Six on Saturday: Maples

Maples are annoyingly misrepresented here. Japanese maples are so much more popular than they should be, and imposed by just about every so-called ‘landscaper’ with something to prove, although few of them know or care how to take proper care of them. However, maples that actually develop as shade trees are still uncommon or even rare. Only two species are native locally. Of these, box elder (#5) is rather unimpressive, and bigleaf maple (#6) is potentially too big and too messy for refined home gardens. Norway maple has a bad reputation, but ‘Schwedler’ was a good street tree.

1. Acer platanoides – Norway maple is invasive elsewhere. I do not trust it here. I grafted noninvasive ‘Schwedler’ Norway maple on five naturalized saplings. None took. Ugly saplings survive.

2. Acer platanoides – Norway maple should look like this. I do not remember the name of this cultivar. It supposedly has better bronzed color than ‘Schwedler’. I still prefer classic ‘Schwedler’.

3. Acer rubrum – red maple performs quite well in mild climates, and works well as a street tree with symmetrical and rather compact form. I do not remember the name of this cultivar either.

4. Acer circinatum – vine maple should be more popular here. It is a sculptural understory tree like the countless cultivars of Japanese maple, but is not a Japanese maple. That is why I like it.

5. Acer negundo – box elder should probably be less popular than it is. It is the most common maple of North America, and is native to every state except for Alaska and Hawaii. It is wild here.

6. Acer macrophyllum – bigleaf maple is also native, but only to the West Coast. It is the sugaring maple of the West. This specimen is exemplary, but drops a lot of leaves into a few backyards.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Box Elder

Box elder is the ‘other’ maple.

No other maple is native to so much of North America as the common box elder, Acer negundo. Yet, because of innate structural deficiency and a general lack of pizazz, it is also one of the least popular. The smaller and more adaptable garden varieties are more often grown for their interestingly colorful foliage. ‘Flamingo’ starts out with pink, white and pale green foliage that turns richer green and white by summer. ‘Violaceum’ has smokey purplish new foliage that fades to rich green. ‘Auratum’ has yellowish foliage that fades to chartreuse green. Any stems that try to revert to a more natural shade of green should be removed before they dominate. Unlike other maples that have distinctively palmate leaves, box elder has compound leaves with three or more leaflets each.

Freeman Maple

Freeman maple colors with minimal chill.

It is a hybrid. It is naturally occurring. Yet, most cultivars (garden varieties) resulted from intentional hybridization and selection. It is not as strange as it seems. Freeman maple, Acer X freemanii, is a naturally occurring hybrid of silver maple and red maple. It grows wild where the natural ranges of the parents overlap. From their example, breeders learned to selectively breed the cultivars.

These cultivars combine the fast growth rate of silver maple with the structural integrity of red maple. None get to be as imposing as the silver maple. Some get to be about forty feet tall and wide, which is a bit bigger than red maple gets in local climates. Foliage is lacy like that of silver maple, but more substantial, like that of red maple. It develops brilliant orange and red color for autumn.

Freeman maple, although locally uncommon, is one of the more practical maples here. Like silver maple, it does not require much chill in winter. Like red maple, it develops a symmetrical canopy with reasonably high branches. Roots should be complaisant with concrete. Because it is a hybrid, it is mostly sterile. It does not produce enough seed to be invasive in more conducive climates.

Fine China

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Before: There was not much hope for the Chinese maple underneath this mess.

It will be just fine. The Chinese maple that I mentioned earlier this morning sustained surprisingly minimal damage when part of a bay tree fell onto it. The situation initially seemed hopeless prior to the removal the heavy debris that was pressing the diminutive Chinese maple downward. Yet, the little tree somehow regained its composure, and is expected to recover.

The little Chinese maple was always rather sparse in the shade of the surrounding forest. Also, it exhibited an asymmetrically sculptural form. That is likely normal for the species within its natural environment, where it lives as an understory tree (within the shade or partial shade of larger forest trees). The distinctive form and open canopy were part of its allure.

As the debris was removed, most of the stems of the Chinese maple sprang back into their original positions. Only two major limbs were fractured and needed to be pruned away. Some of the minor twiggy growth was groomed in the process. The main trunk was somewhat destabilized, but not too detrimentally so.

It probably should be no surprise that the little tree was so resilient to the altercation. It is, after all, an understory tree. Within its natural environment, it likely contends with the same sort of abuse. Chinese forests are likely just as messy as forests here are. Gravity pulls all that mess in the same direction.

The little Chines maple may not look like much now that it has been groomed and pruned to be even more sparse than it originally was, but it should be fine. By this time next year, foliar density should be comparable to what it was prior to the incident. The form will remain sculptural, as it grows away from the shade of the forest, and out over the stream below.

