Tony Dickerson answers your questions
How should I care for my young acer?
Q Please can you tell me how I should care for my acer? Mrs O Black, Filey, North Yorkshire
A Your young tree appears to be either acer ‘Silver Cardinal’ or ‘Red Flamingo’, which both have variegated foliage. The young leaves open a pinkish colour and, later, the foliage turns dark green with areas of paler variegation. The really dramatic feature, however, is bright red leaf stalks and young stems. On young growth, leaves are lobed, but adult leaves are triangular in shape, quite unlike the typical maple leaf.
‘Silver Cardinal’ and ‘Red Flamingo’ can be grown as trees, but they’re often hard pruned as young plants to create more shrubby growth, with multiple stems on a short trunk. This makes them more suitable for smaller gardens and displays the bright red shoots better.
To achieve this you want to prune your young tree in the first winter to about 50cm (1¾ft) above two pairs of strong shoots. These need to be shortened back in spring to encourage them to branch. Acers are very prone to bleeding from pruning cuts, so it’s best to do this before the end of January or sooner, while they’re totally dormant.
Prune out any dead or damaged shoots in the second winter and shorten the main shoots back a little. In the third winter remove any very low branches to display the bark. Also, remove shoots growing into the centre of the tree to prevent overcrowding.
Other acers to prune hard to encourage multi-stemmed growth include the pinkstemmed A. pensylvanicum ‘Erythrocladum’ and
A. pectinatum ‘Mozart’, which has white-striped, red-purple shoots over winter preceded by bright yellow autumn colour. Both grow to around 6m (20ft).
Acer ‘Silver Cardinal’ is similar to ‘Flamingo’
For the best display in a small garden prune acers hard for brighter stems