Glowing Embers – A Winning Japanese Maple for Sun

As many readers know, a couple of years ago I had to take down a gorgeous crabapple tree in my front yard that was failing. And because I also had lost a 90-foot beech tree shortly before, on the other side of the front yard, the site had turned from shade to fiercely sunny.

In considering what to plant to replace the crabapple, I did some research and settled on a Japanese maple called ‘Glowing Embers.’  Usually you don’t plant Japanese maples in full sun – they prefer dappled shade. But this one is different – it takes full sun and high heat, and is a vigorous grower to boot. Developed by Dr. Michael Dirr, the dean of woody plants, ‘Glowing Embers’ received the Georgia Gold Medal Winner award in 2005. Ultimately it will reach 20-25′ high, a bit smaller than my crabapple was, but it will help provide shade to the eastern side of the house.

I planted it in November 2011, when all I could see to appreciate was its bark, which in winter has kind of a reddish cast to the branches, something I haven’t read about in online descriptions.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

Taken with my iPhone, this image of the tree with its branches tied up on its way to the planting hole shows a reddish tint to the bark.

I’ve even had one designer colleague ask me if this was a ‘Sango Kaku’ maple, which are noted for their red branches. It’s not that intense, but it’s pretty impressive.

I loved the shape of my tree in winter, and took this image of it during a light snowfall.

‘Glowing Embers’ in snow.

In spring and summer, this tree has lovely light green leaves (a choice I favored because my house is red brick and I wanted it to stand out against that background).

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers"

A close up of the leaves as the little “whirlybirds” (oops, technically that’s “samaras” to us plant geeks ) start to appear. (iPhone 5 photo)

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

Acer palmatum ‘Glowing Embers’  last spring. I gave it extra water during the summer.

But it was in the fall that I fully appreciated ‘Glowing Embers’. The leaves can turn a variety of shades on the same tree, which explains how it got its name. And from tree to tree, it can take on a different aspect. Here are two photos, one from my specimen and another from a ‘Glowing Embers’ planted in a client’s garden.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

A close-up of the leaves on my tree as they started to turn.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

A ‘Glowing Embers’ planted in a landscape client’s garden, showing a slightly different range of colors on the leaves in autumn. Some of the reddish leaves had a purple tone to them.

What will the future bring? I’ll close with an image provided courtesy of the Georgia Botanical Gardens, of a mature ‘Glowing Embers’ in the fall at its Callaway Building.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers,' Georgia Gold Medal Winner 2005

© Contributors to
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, 2007

I have no idea how long mine will take to get this large, but I hope it will be while I still call Thornapple Street my home.

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7 Comments on “Glowing Embers – A Winning Japanese Maple for Sun”

  1. Astrid Says:

    Glowing Embers is such a beauty! You made an excellent choice.


  2. What a beauty! It is so fun to watch them from when they are small to when the get large (sorta like kids!). I planted two cherries in the back yard almost 20 years ago…..thought they’d never get big. Then one day I looked outside and realized I have two big, fat, robust cherry trees!

    • Melissa Says:

      Twenty years from now I may not be living here! But I hope that in 10 years this maple has grown enough to shelter the little bench in front. In the meantime, I enjoy all its stages. Thanks for stopping by, Colleen.

  3. gankatan Says:

    Good choice – the perfect tree!

  4. Lynda reeves Says:

    Oh my gosh. I just found your post. I planted this small small tree last year. From your photos I have obviously planted it too close to my house. I will try to upload my photo but thank u so much.

  5. Lisa Port Says:

    Hi Melissa, So, three years later is ‘Glowing Embers still a good choice? considering it for a Seattle garden in full sun. Need an umbrella shape for making shade in a sunny back yard. Will be planted in a large container (8’x 5’) -Thanks! Lisa Port


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