Growing Japanese Maples from Seed
In my humble opinion, Japanese maples are superior to any other plant in the garden. They have more delicacy than the rarest of hybridized daylilies, more dignity than the sturdiest oak, and more variety than the much cross-bred hosta. But their cost often leaves us gasping
With patience, however, you can have a grove of (gasp) free Japanese maples. That is the up-side. The down-side is that you never know what you’re going to get because the rare ‘Geisha’ or ‘Emerald Lace’ from which you harvested the seeds is a hybrid grafted to the root stock of a common variety. Chances are that ten seeds from the same tree will result in ten trees with subtle differences. You have only one guarantee: the offspring may only resemble the parent plant; it will not be a clone. The process is a protracted one but not difficult.
Here are the steps to reliable germination of Japanese maple seeds:
• Harvest the seeds when they begin to dry in October or November.
• Lay them out and allow them to dry completely in a cool, dry place.
• Rip off the wings and store until 90-100 days before you plan to plant them.
• Count back 90-100 days before planting; then soak the seeds in hot tap water, leaving them overnight. (Merry Christmas!)
• Poke holes in a clear plastic bag and fill with vermiculite or sterile potting soil.
• Add enough water to dampen the medium without its being soggy.
• Mix the seeds into the medium and keep the bags in the refrigerator until planting time. Do not allow the mixture to dry completely.
These steps approximate nature’s seed striation and prepare for germination.
I plant my seeds in pots inside and place them under grow-lights or in a sunny window, allowing them to dry only slightly between waterings.
Voila! You will soon have tiny seedlings with the quality of Shakespeare’s woman—infinite variety. Baby them along, and when the nights are reliably above fifty degrees, begin hardening them off in a shady, protected spot where critters and wind cannot get to them. I usually bring them in at night for a couple of weeks.
Under no circumstances should you put your precious seedlings where the family pet can use them for snacks. The first time that I germinated Japanese maple seeds, about a dozen of them, my cat ate every seedling except one. Never the greedy one, she left the runt for me. -FG