How to grow Acers for year-round interest in your garden

Grow Acers – also known as Japanese Maples – for flamboyant foliage in your garden all year round

how to grow acers
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Acers, which are also known as Japanese Maples, are perfect trees for adding impact to smaller gardens or patios. Acers are a great way to get gorgeous, bold colour in autumn, and dramatic foliage all year round. 

If planted correctly, you’ll get a beautiful tree with pretty leaves, a riot of colour in autumn and winter interest from the stems and bark. They’re fairly easy to grow but you do need to put a  little thought into positioning them – a sheltered spot out of strong wind is best.

When it comes to choosing one, there is such a wide range of colours, from yellow to bronze, red and rich mahogany, and leaves that vary from bold geometric shapes to delicate feathers.

Read on for our top tips for growing Acers, then check out our guide to where to buy plants online


Growing Acers from seed can be difficult and slow – so you might want to go for the easier option. You can buy young Acers from your local garden centre and online that can go straight into the ground give your garden an instant lift. The best time to do this is in early spring or autumn. This is because the weather is still cool, so it won't dry out but also because the ground isn't too hard from the frosts. It'll be a real struggle to dig a hole big enough in mid winter!

Acer plant with red foliage

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Japanese maples will delight throughout the year – and can be grown in large pots as well as beds. They come in a vast array of colours that won't fail to impress.

Dwarf varieties will thrive in pots and are perfect for small outdoor spaces, such as patios and even balconies. As long as you keep it in a spot out of cold winds, dwarf Acers will grow happily in pots for many years. We recommend repotting with fresh loam-based compost every couple of years to help keep it healthy.

You can choose upright varieties for a more compact look or more sprawling, weeping shaped branches. It really depends on what your taste is and what overall effect you want to create. Go for taller varieties if you're looking to add some height to your garden.

We love Acer palmatum Bloodgood, with leaves that turn scarlet in autumn, which holds the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit.


Acers are fairly easy to grow. Prepare your planting site by digging a hole that is big enough to accommodate your plant. Add feed and plenty of water to the hole. When you're ready to plant, unwrap the root ball (it’s best if the root is also damp so soak it in water beforehand) and lift the plant into the new hole. 

Before filling in the hole, check that the plant is upright and positioned exactly where you want it. Firm the plant into position,  treading the soil down evenly around the root ball. Once well firmed, level the soil and water again.


Acer in pot next to watering can

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Once planted in their spot, keep roots cool and moist but never waterlogged. Avoid frost as much as possible, as late-spring frosts cause leaves to wither and the tree may even die. Choose a sheltered site away from cold winds.

Water during droughts while the tree establishes itself. Feed every spring with a fertiliser that is meant for trees and shrubs. Mulch over roots with well-rotted compost or soil conditioner.


Be sure to use the correct compost in order to ensure good growth. Fill your pots with a loam-based ericaceous compost – this will have the correct pH and won’t dry out as quickly as multi-purpose compost. Keep them well-watered and out of the wind.

Having too small a pot can cause problems if you’re planning to grow your plant in a container as opposed to the soil. Potting your acer into a container twice as big as the pot it is supplied in will give the roots ample room to spread out. 

Keep on the lookout for vine weevil and treat it with biological control in late summer, watering the nematodes onto the compost.

If you live in a region where it gets very cold in winter it's a good idea to wrap the pot sides with hessian or bubble wrap during this time, to keep it well insulated.


Here are some of our favourite varieties of the Japanese Maple tree which will look fabulous in your garden.


Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

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Hailed as the best Japanese maple for autumn colour, this tree reaches 4.5m. Leaves turn brilliant a striking red in early autumn.View Deal


Acer palmatum 'Katsura'

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Acer palmatum 'Katsura'

Lobed leaves open to gold orange tones; mature to green with orange margins, then turn bonfire red and yellow before falling off in October.

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Acer palmatum 'Butterfly'

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Acer palmatum 'Butterfly'

Five-lobed, toothed leaves are grey-green, irregularly edged with cream and  suffused with pink. Grows to 2.5m in 20 years.

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