16 Pretty Shrubs That Complement Japanese Maples Perfectly

Japanese maples are a beautiful option for enhancing your garden or landscape. Their striking leaves and vibrant hues make them a popular choice among garden enthusiasts.

However, finding the perfect companion plants or shrubs to pair with Japanese maples can be a challenging task.

When it comes to designing with Japanese maples, it’s important to consider what companion plants will best complement their unique beauty.

Companion shrubs can enhance and bring out the beauty of your Japanese maple while providing year-round interest and color.

Keep in mind that not all shrubs will pair well with your maple tree, so it’s essential to choose the right ones.

The key is to select shrubs that will not only complement but also contrast with the colors of your Japanese maple tree. This will create an eye-catching display that is sure to impress anyone who walks by your garden.

Additionally, choosing shrubs that bloom at different times throughout the year can provide continuous bursts of color and texture.

From stunning azaleas and hydrangeas to fragrant lilacs and firethorn, there are many options available that will beautifully complement your maple tree.

Let’s dive into our top picks for companion shrubs for Japanese maples so you can create a breathtakingly beautiful landscape in your own backyard!

1. Azaleas

A row of pink azaleas in full bloom in a shady yard.

Azaleas are a perfect companion plant for Japanese maples. Azaleas come in a variety of colors, from soft pinks to vibrant oranges and reds, making it easy to find the perfect shade to complement your Japanese maple.

Not only do they add a pop of color to your garden, but their delicate flowers also provide an interesting contrast to the strong structure of the maple leaves.

They bloom in early spring when the maples are still bare, providing your garden with much-needed color and interest during that time of year.

We recommend planting azaleas around the base of your Japanese maple tree for maximum impact.

One great thing about planting azaleas with your Japanese maples is that they both prefer acidic soil conditions.

This means that you won’t have to worry about adjusting soil pH levels separately for each plant.

  • Mature size: 1 to 6 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Early spring
  • Light preferences: Partial shade to full sun
  • Key features: Delicate flowers in a variety of colors

2. Hydrangeas

Blue hydrangea flowers on a healthy shrub.

Hydrangeas can provide a beautiful contrast to the maple’s foliage with their big, showy flowers.

Hydrangeas come in a variety of colors, including pink, blue, white, and purple, making it easy to find a color that perfectly complements your maple tree.

Some hydrangea varieties prefer shade while others prefer sunnier locations.

Endless Summer or Cityline Paris varieties are ideal if you’re looking for hydrangeas that will thrive under the same growing conditions as most Japanese maples.

Not only do hydrangeas add visual interest through their flowers, but they can also help attract pollinators to your garden. This means you’ll be helping support local ecosystems through your gardening efforts!

  • Mature size: 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Summer to fall
  • Light preferences: Partial shade to full sun, depending on the variety
  • Key features: Big, showy flowers in various colors, including pink, blue, white, and purple

3. Dwarf Gardenia

A lovely gardenia bush covered in fragrant white flowers.

Dwarf gardenia is a perfect plant for those who want to add a touch of glamour and charm to their gardens.

These evergreen shrubs are great Japanese maple companion plants as they bring brightness and life with their gorgeous white flowers that bloom in spring and summer.

They thrive in partial shade, making them ideal to be planted under the canopy of Japanese maples where they can enjoy dappled sunlight throughout the day.

The glossy green leaves of dwarf gardenias perfectly complement the delicate foliage of Japanese maples.

These shrubs are easy to maintain and grow well in acidic soil, which makes them an excellent choice. The flowers emit a sweet aroma that can fill your garden with fragrance during the spring and summer months.

  • Mature size: Typically grows up to 2 feet tall and wide
  • Bloom time: Spring to summer
  • Light preferences: Partial shade
  • Key features: Fragrant white flowers, glossy green leaves, and compact size

4. Winter Heath

White winter heath blooming happily on a cold day.

Winter heath is one of the most beautiful shrubs that will provide an excellent contrast to your Japanese maples.

It is a low-growing evergreen shrub that produces small, bell-shaped pink or white flowers during the winter season. The winter heath plant prefers well-draining soil, and it thrives in full sun or partial shade.

You can use this shrub as a ground cover around your Japanese maples as it creates a natural mat-like appearance.

Winter heath is also great for attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies to your garden.

Its pink or white flowers bloom right when other plants are dormant and will add some much-needed color during those dull winter months.

  • Mature size: Low-growing shrub, usually around 1 to 2 feet tall and wide
  • Bloom time: Winter to early spring
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Small, bell-shaped pink or white flowers during winter

5. Rhododendrons

Purple rhododendrons in full bloom in spring.

