Trying to grow Japanese maples in a hot climate and failing? Gardening expert says you should grow these varieties

Most Japanese maples aren't suitable for growing in hot climate zones, but there are a couple of notable exceptions. Plus, garden experts reveal their favorite alternatives to acers

Japanese maple with red foliage
(Image credit: William Milliot/Unsplash)

Japanese maples are a garden favorite the world over – an exceptionally beautiful tree that comes in many varieties and is a staple of Japanese garden ideas. Thanks to their naturally graceful and compact shapes, acers are easy trees for urban courtyards, tiny backyards or even larger gardens where multiple varieties can create a stunning display of colorful foliage. 

Acers are generally easy-going, but if you've read our guide on how to grow acers you'll know that most varieties require moist, moderate climates to thrive in. They tend not to do well in full sun and heat – their leaves get scorched and they don't grow well. However, this doesn't mean you have to give up on Japanese maples if you live in a hot climate. You just need to know which varieties to grow. These are the top three recommended by garden experts. 

1. Shantung maple

Chinese maple tree

(Image credit: Getty/Yun Wang / EyeEm)

Actually, this one isn't technically an acer – it's a Chinese maple tree that looks very similar to Japanese maples, and unlike its Japanese cousins it really doesn't mind a bit of heat and sun. Michael Alves, founder of Hello Gardening, said: 'I have one growing at my home in Portugal (equivalent to zone 10) and it provides stunning color in the fall.'

Ryan Smith, a gardening expert and owner of Ant and Garden Organic Pest Control, agrees: If you live in a place with hot climate, you can grow Shantung maple instead of Japanese maple. This strong tree thrives in full sun, making it an excellent alternative to Japanese maple if you’re living in hot climate. It can grow up to 25 feet and boasts green-golden leaves with red specks. Wait for fall season and you’ll have a beautiful bright focal tree in your garden.'

2. Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers'

A Japanese maple in a Tokyo garden

(Image credit: Getty/d3sign)

If you do want a Japanese maple, then look no further than the Acer Palmatum 'Glowing Embers' variety. This is one of the only acer types that will thrive in climates as hot as zone 9 and can tolerate spells of drought. Japanese maple specialists from Pacific Coast Maples say of this tree: ''Glowing Embers' is beautiful all year with its bright green leaf color which turns different shades in the summer and fall. Unlike many Japanese maples that require shade and moist, organic soils, 'Glowing Embers' thrives in full sun and it tolerates drought better than most trees in its class.'

3. Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' Japanese maple tree

(Image credit: Gina Kelly / Alamy Stock Photo)

If you want a compact acer that can be easily incorporated into your container gardening ideas, the pretty 'Sango Kaku' variety is for you. It is drought tolerant and, according to Michael, will do 'ok' in most climate zones, although it will still do better in partial shade, out of direct sun during the hottest part of the day. 

Even if you live in a climate zone that's generally too hot for them, these beautiful trees are well worth seeking out for their spectacular shapes and foliage. They're perfect for adding to your small Japanese garden ideas too. 

Anna writes about interior design and gardening. Her work has appeared in Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, and many other publications. She is an experienced outdoor and indoor gardener and has a passion for growing roses and Japanese maples in her outside space.