There are many species of maple tree that grow in a variety of soil types. Some make excellent shade trees, others are beautiful ornamentals, and still others will allow you to make your own maple syrup at home. Read on to learn more about how to grow a maple tree.
What You'll Learn Today
How to Start a Maple Tree From Seed
Did you know that maple seeds have an exceptionally high germination rate? Some species will produce up to 95 percent fertile seeds.
With a rate like that, it’s actually quite easy to grow a maple tree from seed!
To get started, you’ll need a few things:
- Small pots or planters
- Potting soil or garden dirt
Maple seeds will germinate in most types of loose, well-drained soil, but you might want to research the specific maple variety you want to plant. For example, sugar maples thrive in slightly acidic, loamy soil, so you may want to add peat moss to your potting soil for best results with this particular species.
Many maple tree varieties produce mature fruits in the fall. These fruits are then dispersed in the late fall and winter and will sprout the following spring and summer.
To mimic these conditions, gather your maple seeds when the fruits are actively falling from the trees. Place them in airtight containers and stratify them in the refrigerator for 90 to 120 days, making sure to keep the temperature between 33 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some maples produce fruit that ripens in the spring and sprouts during the early summer. These seeds can be planted as soon as you collect them, as they do not need to be stratified.
Once you’re ready to plant your maple seeds, follow these steps:
- Place dirt or potting soil in your pots, filling them at least ⅔ full. Add water to the soil until it begins to drip from the bottom of the planters.
You may want to add more soil after watering, as the water tends to compact the dirt. Repeat the process of watering and adding soil until the pots are mostly full.
- Use your finger to poke one or two holes in the dirt of each pot. The holes should be about ½ to 1 inch deep.
- If desired, remove the paperlike casing from each maple seed, taking care not to damage the seed. You can cut the casing with scissors or peel it away with your fingernails.
- Drop one seed into each hole and cover it with dirt. Water the soil again.
- Keep the pots under a grow light, in a sunny window, or in a sheltered area outside. Water regularly but allow the soil to dry out between waterings, and avoid exposing the seeds to extreme hot or cold temperatures.
- Most varieties of maple will take anywhere from 40 to 90 days to sprout, so don’t get discouraged if nothing happens at first. Once the seeds sprout, keep them in partial shade.
- When the seedlings are about 4 inches tall and have at least two sets of leaves, transplant them into larger pots or directly into the ground.
Can You Grow a Maple Tree From a Helicopter?
Maple “helicopters”, or samaras, are the winged seed pods produced by maple trees. When the seeds mature, the tree will shed these seed pods, which are then dispersed by the wind.
It is possible to grow a maple tree by planting a helicopter, but you’ll want to make sure the helicopter is carrying a seed first. Samaras tend to grow in pairs that break apart when the tree sheds them, and usually only one out of each pair will contain a seed.
To check if a helicopter has a seed, gently squeeze the rounded tip at the base of the papery wing. If it feels squishy or hollow, it either doesn’t have a seed or the seed is infertile.
If the tip feels firm and filled out, then chances are, it holds all the raw materials it needs to produce a new maple tree.
To grow a maple tree from a helicopter, follow the steps for planting outlined above, but don’t remove the papery casing from the seed. Instead, stick the helicopter seed-down into the potting soil and allow the top inch or two of the wing to stick out of the soil.
This is essentially how maple trees germinate in the wild, so this method comes closest to mimicking the natural way a maple tree sprouts and grows.
How to Plant a Maple Tree Seedling
When your seedlings have two sets of leaves and are four inches tall, it’s time to transplant them outside.
You will probably want to plant them in a larger pot for the time being so they can grow and get stronger over the next year or two. If, instead, you plant your seedlings directly in the yard, pick a spot that receives partial shade and has well-draining, loamy soil.
Again, it’s important to know the specific soil requirements of your specific maple species. You may want to add peat moss, sand, or compost to enrich the existing dirt before planting your maple seedlings.
When you’re ready to plant:
- Select a large pot that will allow the maple seedling room to grow and fill it with soil. Alternatively, you can skip the pot and plant your seedling directly in the yard if you have a shady, sheltered location.
- Water the dirt if needed. Create a hole in the dirt deep enough to support the soil and root ball from the smaller pot.
- Being careful not to damage or break the seedling, hold the small pot at a downward angle and gently tap the bottom until the soil and roots slide out. Place these in the hole in your large pot or the ground and cover with soil.
- Water the seedling thoroughly, but allow the soil to dry between waterings. If your region gets regular rainfall, you may not need to water at all after the initial transplant except during extended dry periods.
How Fast Does a Maple Tree Grow?
Maple trees grow at different rates depending on the species. Let’s take a look at some common species and their average growth rates.
- Red maples add about 1 to 2 feet of new growth per year, though some may add as much as 3 feet depending on habitat and soil conditions. This type of tree reaches heights between 40 and 60 feet, which means it takes roughly 15 to 30 years to mature.
- Sugar maples grow a bit slower than red maples, adding 1 to 1 ½ feet to their stature each year. They reach mature heights of 60 to 75 feet in roughly 30 to 40 years.
- Silver maples are exceptionally fast-growing, adding 3 to 7 feet of new growth each year. The Missouri Botanical Garden reports that this tree can reach as tall as 80 feet at maturity, with up to a 70-foot spread.
- Japanese maples add about 1 ½ feet of growth per year. This ornamental maple variety only grows about 15 to 25 feet, so it typically reaches maturity quicker than larger maples–sometimes in as little as 7 years.
- October glory maples are cultivars of the red maple and typically add at least 2 feet to their stature each year. Reaching a maximum height of 50 feet, these trees usually stop growing after 20 to 25 years.
How Do You Take Care of a Maple Tree?
Some types of maple grow quite well on their own, while others will need a bit more care. Regardless of the specific type of maple you have, there are a few things you’ll want to do to help them grow, especially while they’re small.
- Water as needed, but be careful not to overwater. The older a tree gets, the deeper its roots will go, and the less you’ll need to water it.
One exception might be the silver maple, which grows well in swamps and near bodies of water. This species may require more frequent watering, especially if you live in drier regions.
- Prune the tree after the first 3 to 4 years, but take care that you don’t injure the tree. If you’ve never pruned before, check out a good tutorial video before starting – like the one below specifically aimed at pruning Japanese maples.
- Most maple tree species are susceptible to diseases and pests, such as root rot and lichens. If you notice any signs that your tree is struggling, consider using a natural pesticide, insecticide, or fungicide.
If possible, try to identify the specific disease or pest, then use a product specifically made to combat the problem.
Maple trees are easy to grow as long as you’re willing to give them the proper care. Stratify the seeds if necessary, plant them in good soil, water the seedlings as needed, and watch for pests and diseases.
With a little tender loving care, you’ll soon find yourself the owner of a beautiful and healthy young tree!