Let’s have a straight talk about Japanese Maples and Sex because . . . Somebody asked.
Actually her question was, if Japanese maples are so easy to grow from seed, and they are, why do they have to be grafted? That’s a really smart question.
In a nutshell, what I am about to explain is this. When it comes to plants there are two kinds of sex.
Sexual Reproduction and Asexual Reproduction.
It takes Sexual Reproduction for new plant varieties to be found. These off spring are called “chance seedlings”.
It takes Asexual Reproduction to perpetually reproduce those beautiful and unique chance seedlings.
Growing plants is a lot like making babies and almost as much fun. (sorry, couldn’t resist). That’s why I always say that Growing and Selling Small Plants is the Most Fun You can have with Your Bibs on!
Baby making is obviously sexual reproduction and part of the wonder, joy and excitement of making babies is the anticipation of who this baby will be. Will the baby be male or female? Black hair, or red hair like daddy? What kind of a personality will the baby have? Human beings are unique. Each and every one of us is just a little bit different.
Plants are no different. When we grow plants from seed we never know for sure what we are going to get. Plant seedlings, like human beings, are unique. Each and everyone is different. This is both good and bad. But that’s how new plants are discovered or developed. Nursery stock producers who grow plants from seed sow tens of thousands of seeds all at the same time. As the seedlings grow and develop the grower watches over his crop to make sure all of the plants are growing as they should be. But he or she is always on the look out for that one seedling that doesn’t look or act like the rest.
That odd ball seedling could be Big Name Plant to hit the market.
In other words, most new plant introductions are chance seedlings that just acted and looked differently. A good example of that is the Lavender Twist Redbud tree that was discovered and developed by my friend Tim Brotzman.
Some growers do all kinds of things in the way of cross pollination in an attempt to control or direct the development of new plants, but many are nothing more than chance seedlings that had special and desirable characteristics.
So now let’s adapt this to Japanese Maples.
When you grow a Japanese maple from seed that is sexual reproduction. The way nature intended for it to happen. Let’s say that you collect 1,000 seeds from a Japanese maple tree that has nice red leaves that hold that deep red color all summer long. The seedlings that you grow from that tree will be Japanese maples for sure. No doubt about that. But they won’t all look or act like the parent plant. Some will have red leaves, some will have redish leaves, some will have green leaves. In other words, you will not get an exact clone of the parent plant.
Cloning Japanese Maple Trees via Asexual Reproduction.
In order to get an exact clone of the Japanese maple tree that you have, you have to use a form of asexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction is when you take tissue from the parent plant and either get that tissue to form roots, or you attach it to a seedling that already has roots. The tissue that you remove from the parent plant contains all of the DNA of the parent plant. If you are successful in your attempts to reproduce that plant, you will for all intents and purposes have a clone that is an exact match to the parent plant. It may not grow in the same shape as the parent plant since the shape of a plant is often controlled by the grower, or the environmental conditions in which the plant is growing. Sun, shade etc.
There are different forms of asexual reproduction of plants, the most popular being rooting cuttings, grafting, budding and tissue culture. Rooting cuttings is by far the most popular for most plants because it’s quick and easy. But it rarely works well for Japanese maple trees. Which is why most Japanese maple trees are budded or grafted.
Budding is when you take a single bud from a plant, slip that bud under the bark of a seedling. The bud attaches itself to the parent plant and at the beginning of the following growing season the grower clips off the top of the seedling right above the bud union. The bud develops into a branch that is trained to grow upright and serve as the stem for the desired tree.
Japanese maples can be budded but it’s tricky, so most growers graft them. Grafting is the process of removing a scion (scion is a fancy word for a cutting) and grafting that scion to a seedling. The scion attaches itself to the seedling, making a permanent bond and a new plant is formed. More about grafting with photos here.
Growing plants via tissue culture is like making test tube babies. Except with plants you are actually starting with a smidgen of tissue that contains the exact DNA of the plant that you are trying to reproduce. Growing via tissue culture is an amazing thing and the plants that are produced can be just as amazing. But it’s really high tech and done in a laboratory. The plants that are produce are really, really tiny so they need special care before they can be moved into a nursery environment.
So when you think of Japanese Maples, there are Many, Many Different Varieties that are very different, but each one is unique and beautiful. So when you see one of these beautiful trees you want one that looks exactly like the one you fell in love with. In order to get that, you have to use a method of asexual reproduction in order to guarantee you’ll get what you want. In the link that I just posted those are all plants from my personal collection with the exception of just one I think.
