The Acer palmatum
In the zen garden there are many plants that find their ideal place, but surely the most famous remains the acer palmatum; commonly called Japanese maple, in fact it is a species of maple native to Asia, China, Korea and Japan, although not identical to acer japonicum. These maples are small in size, and often do not exceed 4-5 meters in height, or maintain the size of small shrubs; they are deciduous trees, with palmate leaves, consisting of five pointed lobes, with entire margins, of a bright green color. The flowers bloom in apical peaks, and are purple in color, followed by the fruits: samaras with papyrus wings. Already at the time of their discovery by Western botanists, palmate maples had already been bred by Asian agronomists for centuries, and later this work of hybridization and selection continued also in Europe and North America, aided by the fact that often plants obtained from seed tend to differ slightly from the plant that produced the seeds. Nowadays there are hundreds of varieties of acer palmatum, mostly selected for the coloring of the leaves, which can be purple, orange, red, violet, light green, dark green, variegated, striped, and sometimes can change pleasantly before falling in the fall. In addition to this, there are leaves with five lobes, others with seven, some with leaves with serrated or serrated edges, others finely divided. In addition to this, there are webbed maples particularly suitable for the Mediterranean climate, others that are better suited to the gardens of northern Europe; some develop erect, while others have a dwarf and hanging habit. Among the most widespread and appreciated varieties in Italy there are the dwarf ones, with dense and compact growth, with dark, purplish or purple foliage. The dimensions of a palmate maple cultivated by grafting they tend to be decidedly small, and these adult plants do not exceed 120-150 cm in height; this feature made them very successful even in very small gardens, where a small tree of any other species would not find enough space to develop.
Variety of acer palmatumAcer palmatum atropurpureum
As we said, it is one of the most widespread and popular varieties in Italy, both in palmata leaf and finely divided leaf varieties. acer palmatum dissectum. Typically in the nursery we find erect red maples, or even falling, especially among the varieties with divided leaves, generally of small dimensions; the development is very slow and this feature unfortunately also makes them quite expensive. These maples are quite delicate, and need care, especially in the Mediterranean garden; in fact they love the climate of the undergrowth, with direct sun only during the coolest hours of the day, and regular watering. These maples have dark foliage, between red and brown, throughout the growing season, from when it comes up in spring, until it falls in autumn. They can also be grown in pots, or even as bonsai, although it is not easy to miniaturize the leaves, which are not acceptable for a bonsai.
Acer palmatum crispum
Palmate maple leaves, of a delicate light green color; when they appear they seem almost white, thanks to the thin hair that covers them; the crispum of the name is due to the fact that the leaves have slightly curled tips, which gives the whole plant a light and slightly disordered appearance. In autumn the foliage turns orange, before the leaves fall. In the nursery we often find maple trees of this variety obtained from seed, which can reach 5-6 meters in height over the years.
Acer palmatum osakazuki
Palmate maple leaves divided into seven lobes, with entire margin; in spring the leaves sprout of a beautiful bright green color; in autumn the foliage becomes purple-red or cherry red; much appreciated even in small gardens, it seems to have a brighter color if placed in semi-shaded places, while many hours of sunshine make the autumn colors fade. Garden plant, which can reach the size of a small tree, likes loose soil and regular watering; an excessively dry climate in the summer or poor watering, can cause the premature fall of the foliage in late summer.
Grow acer palmatum
These plants exist in dozens of varieties, despite being very versatile, and tending to adapt to every climate and situation, more or less all of them are cultivated in a similar way and the best results are obtained with plants grown in a suitable and ideal way. In nature, palmate candles are developed in the forests of central and southern Asia, where they live below larger trees; therefore they find a climate similar to what we can have in our hilly forests: good humidity, insolation for a few hours a day, not very rich soil. And similarly we will have to grow them in the garden. These maples tend not to love excessively rich salts, and prefer a slightly acidic and not too rich substrate. We will then put them in the common garden soil, slightly fertilized and lightened with little sand and little soil for acidophilic plants; we avoid heavy soil that keeps humidity too long, but also excessively sandy or stony places, where water flows away too quickly. Also the fertilizations must be parked, to be provided only at the end of winter, when the first leaves appear, they use a slow release granular fertilizer, to be spread at the base of the stem. Watering plays an important role in the development of these plants, because they can withstand drought, but only for short periods; therefore we will go to water our maples every time the ground is dry; and more the position in which we place them is sunny, and more often we will have to water them. If we decide to cultivate a palmate maple in full sun, we will have to ensure an irrigation system for the summer months, otherwise we will have a plant that periodically loses its foliage. It would therefore be appropriate to choose a semi-shaded place, also because in this way the color of the foliage is exalted and lasts over the weeks unchanged; in the winter months it is not necessary to water, the plants are satisfied with the rains. The webbed maples do not fear the cold, and can withstand temperatures close to -15 ° C; however, if we grow our maple in pots, it would be appropriate in winter to cover the vase, so that the earth contained in it does not freeze completely. These maples are very slow in development, especially as regards the grafted varieties; for this reason they tend not to require pruning, except for cleaning operations to be carried out at the end of winter, to remove broken or damaged branches.
Pests and diseases
Most of the problems related to the cultivation of these maples are related to incorrect cultivation conditions; unfortunately, these problems often ruin, or cause the fall, of the foliage, which is the most interesting and decorative art of the plant, thus damaging the maples very sensitively. Typically, in Italy, the biggest problem is due to wind, drought or extreme heat: the foliage darkens on the edges, and sometimes shrivels; it can stay like this on the plant, or even fall within a few days. This problem also occurs when we water the plants also wetting their hair during the long summer days: the wet leaves are conspicuously ruined by the heat of the sun.
It occurs in dwarf and particularly delicate varieties, which develop leafy branches, vigorous and with different growth compared to the rest of the foliage; this event occurs sometimes due to shoots coming from the rootstock, or even due to excessive nitrogen fertilization. Maples can be affected by aphids, which nest mainly on buds, or even from cochineal, especially in hot and sultry summers
Palm tree maple - Acer palmatum: Propagate the maples
The palmate maples produce numerous fertile seeds every year; unfortunately it is not said that from the seed of a plant sprout small maples identical to the mother plant; in addition to this, the specimens born from seed generally tend to be more vigorous than those grafted, and therefore if we wish to propagate a palmate maple of a dwarf variety, sowing is certainly not the most suitable method. In addition to this, maple seeds are made so that they can survive in wet and cold soil throughout the winter, and sprout the following spring. It is therefore essential to use fresh seeds, which lose their germination after months, which must then be scarified, to allow water to penetrate the rigid rind that covers them. Proceed by slightly passing the seeds with fine sandpaper, then place them in a bag with little sand and in the refrigerator for a few weeks, to simulate the winter; only then will it be possible to place the seeds in a good damp and fresh soil. Typically, palmate maples propagate by cuttings or by grafting, crown or split. Cuttings or grafts are taken in spring, or in late summer; With this method it is possible to propagate even the most unusual and delicate varieties, which will retain all their characteristics even in the new specimens obtained.
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