Japanese Maples; the real acer diamonds!

By Andy McIndoe

Deciduous Trees with beautiful foliage for Autumn/Fall
I find myself thinking about particular plants at certain times of the year, and the onset of autumn/fall is acer time for me!  I use many glorious Japanese Maples in my exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show in May, and they are always show stealers.  However, it is when those firey tints start to invade their beautiful foliage that these deciduous trees really come into their own.  I have been lucky enough to visit Japan twice and this has inspired my interest in Japanese maples.

Japanese maples are pedigree garden plants, whether you regard them as beautiful foliage shrubs or small trees.  They are fine boned creatures, with sleek mantles of delicate leaves with pointed leaflets.  Each leaf is held like a graceful little hand with outstretched fingers; in fact the common name in Japan makes reference to this.  The cultivars of offer a great variety of foliage form and colour, some leaves finely cut, some more entire, in shades of green gold, red and burgundy.


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Japanese Maples


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Although the maple tree is deciduous, they are deciduous trees that offer all year-round interest. The maple tree has elegant branch frameworks in winter that show great maturity from an early age; some with the additional attribute of beautiful bark.  In autumn the leaves of the  Acer palmatum turns to shades of gold, flame or crimson and no plant in the garden surpasses their spectacular display.

Despite their fine qualities growing Japanese maples is easy.  They are very hardy garden plants that can easily be grown in most gardens.   Japanese maples thrive in sun or light shade; the purple-leaved varieties really need sun for best foliage colour, whereas the variegated forms prefer light shade to avoid leaf scorch. Contrary to popular belief they do not need acid soil, most grow happily on chalk soils, providing that they are not too dry.  They make excellent subjects for pots and containers if grown in loam based compost. If you grow an acer in a large pot it will make a long term subject requiring only an annual top dressing of slow release fertiliser and perhaps a little fresh compost.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'The more upright acers such as Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, or its sport ‘Fireglow’ make excellent deciduous trees for small gardens providing that all important light height and foliage interest.  The newer cultivar ‘Shaina’ has a very upright compact habit and beautiful wine red leaves with long slender pointed fingers.



With much smaller, almost tissue paper like leaves with a translucent quality, Acer ‘Beni Maiko’ is a particularly striking maple tree, just after the new leaves have completely unfurled in late spring and early summer.  The whole plant appears pale crimson before soft green hues invade the lower leaves as the season progresses.  This is a particularly fine plant for a pot, where its lower branches can sweep down over the edge of the container.



Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ is another small leaved variety of maple tree with branches that grow upright, then arch gracefully. The leaves of these deciduous trees are small and pale golden-olive green, tinged orange at the tips of the shoots.  ‘Katsura’ colours richly in autumn. Throughout the year it mixes well with other plants and is particularly at home with caramel coloured heucheras and bronze carex. This would be a good choice to bring light height to a patio or balcony.






Acer palmatum ‘Ozakazuki’ is well known as one of the most spectacular Japanese maples for autumn colour.  The foliage of this maple tree is larger and more robust than many maples; green with a red tinge around leaf stalk and edge.  Winged fruits appear as summer progresses and with the onset of autumn spectacular scarlet shades spread through the leaf canopy.  This is a good small tree in maturity and an excellent plant for a large container.




Growing Japanese maples is rewarding. These plants can be with you for a lifetime with just a little care and attention. Make the most your acer diamonds!

Andy McIndoe

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