Do Acers Like Sun Or Shade? – Optimal Growing Conditions

Acers, commonly known as Japanese Maples, are a fantastic tree choice. No matter the size of your garden, you can grow these majestic and vibrant trees directly in the soil or even in pots. The Acer trees striking range of colors, Orange, Red, Pink, Yellow, and Green, have cemented this tree’s popularity in our gardens. However, where you plant these trees can have a serious effect on the colors they can obtain.

So, do Acers like sun or shade? Whether Acers like sun or shade depends entirely on the species and color of your Acer. Red and orange-colored Acers need full sun to achieve their deep, rich tones. In contrast, green and paler colored varieties are susceptible to scorching if they are planted in full sun and do much better in partial shade.

So if you are considering this color popping tree, read on to find out exactly where you need to plant it so it can reach its full visual potential. 

Where Is The Best Place To Plant An Acer?

The perfect planting spot for your Acer can vary depending on its species and color. Yellow varieties prefer shadier spots, or you could risk them being scorched by the sun’s rays. However, red and orange varieties love the full sun for a few hours a day. 

No matter the color of your Acer tree, they should always be planted in a protected spot as none of them do very well if they have to take a battering from strong winds.

The color and species of your Acer will influence your planting positions.

So if you already have a very sunny or particularly shady spot in mind. Stick to the Acers that will thrive well in those areas. 

Acers prefer moist but not waterlogged soil. 

Your planting spot needs to be well-draining.

Heavy clay soils are susceptible to low levels of drainage, so if this is your soil type, you will more than likely need to work on your soil quality before you rush ahead and plant your Acer. 

Although it’s common knowledge that most varieties of Acer trees prefer slightly acidic soil, they are fairly hardy and can grow very well in neutral PH soils as well. 

Which Acers Can Tolerate Sun?

All Acers can tolerate the sun. However, lighter, more golden-colored varieties need to be planted in a semi-shaded spot as they are susceptible to experiencing sun damage. 

We’ve purposely used the word ‘tolerate’ because even though there are many varieties that can survive a full sun spot, they do prefer dappled shade and limited full sun exposure.

However, there are plenty of stunning Acer varieties that, although do very well in dappled shade, love the golden glow of our summer sun all day long. 

  • Acer Palmatum, Beni-otake
  • Acer Palmatum, Atropurpureum
  • Acer Palmatum, Kagiri-nishiki
  • Acer Palmatum, Bloodgood

If you choose to plant your Acer in a full-sun exposed area, there are a few things you need to take into consideration, as they may require a little bit of extra work to survive.

Acers tend to be shallow root trees and experience dry spells.

As a species, they are evolved to survive these.

However, if planted in a full sun spot, they will experience far more dry spells, which can slowly kill them off.

So you may need to set up a watering schedule to keep your Acer happy.

Mulching the area surrounding your Acer can also keep moisture in the soil for longer.

Due to these dry spells, they can also be susceptible to leaf tip burn if they are in a full sunspot.

This is another reason to keep the surrounding soil fairly moist but not waterlogged.

Avoid getting their leaves wet as this can also cause sun scorch.

Can Acers Grow In Shade?

Acers grow very well in shady spots. This medium-sized tree naturally grows at the edge of forests and actually prefers dappled shade over full sun placement. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that a heavily shaded spot will result in less vibrant fall foliage.

Acers are fairly resilient trees and will survive even in very heavily shaded spots, but if you have able to give your tree a partially shaded spot, you will not only protect it from the heat of the sun but give it the opportunity to wow you with its intense fall colors.

They only need about 4 hours of direct sun every day, but if your chosen spot doesn’t have that, do not fear.

They will still grow very well, and you will avoid their leaves scorching.

You just might not experience the bright oranges, reds, and purples it has to offer.

Are Acers Better In Pots Or The Ground?

Acers are an incredibly versatile plant and can grow just as well in both a pot or directly into the ground. 

In fact, they can be the ideal potted tree, thanks to their slow growth, and many gardeners choose to grow them this way. 

Their picky sun requirements can make ground planting a little more intensive, but if they are planted in pots, you can move them around to avail of sunny spots when needed and then move them into the shade to avoid leaf tip burn.

To plant an Acer in a container, you will need to make sure your pot is big enough for its root systems.

Choosing a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety can help with your pot choice as they tend to have smaller root systems.

Another added bonus for purchasing smaller varieties (under 10 feet tall) is that you won’t have to prune them annually. 

When choosing your container, you want a nice heavy pot with adequate drainage holes – clay pots work very well for Acers – so that your tree won’t fall over as it grows.

You also want to make sure your chosen container is twice the size of the roots of your tree to allow for growing room.

The only downside to container growing your Acer is that once the roots touch the sides of your pot, you will either need to prune the roots or re-pot into a larger container.

The soil of a pot-grown Acer also tends to dry out a lot quicker and more often, so you will need a regular watering cycle to keep your Acer healthy and happy.

What Are The Best Conditions For Acers?

Acers are very resilient trees, but there are some things you can do to improve their environment to help them grow strong, such as soil PH, sun exposure, and pot size.

Pot Size

Acers are very slow-growing trees, and this makes them the perfect potted tree; however, you need to ensure the pot is stable and big enough for the roots of your tree. We recommend heavy clay pots with lots of drainage holes.


Your Acers final positioning will determine not only how happy it will be but how much fall color you get to enjoy.

Many Acer varieties don’t do too well in full sun all day, so a dappled shade spot is perfect.

A couple of hours (4 max) of full sun every day is enough to encourage their bright foliage colors while avoiding leaf tip burn.

They can be planted in full shade spots, but it’s the sun that encourages their vivid colors, so you may miss out on this wondrous part of growing Acers.

Soil Conditions

Acers like moist, rich, and well-drained soil.

So although they need a lot of water, they don’t want to be swimming in boggy conditions.

If you are planning to plant your Acer directly into your garden, it’s best to get your soil quality up to scratch before planting your tree.

They also do best in Acidic to Neutral PH soils.

If you have Alkaline soils, it may be best to choose a container-grown Acer as it’s easier to provide them will the soil they desire.

If you do plant your Acer directly into your garden, you can apply a thick layer of mulch around your Acer if your soil tends to dry out very quickly. 


Acers are a real talking point when planting in the garden.

Their bright foliage brings a massive amount of pizzazz to your garden when all your other plants are coming to the end of their flowering seasons.

With a little planning and the perfect spot, an Acer can be the perfect addition to a small garden.