The genus Maple (Acer) includes more than 100 mainly deciduous trees and shrubs, which are native to the temperate and tropical zones around the northern hemisphere. They belong to the soap tree family (Sapindaceae) and within this to the subfamily of the horse chestnut family (Hippocastanaceae). Particularly beautiful game species have come to us from China, Japan and North America to Europe. Central Europe is home to the sycamore maple (Acer platanoides), the stately sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), which is over 30 metres high, and the field maple (Acer campestre). One of the smallest specimens is the fan-shaped maple (Acer palmatum) native to East Asia.
Appearance and growth
From the filigree small shrub to the mighty large tree: hardly any other tree genus shows such diverse characteristics as the species and varieties of maples. Maples can be easily recognized by their leaves, which are usually lobed in a hand shape and either simply or like the ash maple (Acer negundo) feathered, thus composed of leaflets. In autumn, the leaves of most maples take on a bright yellow or red colour. The flowers of most species open in spring before sprouting and are relatively inconspicuous. In their entirety as luxuriant panicles, grapes or umbel grapes they can nevertheless appear conspicuous. In the course of the summer, the fertilized flowers form small nut fruits, which are related in pairs to long, dry-skinned wing appendages. When ripe, the winged fruits fall off and whirl through the air like small propellers. With this clever strategy, the maples succeed in spreading the ripe seeds relatively far away from the mother tree. Apart from a beautiful shoot and autumn colouring, the picturesque growth form and the beautiful bark pattern of some species are also very decorative. The snake skin maple (Acer capillipes) and the rust barta maple (Acer rufinerve), for example, have a decorative bark. The fibrous, reddish-brown shiny bark of the cinnamon maple (Acer griseum) also has a high ornamental value. A good 30 different maple species and several cultivars can be found in our gardens. In particular, there are numerous varieties of fan-shaped maple with very variable leaf shapes and colours.
Location and soil
Most maples are very frost hardy and do not make any special demands on their location. However, a place sheltered from the wind is often recommended so that your beautiful autumn leaves are not too exposed to the wind. The fan-shaped maple (Acer palmatum) and the Japanese maple (Acer japonicum) are particularly sensitive to wind. It should also not be planted in a fully sunny position. When choosing a location, make sure that the maples are not exposed to late frost and are exposed to the sun early in the morning. While the field maple thrives well on calcareous soils, others grow almost everywhere, whether in heavy clay soil or in acid soil. In general, the soil should be nutrient-rich, permeable and retain moisture well. Locations within a paved area are unfavourable for maples, as the vast majority of species need open ground and have a rather poor tolerance to the dry heat typical of urban climates.
In the trade you can find maples as container plants, root naked or with bales. Clarify in advance how high and wide the maple will grow over time and check whether the light, climate and soil conditions are suitable for the intended location. It is advisable to plant the trees in spring or autumn when the temperatures are relatively mild. In addition, the precipitation will promote a good start. If possible, frost-sensitive species should only be planted in spring. Depending on the size of the tree, first ram one or more stable support poles into the planting hole. The hole should be two to four times as wide as the root ball. Use a digging fork to loosen the side walls and the soil so that the roots can spread more easily. Water the tree well and water it abundantly during the first one to two years, especially when it is dry.
Most maples have a very flat root system. You should never work the ground under the trees with a hoe in order not to damage the fine roots close to the surface. A layer of bark mulch as soil cover protects the roots from drying out and enriches the soil with humus. Young specimens in particular should be fertilized in spring with horn shavings or ripe compost.
Maples are among the trees that do not need regular pruning. Only with very young plants do you occasionally have to make a few corrections so that the crown develops well. Pruning measures should be carried out in summer, as the shrubs can bleed very heavily in late winter and spring.
Wintering or winter protection
The maples offered in the nursery can easily cope with the winters in our latitudes. Late frosts can damage the new shoots of some species, but they grow back again without any problems. Fan-shaped maples do not need special winter protection even as tub plants. Experience from Scandinavia has shown that they sprout again even when the root balls are completely frozen in winter.
Larger maple species such as the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) and the sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) are often planted to green roads and as park trees. In bigger gardens, they are to be found also as house-trees. For sycamore maple, for example, the varieties ‘Atropurpureum’ and ‘Brilliantissimum’ are well suited for gardens. A very popular small-crowned garden tree is the spherical maple (Acer platanoides ‘Globosum’). The native field maple (Acer campestre) is also used for cut hedges and is an important shrub for natural gardens and bird sanctuaries in the open landscape. The smaller alien species usually serve as solitary shrubs so that their picturesque crowns can develop undisturbed. Weakly growing fan maple varieties are well suited as hardy tub plants for balconies and terraces. The mother-species is also drawn as Bonsai. The North American sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is also of great economic importance to this day, because the well-known maple syrup is obtained from its bark juice. The sycamore maple is an important forest tree in this country – it provides very high-quality wood, which is used, among other things, in furniture construction.
Important species and varieties
A picturesque growth and a particularly beautiful foliage coloration show the Asian maples. In addition to the gold maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’), these include the varieties of the fan-shaped maple (Acer palmatum) and the Japanese maple (Acer japonicum). The variety ‘Aconitifolium’ or the wolfsbane Japanese maple with its golden yellow, red or dark red autumn colour is very widespread in our country. You will experience a particularly beautiful play of colours with the Colchic blood maple (Acer cappadocicum ‘Rubrum’). If you are looking for a maple with a beautiful tree bark, you will find the rust barta maple (Acer rufinerve) or the snake skin maple (Acer capillipes), whose bark has white vertical stripes. Another eye-catcher is the cinnamon maple (Acer griseum), in which the mahogany to orange bark peels off in thin layers.
The maple species are usually reproduced by sowing. Some even sow themselves in the garden with their winged seeds. Various finishing methods are used to multiply the breeding forms, for example oculation and – in the case of the garden forms of the fan-shaped maples – the side plates in summer under glass. The maple ball is grafted in spring with the help of goat’s foot plugs or in summer with speculation on high trunks of the Norway maple, because the variety grows slowly and does not form a straight trunk. The propagation by lowering is also possible.
Diseases and pests
Many species are susceptible to leaf diseases such as powdery mildew and tar spot. The species-appropriate choice of location is therefore one of the most important prerequisites for healthy trees. Occasionally pests such as aphids, spider mites, gall mites and cicadas can occur. The fan-shaped maples in particular are easily attacked by the Verticillium wilt on heavy, damp soils. The fungal disease is manifested by pale, rapidly wilting leaves, a cracked bark or apparently groundless branches and twigs drying up. If you are lucky, you can save the maple by cutting off the infected branches, closing the cuttings with tree wax and planting the tree elsewhere in the garden or in a new tub. If a tree is affected by the dangerous soot bark disease, it must be reported to the municipal plant protection service and felled immediately, as the spores of the fungal pathogen are also harmful to human health. The disease threatens above all the native sycamore maple, but also pointed and field maple can be infested.
Whether fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants in the garden or indoor plants in the house: spider mites can infest and damage many different plants. Here René Wadas, a herbalist, will tell you his tips on how you can effectively fight the arachnids.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera: Fabian Primsch; Editing: Dennis Fuhro, Photos: Flora Press/FLPA, GWI
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