Plant of the Season Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)
Grown in Japan for hundreds of years, the first specimen came to England in 1820. Since then these small trees have become a very popular garden plant as their graceful shape and vibrant autumn foliage make them an ideal focal point. Today there are numerous cultivars with different shapes, sizes and colours of leaves.
Plant in the autumn in well drained and slightly acidic soil. The foliage is prone to frost and wind damage so it is best to provide shelter. The red and purple varieties do need sun to develop the colour while the variegated and green need partial shade to avoid scorching. They work well in a border because their root system isn’t invasive but make sure they aren’t crowded. Keep them moist but not waterlogged and mulch with well-rotted manure, ensuring that the manure doesn’t come into contact with the collar of the plant.
Slow growing, Japanese maples are also ideal for containers but should be repotted every couple of years in just a slightly larger pot. The compost should be ericaceous or John Innes No. 2.
There are so many varieties to choose from including “Bloodgood” (rich purple with deeply cut leaves, grows to 12ft); “Emerald Lace” (bright green, finely dissected leaves that turn orange in autumn, grows to 12ft), “Garnet” (feathery red leaves, grows to 6ft) and “Dissectum” (cascading habit, green, lacy leaves that turn fiery red in autumn, ideal for containers).