Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Perfect Japanese Maple

I have lived in this house for 30 years. Consequently I have rather an established garden, well perhaps you should read overgrown for established. But the one thing that I have never been able to grow without eventually killing, or perhaps just not nurturing enough to keep alive, is a Japanese maple.

These are my very favourite trees and I have spent a small fortune on this endeavour over the years. I have tried big expensive ones which will look good in a short time; small ones which will grow nicely into lovely trees eventually; cutleafed ones which are my very favourite ones; red ones which adorn everyone's garden it seems, except mine; even green ones, which are said to be easier to grow than red ones. But after a couple of years, when they look as if they are going to make it and I am beginning to get hopeful, they get "dieback" on one branch, then another, until finally I rip the skeleton out and try again. I have tried them in containers where they flourish for a few years, then as soon as I get them into the ground, disaster!

But I never give up. I'm going to show you some of my current endeavours here and finally my solution to this problem. Above and right, these are two Japanese cutleafed maples, spending their third year in containers.

I ran out to find out the names of them from the tags but unfortunately they have faded off. Of course I wrote the names down in my gardening diary like Vita Sackville-West. Afraid not! I haven't kept a gardening diary in twenty years. Actually it wasn't even a diary as such. I used to have a card system for my plants, with a little fichier or file box to keep them in. All the Latin names and the common names, all the requirements to keep them healthy, shade or sun, actual location in the garden, pruning instructions if needed. You get the general idea. Very organized. Well life happened and that fell by the wayside.


Above, one of the bigleafed green ones, bravely struggling on, name also unreadable but it has beautiful fall colour, a gorgeous brilliant red. It has lost its leader to "dieback" and now leans over the grass which makes the "old grass cutter" mad. It looks as if he needs to cut the grass from this photo. Too much golf and not enough gardening. Well this is his only gardening duty, as he massacres everything in the beds, probably on purpose so he won't be asked to do anything. He's no fool, you know.


One day, about fifteen years ago or so, I purchased this signed framed silkscreen of a red Japanese maple by a local artist, done in a delicate Japanese style. Sure, it cost about four times the most expensive maple I had ever bought, until that time. But there was no way it could die on me.

I haven't completely given up hope that one day I will have the perfect Japanese maple tree in my garden, but I'm not holding my breath. Do you think I have a hex on me?

28 comments:

RUTH said...

I love acers too. They do like the soil slightly acidic...I don't know what your soil is like...I give mine a foliar acid feed now and again and mulch them with cocoa shell. Mine also like some shade during the hottest part of the day. Good luck.

sally in norfolk said...

I too have never been able to grow these trees.... although mine maybe die through neglect.
Your picture is fab, I love pictures and photos of things that are special to us.

Janice Thomson said...

Hi Jmb...acers need exceptionally good drainage or they quickly die. The leader can die back on occasion..just be sure to put pitch on the part you cut to keep the moisture from gaining access and killing more branches. At the same time make sure that the tree does not dry out completely during hot spells. These trees like to have some shade as mentioned above during the hottest time of day. Acers have very tiny roots that do NOT like to be disturbed so when transplanting to ground handle carefully. If you grow them for the first couple of years in a peat pot and then transplant the whole thing to the ground you will have more success.
Love your solution LOL...especially since I do that kind of painting too.
Hope this helps JMB.

Rositta said...

My sweetie saw a Japanese Maple in a friends backyard (shady) and fell in love. That in itself was unusual, he generally can't tell one tree from another. For his birthday two years ago, he requested one. So I obliged and it is the most expensive tree in our yard. It gets sun most of the day and he waters it faithfully every night during the hot summer days. That's all we've ever done and it seems to be thriving. Is it luck? Beats me, but we sure are happy it lives and it is absolutely gorgeous. Maybe I'll take a picture and post it soon...ciao

jmb said...

Hi Ruth,
Our soil is very acidic here in the Pacific Northwest, azaleas and rhododendrons are our specialty. My garden is shady, more so over the years. Of course I have heard others complain about "dieback"and see it around but I seem to be cursed with it.
Thanks for visiting
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Sally.
I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't grow these things.
Neglect shouldn't really factor into it since I see them in parks, all over where obviously they "just get on with it", with no special care.
Still hoping, however
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Janice,
Thanks for all the good hints. I do have good drainage. I will watch the watering. I do have another one in the ground which is small and has suffered one set of dieback, but is still going. I took its photo but it looked ridiculous because some specialty lupins were taller than it. So I didn't post it.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Rositta,
That's a nice story about your sweetie. The perfect birthday present! I'll have to step up the TLC on my remaining ones. I hope to see its picture on your site soon.
Ciao
jmb

Vijay said...

