Growing a "found" red maple

HRed dwarf maple trees are so popular, they're like living ornaments in many gardens. Would you like one of your own, but without a $100 outlay? Early summer is the perfect time to look for maple seedlings, just after the "helicopter" seeds start to fall, and before the new seedlings are smothered by mulch. Lots of these trees adorn public areas where the seeds sprout as "volunteers". We found our baby red maple in the parking lot of an outlet mall. It was just about 3 inches tall at the time.

Maple 2011

Here she is at 4 years old and about three feet tall. Green-gold-red with the sunlight pouring through the leaves.

I still remember the day we found it, scooped it into a paper cup with melting ice, took it home, and planted it in our yard. Here it is above at three years old, about 15" tall, and a veritable charmer in the garden, well on her way to being a crown jewel of a tree with gently weeping red leaves and diminutive stature. It's hard to believe it started life as a cast-off seed found in a shopping mall parking lot.

Red maple

Maple leafThough we found our baby in the Spring, some maple seeds may not develop until Autumn. The seeds are easy to recognize and collect because they are the "helicopter" seeds that whirl to the ground on a single or double wing.

maple seedsMaples are easy to grow. Admittedly, it will take years to raise one large enough to stop traffic, but I guarantee they will charm you at any size, from baby-tree to adulthood. They are also wonderful gifts for gardening friends or to sell at fund raisers.

You can grown them in containers, or even make them into bonsai. Each spring they will sprout wonderful, colorful, decorative leaves.

Collect dry seeds and start them nursery pots or recycled containers using potting soil. Don't plant them very deep or water them heavily. If you collect the seeds in the fall, let them dry out for 2 months, then give them a cold treatment (about 70 days) in the refrigerator to condition them before planting in the Spring.

Plant them out when they are at least seven inches tall, and give them some protection like a wire cage, until they are larger and established, especially if there is a lot of foot (or paw) traffic in your garden.

—