Acers – How to Ace it

Japanese maples edge a water pool in this Chelsea show garden

Japanese maples edge a water pool in this Chelsea show garden

The Acer palmatum, or Japanese maple, seems to be high on the wish list of trees for gardens and often when I meet clients to discuss their garden plans it’s one of the plants they’d like included. I’m not surprised as it’s such a pretty, elegant tree – but if you’d like to grow one there are a few things it’s useful to know.

Firstly, there are many cultivars of Acer palmatum and they vary hugely in size when mature, from just over a metre in height and width to seven or eight metres – that’s a pretty wide range, so before you buy, decide what size tree you’re after. The cultivar name should be in quotes on the plant label, so you can easily look it up online and check its vital statistics.

As they grow fairly slowly, they’re usually happy in a large container, so if you have a small garden this is a great way to incorporate one. They look very well in glazed pots and you can mulch the top with shiny cobbles to retain moisture and complete the polished look. With their divided leaves, resembling a hand with fingers outstretched, they bring a touch of lightness to contemporary schemes in particular, contrasting well with straight lines and cleanly cut stone or metal finishes.

You can choose from fresh, light green leaves, some with hints of gold, deep wine reds and plummy purples, with some cultivars having a combination of colours. The variegated ones can scorch in strong sun so will probably be happiest with a little shade. Acidic soil is their absolute favourite, and they like good drainage, but they’ll happily tolerate most soils except the strongly alkaline. For narrow, finely divided leaves with an almost serrated edge, look for cultivars with “dissectum” in the name.

Most Japanese maples colour up beautifully in autumn so this is a good time of year to choose one, while it’s still in leaf, to add a blaze of crimson to your garden before winter sets in. Remember that the one thing they can’t cope with is exposure, which makes sense when you consider what harsh winds can do to those delicate, dainty leaves. If you have a sheltered garden, though, an Acer palmatum is an investment you’ll be enjoying for years to come.

Anne Byrne Garden Design provides easy to follow Garden Plans that you can implement right away or in stages. Anne’s design flair and passion for plants brings a touch of magic to gardens of all sizes.

Anne Byrne Garden Design – Creative Ideas – Practical Solutions – Stunning Gardens.

T: 086 683 8098 E: [email protected]


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