The magic of Maples
Japanese maples are the perfect choice of tree for any small, compact or courtyard garden. Their character and appeal makes them ideal for creating a focal point in your garden, brightening a shaded corner, or elegantly overhanging a pool or water feature.
Many acers are commonly called Japanese maples, but their parents could be derived from several different species including Acer japonicum, Acer palmatum, Acer shirasawanum or others. Among them are some extremely slow-growing forms, with trees remaining a small, manageable size without the need for regular pruning.
With their Eastern origins in Japan, Korea and China, these small trees are suitable for developing gardens with Oriental themes and designs, choosing other suitable planting partners for them, like ferns, hostas, bamboo, azaleas, camellias, and more.
Their natural shape and growing habit of branches make Japanese maples an ideal choice of small tree for gardens or growing in large patio pots. Their leaf shapes, sizes and colours vary immensely. Many have a broad palm shape, but these are often divided and dissected into the most delicate and intricate forms. Add to this their wide range of colours, from deep greens to yellow, gold, purple or even variegated patterns and you have immense variety to choose from.
While some green or purple-leaved varieties will tolerate an open position in full sun, this can scorch the more delicate foliage of golden, variegated or dissected forms. A sheltered site is more suitable, and particularly one that provides shade during the hottest part of the day and protection from drying winds.
Japanese maples put on a show right through the year, starting as soon as foliage unfurls in spring and continuing until their autumn transformation into shades of gold and bronze before they eventually fall.
With dozens of marvellous Japanese maples available from nurseries and garden centres you’ll be spoilt for choice when picking one to add a little maple magic to your garden.
Top Maples for any garden
To help you choose the best varieties with outstanding garden performance always look for ones that have received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society. Here are some of the most widely available AGM varieties:
Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’
Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’
Acer palmatum ‘Sango-Kaku’
Golden Shirasawanum maple (Acershirasawanum ‘Aureum’)
Top tips for growing Japanese Maples
1. Choose a sheltered site where trees are protected from late spring frosts, cold winds and scorching summer sun.
2. Maples prefer well-drained soil containing plenty of compost to lock in moisture and ensure the ground never dries out.
3. Spread a deep mulch of leaf-mould, compost or shredded bark over the soil around maples to retain moisture and reduce annual weed growth.
4. For growing in containers choose large and stable terracotta pots with several drainage holes in their base. Line pots with a sheet of plastic before filling with compost to reduce water loss through the sides.
5. As trees can remain in pots for several years it’s best to plant them using a loam-based John Innes No.3 compost with extra grit added to ensure good drainage. Do remember that established trees will need repotting into larger pots every few years.
6. Keep the top of the compost a few inches below the pot rim to make watering from above easier, covering the surface with a mulch of pebbles or ornamental gravel.
7. Water regularly with collected rainwater, and stand pots in saucers of water to provide a reservoir for trees to take up each day during hot, dry periods.
8. Tree roots can be susceptible to frost damage in winter, so either move pots to sheltered sites or wrap with bubble polythene insulation.
Other popular Japanese Maples to look out for:
- Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’
- Acer japonicum ‘Vitifolium’
- Acer palmatum ‘Burgundy Lace’
- Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’
- Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’
- Acer palmatum Katsura’
- Acer palmatum ‘Red Pygmy’
- Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’
- Acer palmatum ‘Trompenburg’
Planting partners for Japanese Maples
Try combining maples with other plants and features and ornaments to create areas with Oriental charm. However, Japanese maples should not be smothered by neighbouring plants, so always give them space to flourish. Here are a few planting partners to consider:
- Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
- Cornus kousa and others
- Flowering Cherries and Plums (Prunus varieties)
- Holly (Ilex varieties)
- Japanese laurel (Aucuba varieties)
- Junipers and other conifers
- Dwarf Pinus varieties
- Yew (Taxus varieties)
Source: HTA Plant of the Month
Photography: ©Adam Pasco