Cold Hardy Japanese Maples: Selecting Japanese Maples For Zone 4 Gardens

Red Leaved Japanese Maple Tree
zone 4 japanese maple
(Image credit: Maria_Ermolova)

Cold hardy Japanese maples are great trees to invite into your garden. However, if you live in zone 4, one of the colder zones in the continental U.S., you’ll have to take special precautions or consider container planting. If you are considering growing Japanese maples in zone 4, read on for the best tips.

Japanese Maples for Cold Climates

Japanese maples charm gardeners with their graceful shape and gorgeous fall color. These charming trees come in small, medium, and large and some cultivars survive chilly weather. Can Japanese maples for cold climates live through zone 4 winters though? If you have heard that Japanese maples grow best in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 7, you have heard correctly. Winters in zone 4 get considerably colder than in zone 5. That said, it’s still possible to grow these trees in cooler regions of zone 4 with careful selection and protection.

Zone 4 Japanese Maple Trees

If you are looking for Japanese maples for zone 4, start by selecting the right cultivars. Although none are guaranteed to thrive as zone 4 Japanese maple trees, you’ll have the best luck by planting one of these. If you want a tall tree, look at Emperor 1. It is a classic Japanese maple with the standard red leaves. The tree will grow to 20 feet (6 m.) tall and is one of the best Japanese maples for cold climates. If you want a garden tree that stops at 15 feet (5 m.), you’ll have more choices in Japanese maples for zone 4. Consider Katsura, a lovely specimen with light green leaves that blaze orange in autumn. Beni Kawa (also called Beni Gawa) is one of the most cold hardy Japanese maples. Its deep green foliage transforms into gold and crimson in fall, and the scarlet bark looks fabulous in winter snow. It also grows to 15 feet (5 m.). If you want to pick among smaller Japanese maples for zone 4, consider red black Inaba Shidare or weeping Green Snowflake. They top out at 5 and 4 (1.5 and 1 m.) feet, respectively. Or opt for dwarf maple Beni Komanchi, a fast-growing tree with red leaves all growing season.

Growing Japanese Maples in Zone 4

When you start growing Japanese maples in zone 4, you’ll want to take action to protect the tree from winter cold. Select a location protected from winter winds, like a courtyard. You’ll need to apply a thick layer of mulch over the tree’s root zone. Another alternative is to grow a Japanese maple in a pot and move it indoors when the winter gets really cold. Maples are great container trees. Leave the tree outdoors until it is completely dormant, then stash it in an unheated garage or other sheltered, cool area. If you are growing zone 4 Japanese maples in pots, be sure to put them back outside once the buds begin to open. Keep a watchful eye on the weather. You’ll need to bring it back in quickly during hard frosts.

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.