Maple Notes

Maple Notes

The Sugar Maple

One of the most colorful and best known hardwoods in the country is the Sugar Maple. The Sugar is one of the largest and most important hardwoods in the country. Planted over much of the nation, this tree is highly prized for shade, but the wood is valuable for flooring, furniture, and other quality products.

Sugar Maple (Acer sacchrum) is obviously a member of the Maple Family (Aceraceae), which there are about 115 species found all throughout the northern hemisphere, and even down into the tropical mountains of Guatemala, and in northern Africa. The maples are deciduous, losing their leaves in the fall, often being brightly colored, such as the Sugar Maple. The leaves are arranged oppositely on the twig, and the Sugar is the Canadian national tree of which their flag has a leaf on it. The seeds are borne in pairs, a propeller-like seed wing called a Samara. When the seeds are ripe, they fall off of the tree, and twirl to the ground like a helicopter.

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The Sugar Maple is naturally found in the northeastern part of the country, from Arkansas and Tennessee and everything north into southeastern Canada. Temperature ranges from a low of minus 40 degrees to over 100 degrees in the summer, and the tree is found naturally where there is abundant water. They thrive and prefer the best soils, well drained, high in fertility, with good moisture. All trees prefer this, but Sugar Maple seems to grow exceptionally well, as in West Virginia where one of the largest specimens is over 110 feet tall and 5.6 feet in diameter. These trees live for several hundred years, with heights of 70 to 100 feet and 3 foot diameters being fairly common.

Interesting to note, there are three recognized species that are genetically very similar to the true Sugar Maple. The Sugar is naturally found in the northeast, but then there's the Black Maple (Acer nigrum) found around the Ohio River valley and lake states. Then there's the Chalk Maple (Acer leucoderme) found throughout the eastern states, and then the Florida Maple (Acer barbatum) found in the southern states and along the seaboard. The Sugar will naturally hybridize with the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and others, and there are several ornamental hybrids as well.

The Sugar Maple likes full sun, but throughout its natural range, it often is found in light to heavy shade as seedlings. This a tree of a later successional pattern, taking over as the other trees die off from old age or being shaded out. Then once the Sugar Maple gets enough light, it will take that part of the forest.

Found in the open, the trees can spread wide and have a rounded shape. They are great for shade, and the fall color ranges from yellow to orange, to red, depending on the fall air temperatures. There seems to be some genotypic variations in the showing of color, even among the same stand of trees.

Of course you know about the maple syrup, but Sugar Maple has hard dense wood which is highly prized for flooring, furniture, cabinets, and other wood-working uses. The dense wood makes for a good long-burning firewood as well, known as a "hard maple". In landscaping, the trees are very popular for shade and for fall color, and they are planted nearly nationwide in almost all climates and conditions. They are medium growing in speed, faster in full sun with plenty of water, or very slow in full shade.

Sugar Maples are very popular, and overall just a great tree.

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The Japanese Maples

In the landscape design, especially popular throughout Oregon and California, the Japanese Maples add a unique grace above and beyond most other types of trees and shrubs. They are tended to be multiple trunks or single trunks, and very branched, often umbrella shaped. One of the greatly prized features of the maples are the leaves. Like the Sugar Maple that has a shape like the palm of your hand, deeply lobed fingers, the Japanese maples do also but are very narrow, and highly detailed with finely serrated edges.

These maples are all hybrids of the Green Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum). There are many varieties of these maples, ranging in size and shape from tiny shrubs to small trees, rarely getting over 15 feet tall. Many are used for Bonsai, others are center-pieces and visual focal points in the landscape design, where others are mixed in among waterways, rock gardens, and added among other plants. The Green Japanese Maple is hardy to Zone 6, but many of the hybrids are less cold tolerant and restricted to Zones 7 or 8.

Of the Green Japanese Maple, there are three popular green-leafed hybrids - Shigitatsusawa (Acer palmatum, var. Shigitatsusawa ); Arakawa (A. p. var. Arakawa ); and Atrolineare (A. p. var. Atrolineare ).

From the Green, there are two major groups of highly popular Red Japanese maples. There is the Redleaf Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum, var. Atropurpureum), and the Laceleaf Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum, var. dissectum), which are a group of hybrids within the the Reds (which are hybrids of the original Green). As the names suggest, the Reds are red-colored leaves, varying in shades; and the the Laceleafs are a very fine leaf with the traditional lobed pattern.

Among the Redleaf Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum, var. atropurpureum), there are several popular types -
Beni Hime (Acer palmatum, var. atropurpureum, Beni Hime ),
Beni Komachi
Beni Otake
Beni Schichihenge
Boskoop Glory
Burgundy Lace
Christie Ann
Goshiki Kotohime
Iijima Sunago
Issai Nishiki (Pine Bark Maple)
Kagiri Nishiki
Kashima ( which is A. p. Chiba)
Murasaki Kiyohime
Oregon Sunset
Orido Nishiki
Oshio Beni
Oto Hime
Red Pygmy
Sango Kaku
Sharp's Pygmy
Shishio Improved
Shojo Nomura
Tsuma Gaki
Villa Taranto
Wou Nishiki

Now in the other Red Group, the Laceleaf Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum, var. dissectum), there are these varieties -
Atropurpureum (Acer palmatum, var. dissectum, atropurpureum ),
Crimson Queen
Fern Leaf
Germaine's Gyratio
Goshiki Shidare
Inaba Shidare
Red Dragon
Red Filigree
Red Select
Roseo Marginatum
Toyama Nishiki

The Japanese Maples are beautiful ornamentals for that special spot in the garden or container. They do best with some afternoon shading, a good supply of water, plus a shot of fertilizer now and then. As they get larger, they really can add a dramatic statement to a landscape design.

