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It’s the first week of October in England, and the leaves on our maples are starting to transform into beautiful, autumn colours. Maple is my favourite species for making bonsai because they continuously change colour throughout the year. In early spring, the leaves are one colour, in summer they’re another and in the autumn they have stunning, vivid red hues. These are trees that we grow for creating bonsai or Japanese garden trees. You can see that they are all turning a rich red colour. Like most other deciduous trees that turn autumn colours, the transformation of the maple leaves is caused by the sugars in the leaf being ripened by the sun. Sometimes, maples may not turn this lovely red colour but instead turn a reddish-brown as we see in this example. You will also notice that the leaves of this maple have curled upwards.
scorched maple leaves on bonsai
This can be down to a number of reasons, but usually, it is due to the sun burning the tips of the leaves (leaf scorch). It could also be because the maple is predisposed to turning this colour because of an inherent weakness, as in the genes of the tree are preventing it from turning red.

Another problem you may come across with maple trees is patchy leaves. If we look at this deshojo maple, we can see faint patches of white/grey on the leaves. This is caused by mildew due to overwatering.
patchy maple leaves
Different types of maple come in different colours. This one is called kihachijo.
kihatchijo maple
You can see the leaves are a very vivid red with touches of yellow and orange. In just this small selection of maples I have before me, you can already see just how much the autumn colour varies.

This is a very old Japanese maple which I imported from Japan around 30 years ago. The trunk must be at least fifteen inches wide at the base and it has a beautiful taper. It is turning a delightful red colour and the leaves are in fairly good condition.
thick trunk maple bonsai
This is another example of a very old maple bonsai. Once again, the trunk is very wide. The leaves have not started changing colour yet and the edges of the leaves have been scorched. We have had a very hot summer this year, however that is not the only reason for the scorching. We also kept the tree protected in a greenhouse as it grew new leaves, and because these leaves were quite soft, once we brought the tree outdoors, the leaves easily became scorched by the sun. Sometimes scotching can be so bad that all the leaves will need to be cut off to allow new ones to grow. 4:59. Because l kept this tree in shade for quite a while during the growing season and then suddenly brought it out in the sun, it might never turn gully red. When a maple doesn’t get enough sunshine, the leaves may not turn red in the autumn.
mature maple bonsai
imature maple leaves
mature maple bonsai trunk
This is one of our very large trident maples. The trident maple is not strictly a Japanese Maple because it doesn’t belong to the acer palmatum group. The trident maple is an acer buergerianum. Trident maples do turn red, however their colour is never very intense. Their leaves turn more of a soft red/pink colour rather than a vivid red.
large trident maple
This is a lion head maple or Shishi Gashira maple. As you can see it has small, crinkly leaves which are very tightly packed. This one hasn’t started turning red yet but it will soon. This shishi gashira has already started turning red, it is a very intense shade of red too.
lion head maple
This is a green dissectum maple which I am trying to make into a large bonsai. It is already a beautiful colour, but it is yet to turn even more red. At the moment it has an orangey hue but it will turn a very vivid red soon.
dissectum maple
Amidst all these beautiful red maples, we have one Japanese maple here that is bright green. That is because it has been leaf cut in the mid summer. Around the middle of June, I cut all the leaves off this maple after they became scorched and damaged by the sun. In another two to three weeks time the leaves should start turning red.

I put the tree in a tray of moss (some of you will be familiar with Peter Chan’s moss trick). I grow the trees in moss to help the roots regenerate. This whole tree has been grown in moss to help it regain strength. It is a beautiful bonsai!
dissectum maple with moss
All our maples should turn a lovely red such as this, which is why maples are so interesting as a bonsai species. Of course, in the winter when the trees are without their leaves the tracery of the branches makes them quite beautiful in their own way.
red maple bonsai