Plant of the Month: Acer Palmatum
Japanese Maples are one of those trees that pretty much everyone, whether you are green fingered or not, loves. As it grows its stems create the perfect balanced shape which seem to extend out from the central stem in a graceful and elegant manner. The tips of these stems are tipped with the perfect palmate leaves that seem to come in so many different colours and textures that there is almost certainly one variety to suit everyone’s differing tastes.
Japanese Maples are small deciduous trees which have been in cultivation for over three hundred years in Japan. It is indigenous to forested areas in Korea and China and as far south as Taiwan and is sometimes called the mountain maple. It is found at altitudes up to 1,100m (3,600ft).The species can attain heights of 8-9m (26-30ft) in fifty years, depending on growing condition but most cultivars are small, slow-growing trees.
They grow best on a slightly acidic, sandy, well-drained loam with a good amount of organic matter. However, they can be grown in most other soil as long as it’s not too wet, dry or alkaline. They will also grow best in a sheltered position. Red and purple leaved cultivars need some sun to make the most of their vibrant hues. Variegated Japanese maples need partial shade to prevent the afternoon sun from scorching the foliage. Green-leaved forms tolerate full sun but are best in dappled shade as very bright conditions can sometimes cause scorch.
Most acers have shallow fibrous root systems that resent competition from other plants, so ensure that they are not too crowded. For successful establishment, plant your tree at the correct level and ensure that mulch does not come into contact with the collar. It’s a great idea to mulch every couple of years with well rotted garden compost or well-rotted manure.
I favour using these small trees in a woodland setting as they can create the ideal understorey to larger more mature trees. They are also ideal plants for growing in containers as a specimen plant which can be moved around your garden to provide differing focal points and effects. To keep a potted plant healthy, don’t forget to feed them well and repot into a slightly bigger container every couple of years. April or September are ideal months to do this. The roots of maples in pots are also vulnerable to frost over the winter, so it’s a good idea to wrap the Pot with a sheet of bubble wrap to protect during from the colder weather.
If planting out in the garden, I would suggest underplanting the canopy of the tree with a mass of hellebores and ferns. The hellebores will provide great spring colour and the textural contrast with the emerging ferns will provide some interest in summer too. However don’t over do it, this tree is strong enough to stand alone and you don’t want to over complicate things with a fussy planting scheme that may mean you are unable to appreciate the true beauty of this amazing Tree.