Ask Burton Q: We planted a Japanese maple two months ago and it has leafed out, but the tips of the leaves are beginning to turn pale white/tan. It’s not all that bad yet, but we tried a Japanese maple in the same spot last year and it died the same way last July. I planted it where the tag said – partial to full sun, so it’s on the west side of my home. Any idea what the issue is?

A: This situation is an example of why knowledge of local gardening conditions is critically important. Plant information which is accurate in other states often falls short of the mark in our climate and soil conditions. There is no substitute for local experience, and in this case, after further discussion, it turns out that the customer wasn’t watering quite enough right now. That’s actually a good thing, because it brought this question to us in time to stop the plant from being burned to a crisp by our summer’s heat regardless of how much water was applied. They are moving the tree to a better location.

Most of the Japanese maples sold in Texas are grown in cooler climates than ours, such as Oregon, Washington state, Tennessee, or even Oklahoma, so their grower tags reflect their local growing conditions. The tag isn’t wrong where the tag was printed, but it isn’t right for our area.

Japanese maples don’t mind the sun in milder temperatures, and one placed in some sunshine will color up better than one planted in full shade! However, this plant can’t pull water up fast enough to keep the leaves hydrated in the hot afternoon sun during our Texas summers, so we plant them in filtered sun to morning sun areas. Japanese maples are one of the prettiest and most coveted plants we can grow in our Texas landscapes and we want them to have long healthy lives, so please do not plant them in a location where they’ll receive afternoon sun.

Burton specializes in diagnosing and solving plant problems. If you have a question for Burton, please email him at and include photos showing the problem.