Learn more about Tissue Culture here.
And that concludes our Sex Ed Class for plants.
Questions, comments or concerns? Post them below!
Rachel Brumback says
Hi Mike! This is probably a long shot since I’m noticing this post is over 6 years old now…. but something really odd is happening and no one on the internet seems to have any idea of what I’m talking about. So my friend has this Japanese maple tree in her yard that’s at least 20 years old, stands around 20 feet tall, is bright red, not a lace leaf…. etc. Well… she has a second one just like it about 50 feet away… it’s May now, in Virginia, and her yard is full of BABY Japanese maple trees. Do these trees do the deed on their own? So much that they just drop 50+ successful 8 inch high baby saplings onto the ground beneath them? I also thought that they might be root nodes or something but shes got little baby trees growing in her front yard too on the other side of her house from the mom/dad tree. Is this a thing that these trees do? She was successfully able to dig me up a couple and they’re doing great in little pots on my deck!! Thanks in advance if you do happen to see this comment.
Yes, Japanese maples do drop seeds and the seeds will germinate and grow. If the parent tree has great red color many of the seedlings will have good color as well. You can grow them out and have beautiful trees and you can use some of them to graft desired varieties on to them. See the grafting article on this site. https://japanesemaplelovers.com/how-to-graft-japanese-maple-trees/
Darrell Clevenger says
How can I keep squirrels out of my fruit trees?
I don’t think I have an answer for that other than netting the trees when the fruit is on.
Shirleen Curtis says
I have a Japanese Maple in my back yard. It is about 4 feet high. This spring it is not getting any leaves or buds at all. My friend tells me she thinks it is dead. I don’t know what happened. We didn’t have that hard a winter so I have no ides. Can you tell me if it might be saved??
Scratch the bark and you’ll know for sure.
This is how you test to see if a plant, or a branch on a plant has died. Just scratch the bark of your plants with your finger nail. If the tissue below the bark is green and firm your plants are fine. If the tissue is brown and mushy that part of the plant is dead.
I have a beautiful Japanese Maple tree growing in my yard for the past 12 yrs. I have had so many comments about how beautiful it is:)
We take viable cutting (new growth wit node), plant I with rotting hormone , pot in sand or sterile, fresh potting soil.
Rooting hormone! Sorry about that…
Mike, I really enjoy your articles. I am learning a lot, and now have caught the bug for the Japanese Maples. I am hopeing to be able to plant 2 or 3 this year. Right now my problem is the Cottonless Cottonwood Tree in my front yard. It is about 5 years old. We have had such a weird winter here in Utah and had one snow storm that dumped almost 2 feet in just a couple of hours and it was such wet, heavy snow that it broke off 4 of the larger branches. One of them was about 1/2 way up the tree and it was the largest. Is there a good way to trim these trees and is it ok to top them? It is up higher than my roof now but I don’t want it to get up too much higher. Thanks for being willing to share your knowledge and your talents with the rest of us.
Toni, some arborists say you should never top a tree. However, we as homeowners often plant trees in place where we either have to control their height, or remove them. So if it were me, I trim the tree to conform to the area in which it is planted.
Trucine Weige says
Mike this is very interesting, however I have a question regarding the safety of any Maple for the horses and dairy goats that we have. Several years ago friends of ours had a storm break branches off a maple and their horses ate the leaves and they caused kidney failure where they lost 2 stallions. Does this hold true with the Japanese Maples?
Thank you Mike for this great article. I did learn a lot. I do live in zone 3b and Japanese Maples are out of my gardening climate.
But,winter here is the best time to read and learn.
Awww Mike~ You crack me up!! =^..^=
Mike, I follow you as often as I can. I am SO PROUD of you for working on your own weight/health. I know I am always working on that, before my doctor shakes my tree.
I am a transplanted Ohioan. The Polter Berry Farm up where you are is owned by my cousin. Naturally, I have farming in my blood…and now I work where I am the greenhouse keeper..entirely. I filled it with every conceivable annual, basket, bulb, holiday leftovers, and it’s thriving. People ask me where do I buy, but I don’t actually BUY all that much. I just keep reproducing, sustaining, transplanting…
so the residents who all have some type of dementia, mild or progressed LOVE to have different green/blooming/vining plants to watch, water, protect. It’s a focal point of their community room now. Someone brought dozens of orchid plants and those will bloom or sit there with their funny looking stems…they have caused a sensation of course…I am not well versed but I am learning about them. Nursing home temps are not fun for them, dry, etc.
