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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Acers

Crimson acer leaves in full autumnal glory

Ask the gardener: Acers

Find out how to care for your Acers...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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Zenab Hira asks...

I have an Acer - Bloodgood. It's in a large pot, growing very well... the only thing is that it's growing to one side, kind of leaning more to one side, it hasn't spread evenly. What do I do to make it look fairly even all round without damaging it too much?

Bill replies...

I am afraid Zenab that this quite often happens with Acers. You will suddenly find that one side of the plant is growing extremely well compared to the other section and I am afraid that if there are no shoots growing from the other section of the stem it is going to be very difficult to achieve an even spread.

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Barbara asks...

I have a well-established Acer Atropurpureum but this year buds and new leaves are only appearing on about a third of the tree (near the outside). The branches at the centre and back of the tree are brittle and dead. The same thing has happened to my Ribes. Any thoughts?

Bill replies...

Die back of Acers often occurs if the soil is very damp and waterlogged during the winter months and last year Barbara we did have above average rainfalls.  You will need to cut out any dead shoots and I would also top dress your tree with a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal.  I am however slightly worried when you say that the same problem is occurring with your Ribes (Flowering Current) and my immediate reaction is to whether your trees have been infected with the Honey Fungus soil borne disease, symptoms of which are a white fungal growth close to the bark near ground level and also shreds of black boot lace fungi around the roots and at the base of the bark along with amber toad stools appearing early autumn time. More information on this disease is available on the "Hedges" section of this website.

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Lily Ghandi asks...

I had bought a foot tall Japanese Acer Sangokaku 2 weeks back and placed the pot in the house during daytime and at night time in the porch in order to protect it from frost. However, a few of its leaves started to wilt. I have fed it with Miracle Grow crystals diluted in water. Today when I moved the plant a clump of leaves fell off. I don't know where I am going wrong as this is my first Acer plant. Please advise me on watering, feeding and position to place the pot in which I intend to grow.

Bill replies...

Your Japanese Acer would be far better placed outdoors in a sheltered position Lily and I am sure that it is the contrasting temperatures which is causing your Acer to lose its leaves.  You will need to keep an eye on the watering throughout the summer months and feed occasionally with a balanced liquid fertiliser.  Hopefully your plant will start to grow both new shoots and leaves.

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Eioleen O'Neill asks...

We have a 14yr old acer which has developed grey blotches on the main branches. Could you advise what they are as the tree has started to bloom and we are afraid to apply any sprays.

Bill replies...

The growth Eioleen on your Acer tree is most probably lichen with also some algae growth which will not do any serious harm to your tree.  This is a very common problem in the winter months especially in very damp and mild conditions and can also be troublesome if your tree is growing in a very shady spot in the garden.   It is not necessary to spray during the growing season but when your tree is dormant during the winter period (December/January) it maybe worthwhile to spray the main trunk and branches with a tar oil winter wash which will kill lichen growth.  My only concern with using a tar oil winter wash is that it will also kill off natural predators and if your tree is not completely dormant due to the recent mild winters the winter wash can damage the buds.   I am afraid that the only other alternative is to gently brush off the lichen growth during the summer months.

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Maria Ash asks...

We have recently moved and have a really lovely acer in our garden which is about 8ft tall we don't know what kind it is but we have to move it, could you please advise us how wide and how deep approx we will need to dig do get a big enough rootball.

Bill replies...

If at all possible Maria you would be far better waiting until the autumn time before transplanting your Acer Tree as the tree will then be dormant.  If you cannot wait until autumn time I would suggest that you lift your tree as soon as possible before it is actively growing.  As the tree is eight feet tall you will need to try and dig out a very large root ball and the chances of success will depend on the size of the root ball that you can physically remove. However if it is possible to get a small digger into your garden you will find that it will be much easier to lift out your tree and will ensure that you get a large root ball of soil.   It is important to keep an eye on the watering of your tree during the summer months and you will need to stake your tree to give support until new roots are established.

