ground cover when planted around the trunk of a Japanese maple. However, if planted too close then the shallow-rooted shrubs will be in competition with your Japanese maple for resources.  

Final Thoughts

Companion planting is a fantastic planting technique that benefits all the plants in your garden. You do need to be careful putting the wrong plants near your Japanese maples because it could negatively impact their growth. My hope is this article has given you the resources you need to get started with companion planting. 

As you add more plants to your garden you’ll begin to see it come together with beauty the more companions you plant near your Japanese maples.

Frequently Asked Questions About Japanese Maple Trees

What Plants Go Well With Japanese Maples?

Japanese maples play exceptionally well with shade-loving companions like hostas, ferns, and rhododendrons. These plants create a captivating ensemble and when combined their colors complement the Japanese maple’s striking foliage.

Can You Plant Flowers Around A Japanese Maple?

Absolutely! Japanese maples love some floral companies too! You can spice up their surroundings with gorgeous shade-loving flowers like impatiens, begonias, and hellebores. These blooms add a burst of color beneath the maple’s canopy that looks amazing.

What Evergreen Can I Plant With Japanese Maple?

Evergreens make splendid partners for Japanese maples! Consider pairing them with companions like azaleas, camellias, or Pieris. These evergreen beauties provide year-round interest, making the maple’s company even more delightful, no matter the season.

Where Not To Plant Japanese Maple?

Let’s talk about the no-go zones! Japanese maples are a bit fussy about their spots. Avoid planting them in hot, scorching sun or extremely windy areas. They prefer sheltered spots with dappled shade, as too much sun can singe their delicate leaves and spoil their majestic presence.

Do Japanese Maples lose their leaves?

Yes, Japanese Maples are deciduous trees, which means they will lose their leaves during the fall season.

Are there any plants that should not be planted near Japanese Maple?

While Japanese Maples are relatively adaptable, it is best to avoid companion plants that have aggressive root systems or that require very different growing conditions.

Are there any specific growing conditions for companion plants of Japanese Maple?

Companion plants for Japanese Maples should generally prefer similar growing conditions, including well-drained soil and partial shade.

Can I pair fragrant flowers with Japanese Maple?

Yes, pairing fragrant flowers with Japanese Maple can create a delightful sensory experience in your garden.

What are some easy-to-grow companion plants for Japanese Maple?

Some easy-to-grow companion plants for Japanese Maple are Japanese Spurge, Coral Bells, and Hakone Grass.