I’ll see if we can get a few of theses JAPANESE maples gowing. And perhaps the new resident will enjoy your books/site.
Thanks for all you do.
Thank you Marsha for your kind words!
don salter says
For a guy who digs in the dirt, you have an amazing grasp of genetics, cloning, etc. And, I might add, a great teacher.
Mike Carey says
Hi Mike, Greetings from Ireland, i love reading your articules they are very informative. I have a few japanese maples, one in particular i would like to reproduce. My question is what other parent plant could i graft my plant to???
Mike, for the most part there are two families of Japanese maples. Acer palmatum and Acer japonicum. Palmatum is by far the most popular. I only have two Japanese maples in the Japonicum family, Golden Full Moon and Green Cascade. All others are Palmatum. So if it’s safe to say that your Japanese maples are in the palmatum family you can graft to any Acer palmatum seedling that you can find, and you can often find seedling growing under large Japanese maple trees.
tell me more about the pressure sensitive metal tags. cant keep plant tags readable sounds great.. keep the news coming.trying to grow jap maples from seed heres hoping!!!
Details about aluminum plant tags here; https://mikesbackyardnursery.com/2012/06/aluminun-plant-tags-that-dont-fade/#
2 quick questions. Do standard full size maples cross pollinate with Japanese maples?
If not, how much distance do you have to have from another pollinator to maintain genetic stability in sexual reproduction? And (oops, 3rd question) if you have only one variety of Japanese maple, is it self-pollinating to produce viable seeds? I’m appalled by how much I don’t know.
I’m really impressed with your talent for getting to the core of some pretty complex horticultural processes and making them accessible for average people like me. I also have a passion for Japanese maples and bonsai. Unfortunately, I had to leave my collection on the West Coast when I moved to MI 4 years ago, but I did bring a couple with me that are doing pretty well. My concern is that with the bizarre hot and cold spells we’ve had, I don’t know how to protect the remaining tress from shocking out, budding too early and freezing the next week, etc. They made it last year, but I’m worried about a repeat. Any thoughts? Oh, BTW, the pressure sensitive metal horticultural tags are my best friends for maintaining plant id’s.
I have a question relating to grafting. Last year about this time I bought a few asian pear trees, they were a grafted five variety type. They’ve been doing well except for one. An itchy buck decided that he was going to rub the velvet from his antlers on one of those yearling trees. Well I found two grafted branches laying on the ground. I took them inside the house, snipped off an inch from the bottom and put them in water in the house. Lo and behold they started producing leaves and even have some flowers on them! Guess they just love that fireplace heat. Didn’t even dawn on me to put them back outside. What do I do? How do I graft them back onto the parent plant? I am at a crossroads…please help! P.S, I live in southwest Oregon.
Matt Horns says
When a man tree and a woman tree fall in love and get married, …
Bob Martin says
What’s with the Facebook, Tweet, Pinit thing that’s blocking the text? Sure makes it hard to read your article and I can’t make it go away…
clyde w holmes says
mikei sure enjoy your tips an things for the
gardenan it makes me want to get in my bibs aninto the dirt but i am not able, just keep the articles coming i love them.
BETTY MILLER says
Please, My yard has been taken over by a hugh family of bionatic moles. I can not seem to get rid of them. Please help me. Do you know of any way to get rid of these minacing creatures. They are ruining my yard.
You have to get rid of their food source. That’s really the only thing that works long term. See this article. https://mikesbackyardnursery.com/2010/07/how-to-get-rid-of-japanese-beetles-and-grubs-in-your-lawn/#
Jamie Poteet says
I love your videos and tips Mike, however, your theory on how to control moles is completely wrong. Moles mainly eat worms not grubs. There are only two true ways to control them 1. There is a poison bait that looks tastes and smells like a worm. Moles eats bait and die. 2. Traps (ie) scissor trap and “spear” type traps. That’s it. Everything else is a wives tale and Do Not work. mothballs, hair, gum, noise, castrol oil all nonsense.
Larry Force says
The only thing I know that really works is a Victor mole trap. It has 6 sharp spikes that impales the mole as the mole hits the trigger. Step on the mole runs,flatten them down, in a day or two you can determine which runs are active. Also try to determine where the mole is coming from,your neighbors yard, A fence row etc. set the trap at these type places. Wear gloves, a little hard to set the trap, you probably need to get your husband to set the trap. I can assure this works. I disposed of 6 this past fall, these for sure won’t be back. You should be rid of them in 1 to 2 weeks.