JMB,
I don't have a green thumb.

Gardens are a totally alien landscape to me.

Ergo, gardeners are aliens ;)

Jokes apart, Here's wishing you better luck.

Hope you get one to grow and post a picture on this blog.

Ian Lidster said...

I love Japanese maples, and have one I cherish. The only problem with them is that one has to have infinite patience and serenity, and a long lifespan helps.
Ian

Mary said...

Hi Jmb, I love Acers and have two in pots and another in my rockery garden. The purple/red colour is just so beautiful against the greens of conifers and other plants. If you don't mind I will add you to my list of people to visit as often as I can when I'm 'blogging' Mary, North East England

Ellee said...

I adore gardens too, but have sadly spent little in mine since I started blogging. I don't have a maple - yet. But I do have a gorgeous Cornus Controversa Variagata. Do you know what that is?

Gledwood said...

You mentioned rhodedendrons on Ruth's blog - we used to have a forest of them in one of me old gardens - fantastic!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Made me nostalgic as I used to have one in my front garden in Britain. It grew well in gravel. It didn't grow upwards but it grew outwards and was pretty. I love your silkscreen.

jmb said...

Hi Vijay,
Well can't all be good at everything. Watch out the alien may take over your brain.
I think that I don't have enough timeline left to ever get my own perfect Japanese maple in the garden but I'll always have my print.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Ian,
Are you going to post a picture to make me envious? I don't have infinite patience, or serenity nor a long lifespan left either. But I've been trying for 30 years. A for effort if nothing else.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Mary,
You have a lovely garden, I came to look it over. I seem to have no trouble with the cutleafed ones in pots but eventually they need to go into the ground.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Ellee,
Well I'm not going to cheat and look it up, because I don't know it, but it's a dogwood with variegated leaves and is it hanging (controversa)? Just guessing, going to look it up. I have three different Cornus, one is a kousa or Chinese dogwood, another is a Cornus florida rubra, pink dogwood and the third is a local cross which is a variegared Cornus nuttallii. or Pacific dogwood.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi gledwood,
Yes this is indeed rhododendron country. There are even some native species here. We have the ideal soil and temperature, so everyone has a fabulous display at this time of the year.
regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi WCLC,
That's interesting that your Japanes maple grew in gravel when everyone is telling me how they need lots of TLC. I frankly think they have minds of their own and they don't seem to like me.
regards
jmb

Lee said...

There are a couple of Japanes Maples growing on this property where I live, jmb...they are lovely. It's very rich, red volcanic soil here...grows anything, I think!

Turned quite cold here today...there's an icy wind blowing so I've just prepared a huge pot of chicken and vegetable soup, which is doing its "thing" on the stove top at the moment!

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
Rich red volcanic soil. Maybe that's what I need.
I thought it never got cold in Queensland, enjoy your soup.
regards
jmb

Josie said...

JMB, I think that must be a trait of Japanese Maples. My next door neighbour has the same problem with her as well. It seems to grow profusely and be very happy, and then for no apparent reason it dies, and drops every leaf at once. Maybe it's the area.

Josie

jmb said...

Hi Josie,
I know I'm not the only one to have this problem but all around me there are wonderful examples of these trees. There were some great ones in the patient park at UBC hospital and every day on the way to work I would gnash my teeth, because they certainly had no TLC but flourished anyway.
regards
jmb

seventh sister said...

Maybe there is something in your soil, possibly some diamode, to which the trees have no resistance. Have you checked with your county horticulturist to see if they have any ideas?

jmb said...

Hi seventh sister,
If there is something in the soil it doesn't seem to affect my neighbours' trees. Well some of them but not others. Who knows?
Thanks for the suggestion
regards
jmb

John said...

Hi JMB,
There is a new pocket book on Japanesse Maples, published by Timber Press, written by JD Vertrees & Peter Gregory, it is a mime of imformation on caring for, & growing JPs the isbn-13: 978-0-88192-799-3 & isbn-10: o-88192-799-6.
You will not regret buying it.

Happy growing......

jmb said...

Well unknown John,
Thanks for the tip, I'll look into it. I hope this book has the magic formula and all the trade secrets.