The masters of colour
HIS year we're having a mild, wet autumn with plenty of wind thrown in for good measure.
Fortunately at Aberglasney we've however managed to miss the storms that have hit many parts of the country.
These autumn winds are both the hero and the villain of the season as crisp winds make for good autumn colour but they also shorten the season of interest, blowing the leaves from the trees.
There are many different trees that give great autumn colour, but in our area the Acer seems to be the best. Acers have become very popular over the last 20 years, especially the smaller Japanese types. The reason for their popularity is the interesting stems, summer foliage and above all their autumn colour.
There is a huge range of Acers to choose from today as they include all the Maples as well.
Many people don't realise that the lowly Sycamore is also actually an Acer, or that there are many Acers grown for their coloured or peeling stems.
However it is the popular types of Acer that seem to have the best autumn colour. These are usually Acer palmatum in their different forms, and more especially the types with dissected leaves.
This type of Acer have beautiful growth habits and ornamental leaves that usually turn brilliant red or orange.
The key to growing them is to keep them out of harsh drying winds which burn leaves and damage their stems. We have also found they don't do well when planted in an easterly aspect.
They're much better suited to westerly facing sites. They make excellent tees for a small garden and are generally tough, reliable garden plants.
We grow them in many different types of soil, levels of moisture and in both sun and shade. The most important thing when choosing or planting an Acer is position.
There is a huge range of sizes that different Acer grow to, there is also a big difference in how fast they grow.
It is important to remember that even the slow growing types will eventually get quite large. Choosing the correct growth habit is also important as some are short and squat or weeping, whilst others are taller and narrower.
What is helpful with Acers is that they can be crown lifted — this means trimming the lower branches to create an umbrella shape.
By doing this you can grow other plants underneath them and the stems are often very attractive. We grow woodland plants underneath our Acers which give great spring and early summer interest and then later in the year you have excellent autumn colour provided by the Acer.
They also make nice specimen plants that can be grown in lawns in front gardens, for example. The leaves fall over a fairly short period and can be easily cleaned up, and again, if they are crown lifted, the grass should stay in fairly good shape underneath them.
As I've already mentioned Acer can eventually make quite big trees but they can be pruned to keep them manageable.
It usually takes 20 years or more before they get out of hand and there are plenty of things that can be done to avoid this ever happening. Growing them as multi-stemmed plants really slows down their growth and allows you the option of removing an unwanted limb. Crown lifting also slows growth and keeps the tree more manageable.
Pruning should be done when the plant is fully dormant, usually between November and February so you avoid the sap bleeding.
These old favourites are excellent garden plants and well worth their place, especially as there are so many to choose from.
It is always best however to get some expert advice before buying one as they are all so different.