Avoid over-potting and ‘water-logging’ Japanese maples in winter

Alan Titchmarsh explains how to prune an Acer tree

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Japanese maples can be found in most modern gardens in the UK. Acers can be planted in the ground or in containers. Japanese maple trees come in a range of colours and distinct shapes. The leaves can be lacy or fine in appearance and can be marked with green, purple, cream, yellow or pink.

These plants love a cool, dappled shady position in fertile, free-draining soil.

They don’t like direct sunlight and tend to thrive when they’re in the shade of taller trees.

The winter months can be more challenging for Japanese maples because they dislike cold wind or frost which can scorch their leaves.

Strong winds can damage the plant’s slender branches and leaves and can even break off branches.

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After a frost, the maple’s cells will thaw during the day before re-freezing during the night. When the plant re-freezes, the cells can burst and die.

With this in mind, Head of Horticulture & Biodiversity at Trentham Gardens Carol Adams has shared her advice for looking after Japanese maples in the winter months.

Trentham is a 725-acre estate that has magnificent grounds and gardens with diverse habitats.

Carol said Japanese maples planted in containers and pots are “really vulnerable to water-logging in the winter”.

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She explained: “The cold, wet compost chills the roots and causes dieback or even death of plants.

“Avoid over-potting maples. If growing in containers, only move up a 100mm to 200mm diameter pot size at a time.

“Make sure the pot has good drainage in the base with a good layer of gravel.

“Remember to use slate or granite chippings or broken pots, avoid limestone as they will dislike the alkalinity.

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“Raise containers on pot feet so the pot isn’t wet through capillary action from the wet ground. Look at insulating the pot if you live in a cold part of the UK.

“Use straw in a thick layer and hold in place with a wrap of weed fabric or fleece to stop it blowing away.”

Japanese maples can also suffer from sunscald on their foliage. This is when the leaves turn brown after being scolded by bright sunlight in cold weather.

The bark can also crack open when temperatures cool down too much. Usually, the bark splits vertically to where the roots meet the stem.

Cold temperatures near the surface of the soil can also kill roots which can then kill the entire tree.

Put a thick layer of mulch – around four inches – over the root area of the tree to protect it from winter damage.

The plants can be wrapped in fleece or burlap to help protect them from heavy snowfall and cold winds.

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