Pink-tipped, pale green leaves of Acer Seiryu

How to grow Japanese maples

Find out how to grow gorgeous Japanese maples, or acers, in this step-by-step Grow Guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Plant
Plant

Do Plant in January

Do Plant in February

Do Plant in March

Do Plant in April

Do not Plant in May

Do not Plant in June

Do not Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do not Plant in September

Do Plant in October

Do Plant in November

Do Plant in December

Flowers
Flowers

Plant does not flower in January

Plant does not flower in February

Plant does flower in March

Plant does flower in April

Plant does flower in May

Plant does not flower in June

Plant does not flower in July

Plant does not flower in August

Plant does not flower in September

Plant does not flower in October

Plant does not flower in November

Plant does not flower in December

Prune
Prune

Do Prune in January

Do Prune in February

Do not Prune in March

Do not Prune in April

Do not Prune in May

Do not Prune in June

Do not Prune in July

Do not Prune in August

Do not Prune in September

Do not Prune in October

Do Prune in November

Do Prune in December

Acers have long been admired for their stunning foliage that offers almost unbeatable autumn colour. They’re often referred to by their common name, Japanese maple.

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Japanese maples are either grown as shrubs or trees and are a popular choice for a small garden. Some are praised for their attractive stems but all are valued for their attractive dissected foliage.

Here’s our full guide to growing Japanese maples.

Although hardy, Japanese maples prefer a sheltered position.

Protecting a Japanese maple by fixing bubble-wrap around its pot
Protecting a Japanese maple by fixing bubble-wrap around its pot

Where to plant Japanese maples

Although hardy, Japanese maples prefer a sheltered position. In a windy spot autumn foliage displays will be shortened and foliage can be damaged. They’ll grow in nearly any soil apart from a waterlogged one. For best results grow in a sandy, slightly acidic soil.

A position of full sun or partial shade is ideal but variegated types prefer light shade. If growing in containers the plant roots can be open to frost damage in winter. In frost pockets wrap the base of the pot with fleece or bubblewrap to offer protection.

An established Japanese maple
An established Japanese maple

How to plant Japanese maples

As with all trees and shrubs, Japanese maples are best planted in autumn or spring. Dig a generous planting hole and incorporate some well-rotted organic matter. Position the plant ensuring that it is planted at the same depth as it was in the pot, backfill and firm in. Water in well. Larger specimens that are to be grown as trees should be planted with a tree stake to offer support.

When growing in containers choose a compost that will offer supports, such as a tree or shrub compost or a John Innes no 2. It is vital that pots have drainage holes. Firm plants in well and ensure you haven’t planted them too deep. Water well and feed with a slow-release fertiliser if planting in spring.

Japanese maple seed on the tree
Japanese maple seed on the tree

How to propagate Japanese maples

Japanese maples can be grown from seed but this is a lengthy process. Seed should be sown fresh in autumn. Place the seed in a pot of seed compost and cover with a sprinkling of soil. Place in a cold frame and wait for signs of growth.

A fine-leafed green acer in a sheltered spot
A fine-leafed green acer in a sheltered spot

Japanese maples: problem solving

Japanese maples in pots can be susceptible to vine weevil attack.

A more common problem is damage to the foliage from wind. Plants in pots have a higher risk of suffering from this. To resolve this, move container-grown plants to a more sheltered spot and ensure the container has plenty of drainage. The ideal windbreak is a hedge as it will filter the wind. Solid walls and fences can cause gusts of winds to be stronger and more damaging.

Pruning a Japanese maple
Pruning a Japanese maple

How to look after Japanese maples

Japanese maples are easy to care for. They don’t require any pruning unless you are keen to improve the shape of your plant or need to remove dead or dying stems. Only prune in the dormant season (when the plant has shed its leaves) as at any other time of year the plant will bleed sap. The sap can be unsightly.

Japanese maples are shallow rooted so will appreciate not having to compete with other plants in the immediate growing area.

Those grown in containers will need potting on every two or three years. Apply a slow-release fertiliser every spring.

Varying heights

Giving the eventual height of a Japanese maple can be tricky. They are very slow growing and take many years to reach their maximum height. Ask for mature height details when selecting your plants from a specialist nursery.

Peeling bark of Acer griseum
Peeling bark of Acer griseum

Japanese maples to try

  • Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ – deeply cut foliage that turns crimson in autumn. Reaches 6m after many years
  • Acer campestre – of all the acers this will tolerate a damper position. Commonly known as the field maple and is often used as hedging plant. Can reach 12m in height
  • Acer capillipes – the snake bark maple if praised for its attractive bark. Three lobed leaves that turn from green to orange in autumn. Height 5m
  • Acer conspicuum ‘Red Flamingo’ – more often grown as a shrub. Pink, green and white variegated foliage with deep maroon bark. Height 8m
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  • Acer griseum – known as the paperbark maple, chestnut-coloured bark peels away to reveal smooth, orange-red bark. Can reach 10m in height