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Daniel Smith asks...

My mum has an Acer, in a large pot (not sure what kind but it seems to be out-growing it), could you please tell me when we can either re-pot it or move it, should it be at a certain time of year? Thank you.

Bill replies...

If you are careful when re-potting you could re-pot your mother's Acer now Daniel.  However personally I find the best time for re-potting Acers is early Springtime before they have come into leaf.  Acer prefer a slightly acid soil so you will need to use a ericaceus compost.

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Heather Drewry asks...

I have an Acer, which is outside. I have been told it has Mealy Bugs on it. I have used Provado Ultimate Bug Killer twice but it hasn't made any difference, if anything it seems worse. Is there anything else it could be instead? Or is there something else I could use to clear the problem up, as this plant has been with me for sometime and I don't want to lose it.

Bill replies...

Mealy Bug is problem pest Heather on a wide range of plants and you will find that in time Provado Ultimate Bug Killer will control the pest but what you do need to do is give your Acer a thorough spray with the insecticide and spray to run off.  The time to spray is early morning or late evening - do not spray during the day or in the midday sun as this will cause scorching of the leaves.  There are other insecticides which you can use such a Liquid Derris Plus - which is a natural insecticide - and also Spray Day Insecticide.  The important factor is whichever product you use you need to give your Acer a thorough spray to disturb the aphids which are enclosed in a cocoon.

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Sue Eaton asks...

My Acer and Magnolia Susan outdoors have a white glue-like substance on them with disc shaped creatures stuck to it. I looked up mealy bug and I'm not sure if it is this as they are outside. I blasted them off with the hosepipe and the white stuff like marshmallows was all stuck to the fence. These are not on the leaves but on the branches and trunks. What could it be please? My magnolia is 15 years old and never ailed a thing although we moved to this garden two years ago and I brought most of my shrubs with me. Please give me the benefit of your experience.

Bill replies...

What you are going to have to do Sue is to spray your plant to run off with a systemic insecticide and the one I would use is Provado Ultimate Bug Killer which will kill scale insects and also mealy bug. I would spray your trees early morning or late evening and if it is a bad infestation you will probably need to spray more than once and as explained above you will need to spray to run off using a powerful jet.

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Monica asks...

What tree can I plant in a tiny garden which grows no more that 12/15 ft high? Don't like those narrow column trees; do love autumn colours though.

Bill replies...

If you require a plant for autumn colour Monica and your garden is sheltered I would choose one of the Acer Palmatum Cultivars.  There are also the Magnolias and Stellata is reasonable dwarf variety.  The deciduous tree Amelanchier Grandi Flora will again give you autumn colour and also Prunus Serrula.

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Peter asks...

My japanese acer japonica leaves have shrivelled and withered it is a young tree in a pot...  what can the cause be? It came out with a flourish but the leaves never looked right.

Bill replies...

You will find Peter that all Japanese Acers do suffer badly from wind scorch damage and also the early morning sun can quite easily cause scorching and shrivelling of the leaves.  Acers love to be grown in a slightly acid soil and I find they are far better situated in a sheltered dapple shady spot.  With regard to your Acer I would situate it in a slightly shaded spot and I am sure that providing you do not over water it will produce new shoots. The biggest problem this year has been the adverse weather conditions which has caused havoc to a large number of plants.

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Rosie asks...

My son has just moved into a rented house and there is a lovely red-leaved acer in a pot in the garden. It seems to be losing its leaves - are they deciduous (?) - and we're not sure how to look after it! The pot is about 14/16 ins across and the acer is about 3ft tall. Help! As it belongs to the landlord we're panicking!

Bill replies...

There is no need for either yourself or your son to panic Rosie your red leafed Acer is deciduous and produces beautiful colours during the autumn time before shedding its leaves.  With regard to 'looking after' your Acer.  Acers love to be situated in a dappled/shady sheltered position and, in early springtime when it starts to come into leaf do ensure that it is protected from prevailing cold spring winds.