Rhododendrons are known for their stunning flowers that bloom in spring and early summer and come in a variety of colors such as pink, red, white, and purple.

We recommend planting rhododendrons behind taller Japanese maples to give them more height and emphasize the vibrant colors of both plants.

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, rhododendrons are also excellent for attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies. This makes them great additions to any garden or yard focused on creating a natural ecosystem.

You can find healthy rhododendrons guaranteed to grow here.

  • Mature size: 2 to 15 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Spring to early summer
  • Light preferences: Partial shade to full sun, depending on the variety
  • Key features: Stunning flowers in various colors, including pink, red, white, and purple

6. Camellias

Pretty pink camellias blooming on a healthy bush.

Camellias have a long blooming season with beautiful flowers that come in a variety of colors and sizes.

Camellias are perfect as companion plants for Japanese maples because they provide year-round interest with glossy green foliage that looks great even when the blooms aren’t present.

They come in different varieties, which means you can create various combinations of colors and textures.

For example, you can mix the white or pink blooms of camellias with the red or purple leaves of Japanese maples to create an eye-catching garden bed.

  • Mature size: 6 to 12 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Late fall to early spring, depending on the variety
  • Light preferences: Partial shade
  • Key features: Beautiful flowers in a variety of colors and sizes, evergreen foliage, and versatility in design

7. Viburnum Shrubs

A viburnum bush loaded with pretty white flowers.

Viburnum shrubs are an excellent choice when it comes to selecting companion plants for Japanese maples.

The most common Viburnum shrub used as a companion plant for Japanese Maples is the Viburnum tinus, which is also called the Laurustinus viburnum.

This evergreen shrub grows up to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide and produces small white or pink flowers in the winter season.

The leaves are dark-green, glossy, and oval-shaped. It also has a unique feature whereby it produces attractive metallic blue berries that persist throughout winter.

Viburnums are easy to maintain and provide an exquisite visual contrast when planted alongside Japanese maples.

  • Mature size: 3 to 15 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Spring to summer, depending on the variety
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Attractive flowers and foliage, metallic blue berries, and distinctive branching pattern

8. Japanese Pieris

The drooping white flowers of Japanese pieris.

This shrub offers a striking contrast with its evergreen foliage and delicate, drooping flowers.

It also has a similar growth habit to the Japanese maple, making them look like they belong together in any garden.

The shrub works well in both formal and informal gardens and can be used as a hedge or specimen plant.

Depending on the variety you choose, flowers can be white or pink and bloom in early spring. They are also fragrant and attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

  • Mature size: 6 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Late winter to early spring
  • Light preferences: Partial shade
  • Key features: Evergreen foliage, delicate drooping flowers, and sweet fragrance

9. Fothergilla

A fothergilla shrub in full bloom on a sunny day.

Fothergilla is a great option if you want to add some texture to your garden. This deciduous shrub produces beautiful, fluffy white flowers in the spring and has stunning foliage in the fall.

You can find cultivars that grow anywhere from 3 to 10 feet tall, so you can choose the size that best fits your needs.

This makes it an ideal choice for planting under or near larger trees or other taller shrubs that may provide some shade.

With its unique texture and beautiful blooms, Fothergilla is definitely one worth considering when planning out your landscape design!

  • Mature size: 3 to 10 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Spring
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Fluffy white flowers, stunning fall foliage colors, and texture contrast

10. Barberry

A branch of Rose Glow barberry with small white  flowers.

Barberry is a great companion shrub for Japanese maples. The thorny branches of this shrub can add an extra layer of protection against deer and other animals that might be attracted to the delicious foliage of your maples.

There are many different varieties of barberry, some with green foliage and others with red or purple leaves.

One popular variety is the Crimson Pygmy barberry, which features deep burgundy foliage that looks striking next to a green or yellow Japanese maple.

Another option is the Rose Glow barberry, which has variegated pink and purple leaves that create a beautiful contrast when planted near a green Japanese maple.

Barberries also have small flowers in the springtime that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies to your garden.

When planting barberries near your Japanese maples, be sure to give them plenty of space so they don’t overshadow or crowd your tree.

Placing them slightly behind or off to the side can create balance in your design and allow both plants to shine on their own.

  • Mature size: 1 to 10 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Spring
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Thorny branches provide protection, colorful foliage (green, red, or purple), and small flowers

11. Lilacs

A purple lilac bush in full bloom.