Rita Griebel says
Being that the japanese maple is grafted, will it survive zone 4?
Most Japanese maples are rated for zones 5 through 8. Shop around and find a good deal on one and take a chance. Read what I wrote in response to your other question.
The Korean maples, such as Acer pseudosieboldiana or Acer takashimaya, are good choices for people living in zone 4. Some are hardy to -40F. As a group, they have not had the development of diverse varieties like the Japanese maples, but survival is a big plus.
thank you for this valuable input!
Rita Griebel says
When looking up lavender twist redbud, find that its shown as a 4 and 5 zone. Which is
it? Sounds interesting. I like trying new things. Found a zone 4 sweet cherry a couple years ago. And it only grows 6 feet tall or so. Got 6 to make sure I will have plenty in a few years. Just 2 1/2 feet tall now. Put fencing around it this fall because the deer like the leaves. So it won’t have to start from 2 feet tall again.
Rita, zone 4 and below are challenging. Even here in zone 5 we some winters where a lot of ornamental plant damage occurs. So I guess the answer is, it might be okay in zone 4. Some plants are just worth taking the chance on in my book.
I have a yard full of rare Japanese maples that I know can be damaged or killed if the right Ohio winter conditions occur. I’ve seen it happen. But that doesn’t deter me. I’m willing to take that chance.
We taking bigger chances than that with our own health. We know what we should and shouldn’t eat? But do we? -Mike
MJ Jauert says
Thanks Mike…….all of your articles are so educational! I wish I could grow a Japanese Maple here in Duluth, MN. I had one last for about 4 years, then it died, too stressed I suppose. I grow them in huge pots and bring them in the garage for the winter, it’s about 40 – 45 degrees. I do have a Korean Maple that makes it every year in zone 4 at our cabin in Hayward, WI. It’s been doing very well for five years now. Thanks for all your tips, love your emails!
MJ, If I were to grow a Japanese maple in zone 4 I think I’d try keeping it in the ground. In a pot things freeze more quickly and they dry out too much. Even in a garage it’s too dry during the winter. Japanese maple seedlings are the most affordable Japanese maple you can buy. See if you can find one, plant it outside in an area that is protected from the and usually covered with snow. The snow really helps to protect them. Just an idea.
Matt Horns says
You might be successful if the Japasese maple is in the ground right up against the south side of the house in full sun. That way, what little heat escapes from the house, plus the wall absorbes heat from the sun during the day and re-radiates the warmth at night. This makes that location at least a little warmer than anywhere else around. Major mulching would also help.
yup your right
Growing red Japanese maples in central & northern wisconsin is like having sex after the age of 70 , sometimes it works or not
Glen, you are also right, but it’s still worth a try!
Thanks,feel better. Gone for a walk. It was so good I will come back and read it again.
Mel R. Carey says
You Shine Mike – You are a master with words.
Who could have passed up an article with a Header like that. Really an in-depth article also that few could match.
Thanks Mel, I appreciate your compliments.
Phil Leatherbury says
I attended a class/workshop on grafting Japanese maples. The time from seed to seedling to” graftable “plant to grown grafted plant can be 5 to 7 years. Thus the cost and somewhat limited availability of these beautiful trees. Lots of time and hand work to get them to a marketable size…..but it’s worth it!!!!
You are absolutely right and what you stated should make people understand how much time and effort goes into producing such a beautiful plant. Like most nurseryman I do not graft my own Japanese Maples. I can and I have, but like most nurseryman it makes more sense to buy them already grafted and several years old. I grow them on for another one, two or three years and sell them for a lot more than I paid for them.
Thus the demand. For those who want to graft, or even grow from seed, the market is there. One of our Backyard Growers offers rare, grafted Japanese Maples to our members once a year and sells out quickly each year. The market is great! Seedlings can be turned around much sooner and even the market for seedlings is really strong. -Mike McGroarty http://freeplants.com/wanted.htm
Bill Thomassen says
Great article , Mike!
Shows the science behind the BYG’s. You’re the Alton Brown of the plant world! Lol
Keep up the great work!
Thanks Bill, I’m just trying give folks a better appreciation of plants.
Barbara Butterworth says
How big a piece of tissue do you take, how big should a plant be to do this process, what type of material do you use to keep the new tissue in place, how many times should you widdle on the parent tree, why can’t you just take a cutting from a parent tree?