Autumn in Ireland is often so beautiful. Days are crisper and this year we have had a great spell of dry sunshine. These conditions are perfect for the real star of Autumn, the Japanese Acer. This show-stoppingly beautiful woody tree is native to Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Southeast Russia.
In Japan this tree has been cultivated for centuries and holds an important part in Japanese History, culture and art. Endless priceless artworks feature the leaves of the Acer and many stories and Myths mention this tree that is so quintessentially Japanese in character.
In Japanese language the words momiji and kaeda are both used to describe the maple species and cultivars. The term momiji is said to both make reference to the shape of a baby’s hand and also stem from the ancient verb momizu ‘to become crimson-leaved.’ The word Kaeda on the other hand, stems from the ancient term ‘Kaeredu’ with Kaeru meaning ‘Frog’ and de meaning ‘hand’. This is a good description of the shape of most Acer leaves with the deeply lobed, almost hand like shape.
It is these leaves too that make people stop and admire the Autumn Maple or Acer. The incredible autumn foliage is what these trees are planted for and no-one can pass without noticing the explosions of almost neon orange, blood reds and striking yellows of the trees. The leaves are delicate in nature and grow in a way that allows them to layer over each other. Being paper thin, when the sunlight falls over the leaves they appear to almost glow iridescently, the tree showing its true magic.
Due to the delicate nature of the leaves, the best position for this pretty tree is in a sheltered spot away from direct winds. Red and purple varieties of Acer sometimes need a sunny location to best develop their strong hues. The green varieties can take full sun but when the location is too sunny their leaves may become scorched.
These trees also do very well in containers so are a great addition to any location from a patio area to a balcony. The best soil for the Acer is slightly acidic, sandy and well-draining with some good quality organic matter added at the base. Make sure that the soil is never waterlogged as the tree hates waterlogged conditions.
These trees are often used for bonsai specimens and to plant them in a container or pot make sure you use a loam-based compost which has good drainage and a high amount of organic matter. Make sure the soil is moist but not too wet. Though these trees are generally considered hardy, they do at times suffer with frost in containers so to avoid the roots being damages in Winter, wrap the container in some insulating material such as bubble wrap.
Also, once the trees grow they may need to be repotted so every couple of years you can look at the roots and if they look pot-bound then get them a larger container.
I truly think that the most impressively shaped Acers are ones that have not been over-pruned and am personally not a huge fan of bonsai specimens. If you do decide to shape this tree, especially if there are some cross branches that don’t sit right within the shape, then the best time to prune it is between November and February, when the tree is dormant and not producing sap.
Poem composed by Fujiwara no Tadahira (藤原忠平 880-949) from the Heian period.
If the maple leaves
On the ridge of Ogura
Have the gift of mind,
They will longingly await
One more august pilgrimage.