As I admire my little Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ looking absolutely fabulous with its delicate and beautifully cut maple leaves of a rich burgundy it’s hard to believe that it looked an awful mess, a real sorry state for a couple of years because of sheer bad luck.
An avalanche of snow and guttering landed on it during that hard winter of 2010 burying it for a couple of weeks. I found it in its pot broken and battered; sadly when spring arrived it appeared to be dying. I gave up on it and put it aside for garden waste, but I didn’t take it and over time it gradually came back to life. Seeing its ‘will to live’ prompted me to put it aside giving it time to recover. By early summer of 2012 it looked very healthy but stunted and while working on a new area I needed a short shrub so I planted it. It’s never going to reach its potential height of up to eight metres, but will stay less than a metre. A little pruning here and there should keep it in shape and within its allotted space. Last year its spectacular bright red autumn colour looked really warm as the autumn weather felt cool.
Japanese Maples are beautiful graceful deciduous trees and shrubs of various sizes, growth habits and shapes. They make fantastic feature plants on their own or among other plants in a border; they’re suitable for containers as well making a perfect plant for a Japanese theme. For many their most outstanding feature is the brightly coloured, artistically cut foliage during the growing season, followed by exceptional autumnal colours before leaf fall. Cultivars like ‘Crimson Queen’, ‘Dissectum’ and ‘Garnet’ have very thin deeply cut leaves with graceful arching and weeping habits.
Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ is a beautiful upright shrub with all year round colour interest. Its new shoots are a striking coral red colour that contrasts beautifully with the juvenile pinkish-yellow leaves that mature to green through the summer followed by shades of yellow in autumn.
Another spectacularly colourful Acer is ‘Shirazz’, a fairly new introduction from New Zealand that starts the spring off with bright pink, cream and green variegated turning to shades of red in autumn. Nature has an amazing paint palette when it comes to Japanese maples.
They grow best in most soil types that are fertile, moist but well-drained soil. Acid to neutral is preferred but will grow in alkaline soils provided they are not too alkaline. They will look their best sited in dappled or part shade, avoiding the hot midday sun and sheltered from the wind.