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Growing Amur Maple Seeds

There are about 150 species of maples, plus many varieties, making up the genus Acer. Popular throughout this country, maples are grown for everything from timber trees to small rounded shelterbelt shrubs, and all of them are planted ornamentally.

A lesser known species, the Amur Maple (Acer ginnala), is also called Siberian Maple, native to China and Japan. This shrub-form maple has been grown in the United States since 1860, may actually get up to twenty feet, but its multi-trunk shape often stays quite a bit smaller in total size. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow, and this species is very hardy, down to plant zone 2, and in very dry or poor conditions.

The three-lobed serrated leaves look more like a birch than the traditional deeply lobed maples, but are arranged oppositely on the stems, characteristic of the maple genus.

Amur Maples like the rest of the maples haven't figured out their own flowering habits. The flowers can vary from monoecious, dioecious, polygamodioecious, with regular, perfect, or imperfect flowers that appear before the leaves. The clusters of yellowish-green flowers turns into the characteristic winged samaras (seed wings). Like the other maples, the samaras area fused pair, but unlike the propeller shape, oppositely spread apart wings, the Amurs' wings are very close to each other. These don't twirl to the ground like the other maple seeds, but more like plummet.

Maybe that's a good thing, an internally designed mechanism to help break the pericarp (seedcoat). Amur maple has a tough seedcoat that doesn't allow water inside very easily, so that creates a physical dormancy effect. Without treatment of the seedcoat, then germination rates can be very low. Before doing anything else, the seedcoat needs treatment. There are a couple of methods that work. You can rub the seed against concrete, sandpaper, or other surfaces causing abrasion of the coats. They can be placed in a blender with water, and run for a very short time at the slowest speed to knick the seedcoats. Damage is very high with this method. The other trick is to soak the seeds in hydrogen peroxide and chemical burn off some of the seedcoat. Let the seeds soak for several hours in household strength hydrogen peroxide, then wash them well afterwards.

Then once the seedcoats have been treated, then let the seeds soak in warm water over night, drain, then place in the refrigerator for 90 to 150 days. Sprouting Amur Maple seeds is not a quickie. The flowers come out anywhere from April to June, depending on the climate, and the seeds ripen in the late fall. Collecting the seed wings is easy, stripping them off by hand, and they can be air dried until they're ready for processing. You can store dry seeds in a cool place for a couple years with little loss of vigor. There's an average of 17,000 seeds per pound.

Plant the seeds in flats or beds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in a mix of peat moss, vermiculite, or potting soil, fair drainage and good water retention is best. The treated seeds will then take up to thirty days to sprout. Keep the young seedlings partly shaded until the stems turn a woody color, then full sun will be fine. You can transplant the seedling after they turn woody, or you can wait until the fall after they go dormant. Let the seedlings grow another year, developing a strong root system and a 1/4 inch (or larger) stem before planting in the ground.

Amur Maples are a really great tall shrub - small tree, but they do take a couple years. And Yes this technique is applicable to most of the other maples also. Try it...

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The Rocky Mountain Maple

One of the lesser known, but attractive maples is the Rocky Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum). The growth pattern is a tall shrub to small tree up to 30 feet similar to the Vine Maple, with leaves that look much like the Red Maple. The natural range is from southern Alaska to southern Rocky Mountain reaches, typically in canyon bottoms are low spots where extra water is available. After all of the fires in the west, there will be an opportunity to replant the streambanks and other moist areas with these trees.

The seeds develop as a pair of fused papery propeller-like wings (samara), a major characteristic of the maples (Acer). Rocky Mountain Maple has about 13,000 per pound and collection of these seeds is easy, anytime from August through October, either picking them in clusters from the branches, and off of the ground once they fall.

They need to be air-dried after collection, and dried seeds can be placed in a sealed container and stored in a cool place for one to two years with little loss of vigor. As typical with the maples, because the seedcoat is not highly permeable, they need a pretreatment. The wing itself is no the problem, but actually the seedcoat inside. Seeds can be soaked in household hydrogen peroxide for several hours, then rinsed thoroughly. Put the seeds in hot (not boiling water), and let it cool down naturally overnight, drain off the water and store in the refrigerator for up to 180 days (which means they get treated until spring sowing). Check the seeds every now and then because germination can start. If germination starts, then the seeds can be taken out of pretreatment and sown. This two-step process works well with Rocky Mountain Maples and some of the other maples.

The soil mix for the seed flats or containers should be basically sterile, a mix of peat moss, vermiculite, sand, potting soil, sponge-rok, or sawdust works best. Certainly combinations of these works well. Keep the mix moist, but not overly wet, and protected from intense direct sunlight by shading or covering during the sprouting and early growth is the best practice. Damping off fungus can devastate a crop of young maple seedlings, so watch the watering and using a "clean" soil mix is suggested.

Cover the seeds about 1/4 to 1 inch with mix. Keep watered and shaded. For spring planted treated seeds, they will germinate in about two weeks, whereas the fall planted seeds will likely hold over until spring conditions improve, 90 days or so. Good germination will be close to 40%. Once sprouted, they will quickly grow their secondary leaves. The stems will change from a succulent green to a more reddish-woody color. As the tissues change go through this "hardening" period, they will be ready to transplant into containers or the ground. Waiting until the cooler weather in the fall for transplanting, or after they go dormant is suggested.

Watch next spring as the demand for Rocky Mountain Maples will skyrocket due to the reforestation efforts after the fires. All of the sudden, this lesser known tree will become very popular.

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