Acer palmatum is a small deciduous tree, which has been in cultivation for over three hundred years in Japan. Sometimes called the mountain maple it is found at altitudes up to 1,100m (3,600ft). It is also indigenous to forested areas in Korea and China and as far south as Taiwan. The species can attain heights of 8-9m (26-30ft) in fifty years, depending on growing conditions, but most cultivars are small, slow-growing trees.
If your soil is slightly acidic, sandy, well-drained loam with a good amount of organic matter, then you have the perfect conditions to grow Japanese maples. Do not worry if you have not, most can be grown in other soils. However, they will not tolerate wet, dry or very alkaline conditions.
Japanese maples will grow best in a sheltered position. Red and purple leaved cultivars need some sun to develop fully their dark hues. Variegated Japanese maples need partial shade to prevent the afternoon sun from scorching the foliage. Green-leaved forms tolerate full sun, but are best in dappled shade as very bright conditions can sometimes cause scorch.
Most acers have shallow fibrous root systems that resent competition from other plants, so ensure that they are not too crowded.
For successful establishment, plant at the correct level and ensure that mulch does not come into contact with the collar.
Mulch every couple of years with well rotted garden compost or well-rotted manure.
Growing in containers
Japanese maples are ideal plants for growing in containers. Plant in a loam-based compost, which allows good drainage and has a high percentage of organic matter, such as John Innes No 2.
Keep the compost evenly moist, but not soaking wet and feed in spring and early summer with a slow-release fertiliser or liquid feed.
Your maples will need repotting into a slightly bigger container every couple of years. April or September are ideal months to do this.
The roots of maples in pots are vulnerable to frost over winter, so wrap containers with a sheet of bubble wrap, held in place with garden twine.