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Autumn Jewels: Japanese Maples

By October 22, 2020 No Comments

Autumn Jewels: Japanese Maples

A guide to Japanese maples by colour


A symbol of peace and serenity, the acer grows slowly and invites you to appreciate the subtle changes with wonder.

Their delicate foliage is no longer exclusive to the japanese garden style and offer a stunning background for flowering perennials in mixed borders from spring to fall as leaves mature, and switch from one colour to the next for an ever changing spectacle.

Japanese maples are not only very attractive trees, they are also easy to grow in pots as well as in the ground. They look at their best in the fall with their autumnal leaf colour and are ideal as a feature or a focal point in the garden with their stunning foliage and great colour range.

However, with so many different varieties available, it can be a bit daunting and difficult to choose. So here is a selection of some of the best varieties to suit your needs.


Purple leaf maples: The timeless varieties with vibrant red autumn shades


-‘Atropurpureum’: This variety is an absolute classic. The palmate leaves are borne deep purple in spring, turning reddish in summer to finally become scarlet red in Autumn. It is a neat small tree with an open habit.

Height and Spread: 6 x 4m.

-‘Bloodgood’: Certainly one of the best purple leaf maple. It is a sturdy and vigorous variety with deep red almost black leaves turning bright crimson in Autumn. RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Height and Spread: 4 x 4m.

-‘Shaina’: A little smaller than the ones above, ‘Shaina’ is a very attractive variety with a dense  and compact habit. The bright red new foliage deepens in summer before brightening again in autumn to a crimson red.

Height and Spread: 3 x 3m


Purple leaf maples look particularly good with green leaf perennials with bright flowers as they will add depth to the design. In combination with pink leaved shrubs such as Berberis ‘Rose Glow’ or the pseudowintera ‘Marjorie Congreve’, they will help to create a softer look.


Green leaf maples: lush foliage with unique hues

-‘Sangokaku’: The ‘coral bark maple’ is a real year-round feature in the garden. The palmate leaves are borne pinkish-green, maturing bright green in summer before turning golden-yellow with a hint of red in Autumn. In Winter, the bright-red stems still prove highly decorative.

Height and Spread: 4 x 2m

-‘Bi-hoo’: this variety has a lot in common with the ‘Sangokaku’ with leaves emerging yellow and greenish-pink, becoming light green in summer before turning yellow again in autumn. The yellow stems remain in Autumn looking particularly good underplanted with red leaved shrubs such as leucothoes and nandinas.

Height and Spread: 4 x 2m.

-‘Dissectum’: Getting its name from its finely dissected leaves, this mound-forming small tree is very attractive, especially at the top of a rockery or in a pot where its arching branches will look at their best. The leaves appear bright green, tinged with red in spring, turn darker green in summer to finally take shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn.

Height and Spread: 2 x 2.5m

-‘Orange Dream’: This variety is distinctive by its dense foliage and stunning colours. Starting yellow, they mature green to eventually turn yellow with orange margins in autumn.

RHS Award of Garden Merit

Height and Spread: 3 x 3m.

The green leaf maple may be preferred in a darker corner as the leaves will brighten it up. They look fantastic with any plant! But in a shaded setting, you may underplant with dark green ferns and/or the strappy foliage of the liriope to add contrast in texture.


Varieties with Special Features:

-‘Jerre Schwartz’: A truly outstanding variety known by its narrow lobes and deeply divided leaves, suitable even for the smallest gardens. The foliage is borne bronze and gradually turns mid green in summer to finally become orange and red in autumn.

Height and Spread: 2 x 1.5m

-‘Shirasawanum Aureum’: Certainly one of the best yellow-leaf acers. Also called ‘Full Moon Maple’, it has a very distinctive foliage, with lobed leaves but not as deeply cut as the other maples. The foliage emerges butter yellow, turns yellow/lime green in summer to finish golden orange with red margins.

RHS Award of Garden Merit

Height ad Spread: 2 x 2m

-‘Beni-Maiko’: an absolute favourite with leaves opening scarlet, maturing pinkish-red with green undertones. In autumn, it turns orange and fiery red making it a true show-stopper.

RHS Award of Garden Merit

Height and Spead: 3 x 3m.


-‘Trompenburg’: With its recurved leaf margins, it is more resistant to scorch. The deep-red leaves turn dark purple and then crimson red.  It is celebrated for its rich colours during the growing season.

RHS Award of Garden Merit

Height and Spread: 4 x 4m.


These varieties are real features and show-stoppers. Give it a place of choice to make to most of their special attributes.



General Care Advice:


Light: Most Japanese maples will be happy in partial or dappled shade, however, very few will tolerate full shade. They can stand sunny positions, but the most delicate foliages might get scorched.


Exposure: Acers prefer a sheltered location as strong winds will dry and damage the foliage.


Soil: A humus rich and moist soil is ideal. Think of the soil in a forest of deciduous trees. It should be light and soft, neutral to acidic.


Fertiliser: Feed your trees regularly during the growing season. Seaweed is perfect as it is naturally balanced and rich in micronutrients.


Pruning: Acers usually don’t need pruning. You can, however, remove the branches that are growing in odd directions to keep an harmonious shape. You can do so in late summer or early autumn to facilitate rapid healing of the cut, especially if you are cutting larger branches.

Acers can suffer from die back on the tips of their stems so simply trim back to the nearest shoot when they start growing in the early spring.

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