Acer: leaf scorch

The attractive delicate foliage of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) is prone to leaf scorch. Cultivars with heavily dissected foliage are particularly prone. Scorch occurs following environmental stresses, such as drying winds, and leads to the foliage turning brown.

Acer: leaf scorch

Quick facts

Common name Japanese maple
Botanical name Acer palmatum
Plants affected Japanese maple and some other maples
Main causes Frost, drought, drying winds, hot sun
Timing Spring to autumn

What is acer leaf scorch?

Leaf scorch rarely causes long-term damage, but it can leave an affected tree unsightly for the remainder of the growing season. Scorch happens whenever water is lost from the leaves more quickly than the roots can take it up. A wide range of environmental factors can cause this such as frost, drought including under-watering, waterlogging, drying winds, hot sun and even salt-laden winds in coastal areas.


The foliage on affected trees turns brown, particularly around the tips and margins. It is often followed by the leaves curling and shrivelling. In some cases whole leaves can become entirely crispy and there may be some minor die-back of branches.

While Japanese maples are most commonly affected, other maples such as Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Brilliantissimum’ and Acer platanoides 'Drummondii' may also suffer from leaf scorch.


Avoiding leaf scorch

  • Choose a sheltered spot protected from strong, midday sunshine
  • Plant in moisture-retentive but well-drained soil
  • Avoid planting in wet soils or on sites that are prone to drying out
  • Use a soil-based compost such as John Innes No 2 if planting in containers
  • Don’t feed too early or too late in the season (don’t feed between November and March). Avoid over application of high nitrogen fertilisers
  • Keep new specimens and container-grown plants well watered
  • Mulch around the base of trees growing in the ground with organic matter, such as garden compost, to help retain moisture. Make sure the mulch is kept away from the trunk of the plant
  • Mulch the surface of the compost in containers with gravel or slate, again to retain moisture
  • If frost is forecast when the leaves are newly emerged, move container plants to a sheltered spot or frost-free area and cover plants in the ground with a double layer of fleece
  • In very windy weather, a temporary windbreak is a worthwhile – formed by stretching a screen of wind-reduction netting between canes

Dealing with acer leaf scorch

  • If leaves of container-grown plants become scorched, move the pot to a more sheltered position
  • Removing affected leaves is usually impractical. Badly affected foliage may drop of its own accord and remember that all the leaves will be shed in the autumn regardless
  • Move young plants that are in the wrong position, lifting them between October and March when the soil is not frozen or waterlogged
  • Prune out dead shoots between late summer and mid-winter. Pruning at other times may lead to bleeding

For a full list of other acer problems, see our plant profile.

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  • Sue A avatar

    By Sue A on 26/10/2014

    I have two acers which I bought as small plants earlier this year. I repotted them with John Innes No. 2 and they have grown well in the corner of my north-facing garden. They were by a fence and during the summer I had some sweet peas and some fuschias between them. The sweet peas developed mildew and the fuschias got black spot, so I got rid of both a couple of months ago. Now my acers seem to have similar black spots on their leaves, which have curled up at the edges, gone brown in places and are falling off. I don't think they are the same as tar spots(?) and I haven't seen any insects. Is it possible that the plants have been infected from the fuschias? Is there anything I can do to save them? Thanks.

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    0 replies

  • Guy Barter (RHS Staff) avatar

    By Guy Barter (RHS Staff) on 01/10/2014

    Yes, trees can get signs of stress especially if newly planted or suffering form water stress - consider our tree page:

    0 replies

  • Guy Barter (RHS Staff) avatar

    By Guy Barter (RHS Staff) on 01/10/2014

    Yes, trees can get signs of stress especially if newly planted or suffering form water stress - consider our tree page:

    0 replies

  • encn71 avatar

    By encn71 on 25/08/2014

    Can you tell me if crab apple trees can also get leaf scorch? I have a young tree planted at the beginning of the year and it has exactly these symptoms. Thank you

    0 replies