Ideal time to prune Japanese maples – avoid ‘weakening’ acer

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Japanese maples are extremely popular garden plants in the UK because they are great for container growing or great in the ground. They are also a good choice for gardeners with small spaces as they grow very slowly. To maintain an acer, it needs pruning, which should be done throughout the winter months.

Dobbies’ Horticulture Director, Marcus Eyles, told “With a sunset palette of yellows through to reds, acers make for an elegant addition to lightly shaded areas in your garden.

“It will also happily grow in large patio containers suitable for a terrace, where you can admire its radiant spectrum of autumn colours up close.”

According to the expert, Japanese maple’s are known for their slow-growing rate, making them perfect for gardeners with smaller outdoor spaces.

Marcus added: “Use it to add some vibrancy to corners or to create a striking focal point.”

If your acer has become overgrown, then it should be pruned. This job should only be done to control the size and shape of the shrub, but according to the pro, often grow best when left untouched.

When left untouched, they can form their natural shape, but sometimes this does need to be maintained.

According to the gardening expert, between December and February is the best time to prune a Japanese maple, meaning it is a job to do this month.

Marcus said: “Japanese maples should be pruned lightly over the winter when dormant to remove any wood.

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“If you need to reduce its size, you can cut carefully into the older wood but use caution.

“Ensure that you cut just above the bud to avoid disease spreading through excess wood.”

When pruning an acer, make sure to cut at an angle, using sharp and clean secateurs to avoid water seeping into the branch.

If planting an acer, the expert recommended using slightly acidic ericaceous topsoil and compost. 

Marcus added: “Complement your Japanese maple with Japanese azaleas, bamboo, ferns and hosts which all grow well in the same cool, moist semi-shaded conditions.”

Gardeners should also keep their plants away from full sunlight and harsh winds as they cause the leaves to scorch.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), pruning at other times of the year means they will bleed sap, “weakening the tree”.

The pros said: “You can enhance the appearance of maples with brightly-coloured new shoots by pruning to a short trunk before mid-winter to create more shrubby growth – this makes them better for small gardens too.

“To achieve this, prune your young tree in the first winter to about 50cm (16in), just above two pairs of strong shoots. 

“Shorten these shoots by about a third to encourage them to branch in the spring. Acers are very prone to bleeding from pruning cuts so it’s best to do this while they are totally dormant.

“In the second winter prune out any dead or damaged shoots and shorten the main shoots back a little.

“In the third winter remove any very low branches to display the bark on the trunk. Also, remove any shoots growing into the centre of the tree to prevent overcrowding.”

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