Garden maples, especially so-called Japanese garden maples, get a lot of attention in autumn. They have the ability to produce fantastic autumn leaf colour.
But many garden maples have an awful lot to offer the gardener throughout the spring and summer too! During the month of April they are the horticultural trade’s ‘Plant of the Moment’ and rightly so.
This is an incredibly versatile plant group often with very showy leaf colour and shape. There are big shade trees, medium sized lawn specimen trees and plenty suitable for growing in pots. In fact, garden maples are even one of the most popular choices to grow as a bonsai specimen.
Small growing Garden Maples
Naturally, the smaller growing and bushier varieties of so-called Japanese maples [they also originate from China, Korea and other south eastern Asian countries] lend themselves best to growing in pots.
Varieties such as Acer palmatum ‘Deshojo’ and ‘Katsura’ would be excellent choices to grow in large pots filled with an acid low pH potting compost. The finely dissected purple leaf varieties such as ‘Crimson Queen’ and ‘Garnet’ are exceptionally good choices for pot culture too.
Medium sized Garden Maples
Medium sized varieties; that grow into very eye-catching lawn or border specimens, that I would recommend start with the American box maple variety Acer negundo ‘Flamingo’. This displays very striking white and pink leaf variegation and although it is inclined to revert to green sometimes, can be heavily and regularly pruned. This type of garden maple doesn’t need a lime free soil to flourish.
To this I would add a whole host of ‘Japanese’ garden maples and these do prefer soil without too much free lime available. Soils that best suit these are deep, contain plenty of humus and do not dry our too much. Having said that, I have seen many garden maples break these rules! So I’d recommend growing Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ and the improved form ‘Bloodgood’. I’d always find room for the old variety ‘Osakazuki’ for its reliable autumn leaf colour.
All these and many more provide excellent dappled shade that is so perfect for many woodland plants. Bulbs, ferns, Tiarella, Heuchera and xHeucherella all relish growing under garden maples. To that I might add primula, Bleeding Heart, small leaf periwinkles and Lenten rose hellebores.
Shade Tree Garden Maples
Where a shade tree is desired then there are plenty to choose from. However beware; many do get very large indeed!
The coloured leaf selections of Norway maple and sycamore are good large garden trees. ‘Crimson King’ and ‘Crimson Sentry’ provide dark purple- almost black- leaf shade. The cream edged ‘Drummondii’ Norway maple has a much lighter appearance. The sycamore forms ‘Simon Louis-Freres’ and the rather slow growing but shrimp pink leaf ‘Brilliantissimum’ are probably the best to go for.
These later garden maples are actually remarkably wind tolerant [with the exception of ‘Brilliantissimum’] but the Japanese maples must have shelter from cold winds in spring when their delicate leaves unfurl. All enjoy plenty of organic matter regular added to the soil but this is best done by covering the soil over their roots with composted bark, garden compost or recycled composted green waste.
Whatever the size of your garden, there’s sure to be a beautiful garden maple for you!
You may care to read about Fruiting Garden Trees
Or about some with Colourful Winter Bark
Or those noted for Good Autumn Colour
Or even Small Evergreen Garden Trees