Acers, also known as Japanese maple, create a wonderful atmosphere in your garden, with their glorious red foliage that lights up autumn better than any bonfire! First introduced to the UK in the 1830s, Acers have remained consistently popular with those seeking to create Oriental landscape gardens.
Unfortunately for many, these gorgeous trees can be picky when it comes to soil. Though their size and impressive canopy can suit even small gardens, their roots are a little more demanding. You’ll need to ensure the right soil conditions are in place before your acers will grace your garden with their gorgeous red leaves.
Acers need well-draining (but not dry) soil, with plenty of light and, most importantly, a great nutritional profile to help growth and foster those stunning scarlet leaves. Unfortunately for most of us, this includes plenty of iron and other minerals that can be bound up by lime molecules found in neutral and alkaline soil. As such, most gardeners choose ericaceous compost for acers, and many opt to use a specialist topsoil too.
If you would like next Autumn to be lit up by the hues of a beautiful maple, here are our tips for helping yours thrive.
- Check your soil pH
While lots of folky gardening hacks exist for measuring soil pH with vinegar, baking soda and other creative methods, the only truly reliable way to test your garden is with a proper, purpose-built pH testing kit. Other methods might sound neat on amateur gardening websites, but with kits that produce conclusive results available for under £10, you’re better off going for one of these. Building an image of your soil is essential to choosing the right plants and maximising yields, or creating a thriving garden. The UK contains a huge variety of soil types and conditions- as outlined below in this map from Cranfield University, and understanding where your garden lies is vital to choosing your planting strategy.
- Always use ericaceous compost for acers
Whether you call them maples or acers, you need to make sure your soil is right before you plant. Ericaceous compost provides the correct balance of soil structure, drainage and nutrition to help acid-loving plants prosper. Regular, limey soil doesn’t favour acers, so making the necessary adjustments to help them grow is a worthwhile step before planting. Ericaceous topsoils and other specialist soil improvers are another great way to boost your acid-loving plants.
- Create an acidic pocket
Plant your acers inside a hole or container filled with ericaceous topsoil and compost- this ensures the correct soil drainage and nutrition for your plants. Using ericaceous compost for acers will promote healthy growth and sufficient mineral uptake for health. Check the leaves for signs of over-exposure to the sun- Acers need light but do best under a thin canopy.
- Check soil condition
Acers need damp (but not wet) soil conditions, so a loamy soil with good drainage is perfect. Make sure to check the state of the soil- especially if growing in containers- as your tree grows. Adjust watering so there’s a good level of moisture without flooding. You’ll need to repot your acers every few years as they grow- though they will remain a fairly manageable size.