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Ann asks...

Hi Bill I planted a young japanese acer (Katsura) in the spring and noticed a few days later that the leaves on the tips of the stems were turning brown and withered. Thinking it was settling into its new home, I left it alone. However all the leaves have now died but they have not dropped off in spite of recent heavy rain hitting the plant. Is it possible for an acer to be affected by Fireblight? If not your opinion would be appreciated. P.S Waterlogging has been ruled out, the land has good drainage and other young acid loving plants in the same area are thriving.

Bill replies...

Japanese Acers need to be situated in a shady and sheltered position and I am sure that your Acer has suffered from wind scorch damage and the recent extreme weather conditions.  I am however sure that when the weather improves your Acer will produce new leaves.  Regarding fire blight your Acer will NOT have been affected by this disease.

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Gareth Davies asks...

I've been keeping japanese acers for 2 years. Planting them in ericacious soil however this year 3 have died. Where am I going wrong and how can I keep and maintain them?

Bill replies...

Japanese Acers lover to be grow in a neutral to slightly acid soil Gareth and for the best results Acers need to be situated in a sheltered and slightly shaded position and, the compost needs to be reasonably well drained, they can suffer from waterlogged conditions.  One of the problems with using an ericacious soil is that the majority are one hundred per cent peat based which, makes them prone to waterlogging during wet conditions and what I tend to do Gareth is to use a mixture of an ericacious compost with a soil base compost with ten per cent of a sharp grit which assists in avoid waterlogging during the winter months.

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Julie Quinn asks...

I have a small Acer tree Orange Dream and now that we are nearing winter, I have noticed the leaves are showing lighter patches and blotches on the leaves as well as curling and crisping. Can you tell me what is causing this and how I can get it back to good health for next season?

Bill replies...

Your Acer Tree Julie is deciduous and what is happening to the leaves is natural senescing before they fall.  There is nothing to worry about and next spring your Acer will again come into full leaf.  If your tree is growing in a container it is important to protect the young leaves from prevailing winds - the leaves can quite easily suffer from burning and wind scorch, and Acers do prefer to grow in slightly dapple shade.

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David Collins asks...

Is it normal for acers to shed leaves at this time of year and start producing new growth or is it due to the mild weather (October)?

Bill replies...

Acers are deciduous trees David and will shed their leaves during the winter months. With regard to new growth now appearing this has been caused to this year's unpredictable weather and the very mild autumn.

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Kay McCourt asks...

I have an Acer Atropurpureum in a pot about 18" dia. I have grown it from a small plant and it is about 1.5m tall and potbound. Can it live on in this pot? Should I transplant it ? Our garden soil is clay which is the reason I kept it in a pot. The leaves are looking dried up and have what looks like wind damage.

Bill replies...

Acers love to be kept in a sheltered and dapple shady position Kay as this cuts down the chance of the leaves being damaged by wind scorch.  With regard to your Acer you will need to add quite a lot of organic material to your soil, I am afraid Acers to not like being planted in heavy clay soil.  An alternative to planting in clay soil would be to transplant your Acer into a larger container and there are on the market large wooden and terracotta containers available.

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Andy Robertson asks...

I have a beautiful Acer which has been pot grown for over 12 years now.  It is currently in a pot about 2 foot deep and 1.5 feet diameter.  Over the last two years, despite careful watering, feeding and mulching, the edge of leaves become brown and dry within two months of the new season's growth. First question, is there anything I can do to prevent this or is it pot bound? Secondly if I was to put it into the ground, when is best time to do it and what preparation would you suggest? I only have very limited space so the final size of the tree would be a consideration if I was to re-plant it into the garden.  It's currently about 5ft high with a 4 ft spread. I hope you can help.

Bill replies...

