Grown for their graceful foliage, Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) create a sophisticated statement on a patio or in a garden. These compact trees are ideal for pots, where they provide a decorative canopy in spring and summer, followed by a spectacular autumn display of sparkling yellow, orange and red leaves.
Height and spread: 6 feet (2 meters) and 5 feet (1.5 meters)
Exposure: Best in sheltered, dappled shade
Temperature needs: Hardy to 5°F (-15°C)
Suitable pot size: 12–18in (30–45cm)
Suitable container material: Terra-cotta, stone, Asian-style pot, plastic
Compost type: 50/50 mix of soil-based compost, e.g., John Innes No. 3, and ericaceous compost
Many trees are too vigorous or grow too large for pots, but most Japanese maples are either slow-growing or naturally compact and make beautiful container specimens. Japanese maples or acers comprise a large group of plants, but most coveted are forms of Acer palmatum, which create low hummocks or rounded domes of arched branches clothed in elegant lobed foliage. While maples are undoubtedly prized for their blazing autumn tints, the plants provide interest all year-round. Stripped of foliage, they create architectural shapes in the winter garden and some also feature colorful stems. Spring foliage is often bright and changes color as the leaves mature in the summer. Maples can be used as focal points, specimens on a lawn, or as features next to a pond.
Their Asian origins make them perfect companions for bamboos, Oriental grasses, pebbles and Japanese ornaments in a Zen-inspired patio or garden display.
Although Japanese maples are very hardy, their foliage is vulnerable to frost, wind, and strong sun, any of which can cause them to scorch, shrivel, desiccate at the edges, and fall prematurely. To prevent problems, do not place pots in frost pockets, wind tunnels, or open, south-facing locations. Their ideal home is in a sheltered spot in dappled shade.
Keeping maples healthy Japanese maples require little pruning. In the spring, remove the top layer of compost and replace it with fresh compost mixed with slow-release fertilizer granules. Add a mulch to the surface to retain moisture. Keep well watered, and cover the pot with bubble plastic in the winter.