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I have a red-leaved acer [A. palmatum Dissectum Atropurpureum, I think the variety may be Garnet], which has lived in acid soil within a ceramic pot [about 40cm diameter by 30cm deep] in a sheltered shady spot in my courtyard garden for at least 10 years. The pot itself stands on the decorative shale top dressing of a raised bed, and is too heavy to lift, so I cannot really tell what the drainage is like. But it seems to have flourished well up to now without my doing more that watering it in dry spells and occasionally feeding it with Phostrogen in the spring and summer. After 10 years the acer is now about 90cm high by about 1.5m wide.
My problem is that it just seems to have stopped dead this spring. The bare branches [which are still flexible and green, not dead and brittle] produced the usual tiny red leaf buds at the ends in March/April, but these have not opened into leaves, in fact, nothing at all has happened since, and the whole plant seems to be in a state of suspended animation.
What have I done wrong, or not done? I have prised around in the soil, which does not appear to be either too wet or too dry. There was a period in March when we had a lot of rain and I noticed standing water around the top-dressing in the pot, so could it have "drowned" then? Or is it just too cramped in that pot [although it seemed fine last year]? Is there anything I can do to rescue it? I would be sorry to lose it, as it has a graceful arching shape and looks lovely normally. But it is right outside my kitchen window, and at the moment is a very sorry sight, and seems to be waving its branches reproachfully at me. Help please!!
Hi Pam- not sure I can be of great help -there's plenty of people here who will be able to nail it no doubt. The weather this year has been dreadful for lots of plants so hopefully it's not the end for your lovely Acer. You mentioned the water sitting on top at one point so maybe drainage is the issue. They do like damp but not waterlogged. Perhaps you could get it out the pot and have a good look. I know how hard it it to get established plants out of pots they've been in a long time but I think that would be worth doing first. I'd pot it on as well as it doesn't sound like there's enough medium for it to grow in at the size it is. Do you refresh the top of the compost every year by removing a couple of inches of old stuff and topping it up with new?
Hi Fairygirl, thanks for your suggestions. Yes, waterlogging is my number one suspect. The problem is that I won't be able to get it out of the pot without breaking the pot, as it's one of those bowl-shaped ones where the rim is less wide than around the middle. But I could sacrifice the pot if it would save the plant. A pity to do that if the plant is already a goner though.
As for refreshing the compost every year, oops, no, I don't, although in my own defence this would be difficult as there's not much spare soil on top to play with. Hmmm, seems like another reason to repot it on, doesn't it, ifit's not dead and gone already.
Hi Pam, I agree with Fairygirl. It might be worth repotting if possible. You can be quite brutal with the roots and it would still survive. I do bonsai and it always amazes me how many roots you can dispense of.
It does seem to be a problem with drainage. I put absolutely loads of potting grit in the compost I use (usually John Innes no. 2 or no.3). Japanese Maples hate wet roots for prolonged periods of time. Water shouldn't sit on top if you have adequate drainage in the pot. If it still has healthy looking buds I would give it more time. I have a Beni-Komachi that has just leafed out (due to the crazy spring weather).
Incidentally, if its a dome shaped tree with dissected leaves then it will be a garnet, if not its an atropurpureum (it can't be both).
Also, maybe a change in position will help it. Garnet's do well in the sun.
Good luck on keeping it alive.
Pam I know exactly the problem with that shape of pot! I find it's easier to get plants out of them if you do the total opposite of what you're meant to do when moving stuff- ie let them get dried out. They come out more easily and you can always put the plant into a bucket of water to rehydrate before replanting. I've also just chopped into them with a spade - right through the roots - and removed them. Since Osakazuki says you can be brutal with them - why not!
Worth a shot if it saves the tree.