I am afraid Andy that a lot will depend on which species of Acer you have in your garden as some will grow to a height of thirty to fifty feet or even taller.  If your Acer is one of the Japanese varieties such as the Acer Palimatum this will only grow to approximately twelve feet high and with the Japanese varieties you will be able to repot into a larger container.  It is important for you can find out which type Acer you have before transplanting into your garden.  You mention browning of the leaf edges which, does occur frequently when Acers are just coming into leaf and the Japanese Maples in particular like to be situated in a dapple, shady position.

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Rebecca MacFarlane asks...

One of my potted Acers turned black and died. On inspection, the soil in the pot is full of tiny jumping insects. Did these kill my tree? The insects can now be seen under the surface of the soil in my other pots how can I get rid of them before my other trees die?

Bill replies...

I passed your question on to an eminent Entomologist at Lancaster University and he has stated:

"If these tiny jumping insects are springtails as I strongly suspect (not being able to think of anything else which would be tiny and jump, at least not without a fuller description) they are most unlikely to have been responsible for the death of the plant as they feed on fungal hyphae in the soil."

Following the above comments it is difficult to pinpoint what has caused your Acer to die back Rebecca - it could be waterlogging of the soil which quite often happens if you use a peat base compost.

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Michelle Aston asks...


I have an acer the stems are covered in what looks like mini legless woodlice! They are different sizes and slightly different colours. Apart from this it seems healthy?

Bill replies...

It looks Michelle as though your Acer has been infected with a scale insect and I would spray the stems with an insecticide spray and the one I would recommend is Provado Ultimate Bug Killer.  You will need to spray early morning or late evening - try to avoid spraying in direct sunlight which can cause leaf scorch.

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Karl Green asks...

How do I stop squirrels eating the new buds on my acer pseudoplatanus?

Bill replies...

I am afraid that there is not easy answer to your question Karl. N matter how you try to protect your trees the squirrel will find a way of getting to the new buds and I am afraid the only way to protect your trees is by trapping the squirrels and I would contact the Pest Control Department within your Local Authority regarding traps and how to disperse of the squirrels.  I am afraid that you are not allowed to set squirrels free in the countryside.

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Sheila Revel asks...

I have a four year old acer which is covered in black fly. I have never had this before and it is affecting the new growth of leaves. Why has problem suddenly occurred?

Bill replies...

Black Fly has been a problem this year Sheila and I am afraid that you are going to have to spray with an insecticide to control the problem.  If you require an organic insecticide I would use Organic Pest Control or another natural insecticide product is Bio Liquid Derris Plus.  Do not spray in direct sunlight  - I would advise spraying early morning or late evening.

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Robert Blackwood asks...

I have Japanese Acer, it's about 5 yrs old. Has been doing well but last season developed an orange fungus on one of branches. This I cut out but now is at base of plant and one root is covered. My local garden nursery suggested applying surgical spirit to the affected area. This worked briefly but has come back with a vengeance. Is this fungi scale? From RHS description I read it does not appear to be. No mention of orange. The next problem is the wood then dies. It's a small beautiful tree and I would hate it to die. Also what is best feed for Acer? Thank you

Bill replies...

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the fungal disease can be Robert but one of the most common diseases, which attacks a wide range of shrubs, is the Honey Fungus (Armillaria) and the symptoms are a white fungal growth appears near the bark at ground level, and on the roots are strands of fungi which are black and are similar to boot laces, and in the Autumn time amber coloured toad stools appear around the base.  The other disease which caused die back of branches is Coral Spot where you will find raised pink spots on the branches.  You can also get die back of the branches if your Acer is growing in very badly drained soil.  With regard to feeding your plant I would use a general base fertiliser sprinkled around the base of the Acer in early Springtime - Fish Blood and Bone Meal or GrowMore are good established products to use.  With your infected Acer you will need to cut out any diseased branches and stems.

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last updated: 02/06/2008 at 15:13
created: 23/10/2006

You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Acers



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