Lilacs are a popular choice as companion shrubs for Japanese maples, especially in northern regions where they thrive.

The vibrant colors and their sweet scent make them a great addition to any garden, and they come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow for creative designing.

They generally bloom in the springtime with shades of pink, purple, blue, and white, depending on the specific cultivar.

Lilacs prefer full sun locations with good drainage as they can be susceptible to fungal diseases when grown in moist conditions for prolonged periods.

Planting lilacs alongside your Japanese maples can add both visual appeal through their vibrant blooms and practical benefits by attracting pollinators to your garden.

  • Mature size: 15 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Spring
  • Light preferences: Full sun
  • Key features: Vibrant blooms in shades of pink, purple, blue, and white

12. Forsythia

An untrimmed forsythia bush in full bloom in spring.

Forsythia bushes produce bright yellow flowers that will surely complement the aesthetic appeal of your garden.

The height and spread of forsythia shrubs vary depending on the cultivar, but they generally grow quite large, making them an excellent backdrop for smaller Japanese maples or other shrubs.

They prefer well-drained soils, and once established, they require very little maintenance. You can prune them after flowering or in late winter to maintain their shape and promote healthy growth.

  • Mature size: 3 to 10 feet tall and wide
  • Bloom time: Spring
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Bright yellow flowers, stunning fall foliage, and texture contrast

13. Weigela

A large weigela covered in pink flowers.

When it comes to finding the perfect shrub to complement your Japanese maples, look no further than the weigela.

This versatile shrub offers a range of colors from soft pink to deep red, which makes it easy to incorporate into your garden design.

The blooms are particularly stunning in late spring and early summer when they burst forth in clusters of white, pink, or red.

Whether you’re looking for a pop of color or want to create a sense of harmony in your garden design, this shrub won’t disappoint.

  • Mature size: 6 feet tall and wide
  • Bloom time: Spring to summer
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Range of colors (soft pink to deep red), versatility in design, and complementary foliage and flowers

14. Sweet Pepperbush

A close look at a sweet pepperbush in full bloom.

Sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) is a deciduous shrub that is native to the eastern United States. This hardy shrub is highly adaptable to different soil types and can grow in full sun or partial shade.

It can reach a height of 8-12 feet and has beautiful, fragrant white flowers that bloom in mid to late summer.

The white blooms provide a nice contrast against the leaves of a red-leafed cultivar, while the green foliage provides an interesting backdrop for a green-leafed variety.

Consider purchasing several plants to create a natural grouping effect when planting them alongside your Japanese maples.

  • Mature size: 8-12 feet tall and wide
  • Bloom time: Mid to late summer
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Fragrant white flowers, shared preference for acidic soil with Japanese maples, and attracts pollinators

15. Firethorn

A firethorn bush covered with orange berries.

Firethorn produces beautiful clusters of white flowers in the spring before turning into bright orange berries. The berries add a pop of color to your garden during winter months when other plants may be dormant.

The thorny branches of the firethorn also provide additional security for your garden.

It is easy to grow and maintain, making it a great choice for both novice and experienced gardeners alike.

These shrubs are also perfect for adding texture and depth to your garden as they stand tall with their dense branches.

  • Mature size: 3 to 10 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety
  • Bloom time: Spring
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Clusters of white flowers followed by bright orange berries, thorny branches providing security, and texture contrast

16. Nandina

A nandina bush with clusters of red berries.

This evergreen shrub, also known as heavenly bamboo, produces clusters of delicate white flowers in the spring and summer, followed by bright red berries in the fall and winter.

Nandina’s lacy foliage comes in shades of green and red, making it a beautiful backdrop for Japanese maple trees.

Many shrubs can work well as companion plants for Japanese maples, but nandina is definitely one to consider if you’re looking for something that will add color and texture while still allowing your prized tree to take center stage.

  • Mature size: 4-8 feet tall and wide
  • Bloom time: Spring to summer
  • Light preferences: Full sun to partial shade
  • Key features: Evergreen foliage in shades of green and red, clusters of white flowers, and bright red berries

Final Thoughts

Japanese maples are a beautiful addition to any garden or landscape.

When designing with Japanese maples, it’s important to consider the companion plants that will help showcase the beauty of the maple and bring balance to your overall design.

Remember, choosing companion plants for your Japanese maple isn’t just about aesthetics.

These plants can also provide functional benefits such as attracting beneficial insects or providing shade for the roots of the tree.

Go ahead and experiment with different combinations of flowers and shrubs until you find what works best for you!

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