‘Essential’ steps ensure your Japanese maple ‘survives’ winter

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As winter draws nearer and the greenery outside begins to disappear, some of your beloved plants will require some extra work to help them through the harshest months of the year. This includes Japanese maple trees, which are known for their beautifully coloured leaves during autumn. However, they need some extra love over winter to ensure beautiful blooms come next spring. Two gardening experts have exclusively shared their top tips for preparing Japanese maple trees for winter with Express.co.uk.

Fiona Jenkins at myjobquote.co.uk told Express.co.uk: “Trees and shrubs are often subject to damage during the winter months, as harsh cold and aggressive weather aren’t kind. A lot of trees and plants tend to pull through without any help, but Japanese maples are prone to damage and dieback so it’s important we know the steps to take care of them during this time.”

Protect them from the wind 

Preparing Japanese maples for winter will begin “before you plant them” according to Matt Jordan, gardening expert for The Greenhouse People. He said: “Picking the perfect spot will go a long way in protecting your tree throughout winter.

“Choose a location that has bright, full sun and ensure that it has adequate shelter from winds. Japanese maples’ delicate long, thin branches make them more susceptible to wind damage, so be sure to keep them in a well-insulated spot. If your maples are planted in containers, consider moving these to a cool greenhouse or garage in the winter, to offer extra protection.”

Fiona agreed and advised gardeners to move their acer trees away from the cold now before winter sets in. She explained: “With extreme cold and snow during the night, the cells of a Japanese maple tree often freeze, only to thaw out again with the approach of the winter sun. When this happens repeatedly over time, these cells can burst causing damage to branches, and even the entire tree. 

“Japanese maples can also be subject to damage through harsh winds, frozen soil and intense sun. If your Japanese maple is potted, try to move the plant somewhere away from the harsh conditions. This could be a garage, porch, or a greenhouse location. Potted plant roots tend to freeze much faster than plants in the ground, so your potted Japanese maple is more prone to dieback and potential damage.”

Cover them up

For those Japanese maples that are planted in the garden, they need to be covered up to protect them against heavy rainfalls, snow and strong winds. Matt noted: “Snow, strong winds and heavy rain can be especially damaging to your Japanese maples. If snow accumulates on the branches and leaves, it can weigh them down and cause them to break. Covering your Japanese maple with a burlap sack or garden fleece will help protect it from the harsh elements in winter.

“For older, more developed maples, tie a rope around the trunk and then circle it around the tree to gather up all the branches together. Once the branches are gathered, you can place a burlap sack over the tree and tie it down. For younger trees, place a few stakes in the ground and drape the burlap over the trees and staple or tie the fabric to the stakes. This provides the tree with some extra support while protecting it from the elements.”

Fiona agreed with using a burlap sack to cover up Japanese maples for winter. She said: “Wrapping your Japanese maple in burlap is also a great method of protection from harsh weather. This can help keep them safe during strong winds, winter freezes and heavy snowfall. 

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“This is especially important in the first three years of life, as young Japanese maples are more prone to damage and dieback. Firstly, wrap your tree in rope to bring the branches closer together. Cover the tree with burlap from the top down, and fasten with more rope or some heavy duty duct tape.”

Insulate the roots 

Whether gardeners are planting a new Japanese maple, or caring for an established tree, they’ll want to add a layer of composted mulch or another organic type of material around the base of the tree in autumn. Not only does this look great, but it prevents weeds, gives them essential nutrients, and insulates the roots. 

Matt said: “Protecting your Japanese maple tree’s roots from freezing weather conditions is essential in winter. Apply a thick layer of mulch, about 10 cm – over the roots of your tree to protect it from the cold. When laying down your mulch, be sure not to place it right up against the trunk, as this might make it more accessible to pests and can cause rot. Rather, leave some space around the trunk and place the mulch under the leaf canopy.”

Fiona also suggested adding mulch to avoid the tree becoming damaged. She advised: “Invest in some mulch to keep your plant roots protected. By spreading up to around four inches of mulch over the root area, you can avoid damage from harsh weather conditions.

“Ensure your plant is sufficiently and heavily watered before the worst parts of winter begins, allowing it to have enough hydration to survive the cold. However, try not to over water during other seasons as this can cause root problems. Water your Japanese maple during spring, summer and autumn when the soil is almost completely dry.”

Avoid fertiliser 

According to Fiona, if there’s one thing gardeners should avoid when preparing their acer trees for winter it’s to skip out on the fertiliser. She urged: “Don’t use fertiliser on your plant after the summer months. Ensure the last plant feeding is around two months before you’d expect frost. This will avoid any damage to new growth.”

Fertilisers encourage Japanese maples to grow instantly, and this is not recommended as early freezes in autumn and late freezes in spring will cause damage or kill the tree.

When the time does come for gardeners to fertilise their acer trees, they should avoid using one that is high in nitrogen. Japanese maples look best and develop thicker stems when allowed to grow at a slower speed. Applying high amounts of nitrogen will cause excessively fast growth that will weaken the plant.

Cut down on watering

Japanese maple trees need to be watered about once a week throughout autumn, according to Matt. He said: “Toward the end of autumn, be sure to give them a deep watering before it gets too cold. Avoid watering throughout winter once temperatures have dropped as this may cause root rot.

“Adequately watering your Japanese maple throughout autumn will allow it to soak up plenty of water into its root system before the ground freezes over and will go a long way toward helping it survive the colder months.”

If acer trees need warning in winter only do this when they are almost completely dry. Maples do not need much water in the winter since they are dormant. There can be the tendency to overwater your maples in the winter and this can lead to root rot problems.

Since these trees are susceptible to root rot during winter, cut back on watering during this time. Water only when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Providing the tree with adequate water at the correct time in autumn will go a long way toward helping it survive winter in good shape.

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