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After: After a bit of grooming, this little Chinese maple is not so badly disfigured.

Fung Lum

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Acer robustum, Chinese maple?

Fung Lum was an architecturally imposing Chinese restaurant in Campbell years ago. It was more famous for the facade of the building than for the food. Although the food was purportedly excellent, not everyone ate there. Everyone in town knew the building though. It was prominently situated right on Bascom Avenue, at a time when the region was still somewhat suburban.

The meticulously pruned and groomed landscape in the minimal space between the ornate facade and sidewalk was mostly rather low so that it did not obscure the architecture. The tallest features were strategically situated to be unobtrusive. Except for only a few of what seemed to be big, sprawling but low profile Japanese maples, there were no other significant maple trees.

‘Fung Lum’ means ‘maple grove’. Commercials on the radio said so. When I was a kid, I therefore expected to see at least a few maples that grew as trees rather than low sprawling mounds in the associated landscape. I figured that the maple grove must be out back where the parking lot was. I sort of wondered if their maples were Chinese, and what Chinese maples were like.

I probably should have been content in believing that the mix of holly oaks, flowering pears and other common trees in the neighborhood were maples. No one else noticed a discrepancy. For all I know, the name referred to a maple grove in China. Maybe the Japanese maples out in front were the grove. They could have been Chinese. Maybe I put way too much though into this.

Now, I actually work with what is purported to be some sort of Chinese maple, perhaps Acer robustum. It really does resemble a Japanese maple. It produces the foliage that can be seen to the right in the last (sixth) picture that I posted early this morning. If it really is a Chinese maple, I would not be surprised if cultivars of this species were what lived in front of Fung Lum.

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This is the sixth picture from this morning.

Norwegian Wood

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Isn’t it good?

This is really getting to be a problem. Too many feral plants that we find at work get canned as if they will eventually be installed back into a landscape somewhere. The small nursery where they recover until their relocation is getting crowded. Although many are practical and appropriate for such recycling within the landscapes here, some are not, so may be with us for a while.

Five feral Norway maple saplings were found in one of the landscapes where mature trees were pruned for clearance from a roof. We could not just leave them there. They eventually would have been overwhelmed by the rest of the forest, or grown too close to the same roof that we pruned other trees away from. They were very easily dug, so came back to the nursery with us.

It was too late to prune them as necessary. They are tall and lanky trunks, with too many comparably lanky branches. As much as I am instinctively compelled to prune them while they are bare and dormant, I will refrain until later in spring or summer, when they will not bleed so much. They look ridiculous. They seem happy though. Their buds are beginning to swell already.

We have no idea where they will go from here. After pruning, they should develop into exemplary specimens. As goofy as they are now, their trunks are remarkably straight. I happen to be fond of Norway maple, and would be pleased to find an application for them here. The problems is that there are too many trees here, and the forests and landscapes continue to make more!

Horticulture in a forest can be like that. It seems like there is plenty of space out there, but so much of the space is too shaded or too crowded.

Bigleaf Maple

81024It is native from the extreme southern tip of Alaska to the extreme southwestern corner of California, but not many of us will see bigleaf maple, Acer macrophyllum, in our neighborhoods. It is planted only rarely, particularly where winters are mild. Relative to other maples, its roots can be more aggressive, and its shade can be darker, so is likely to interfere with lawn and other plants.

Mature trees in exposed situations can get more than fifty feet tall and quite broad. Old wild trees that compete with other trees in a forest can get three times as tall! The big palmate leaves from which the name is derived are about half a foot to a foot wide, and can get a two feet wide on the most vigorous or shaded growth. They turn a nice golden yellow in autumn, even in mild climates.

Bigleaf maple is like the sugar maple of the West. The sap can be processed into maple syrup and sugar. The wood is made into furniture and musical instruments. The very ornamental wood known as bird’s eye maple is derived from burl growth of various maple specie, particularly bigleaf maple. Bigleaf maple is uncommon in landscapes only because it is so aggressive and big.

Real Deal

P80203Stereotypes can be such a bother. For the past almost twenty years that I have been writing my gardening column, many of those who read the column have been making assumptions about who I am and how I behave. I actually find much of the behavior that I should conform to be rather objectionable. Even the lingo would be awkward for me. I am a horticulturist, and if you must know, an arborist as well. It is my profession. I did not take an interest in horticulture because I retired or got bored with my primary career. Nor did I flunk out at everything else. I am not a garden guru, flower floozy or hortisexual. I do not crowd my garden with garden fairies, repurposed junk or rare and unusual plants. There is nothing eclectic or quaint. There is no whimsy or magic, and most certainly NO riot of color! Brent does not even flinch at my offensive racial comments.

Does anyone remember the yellow clivia fad? Everyone wanted yellow clivias in their own gardens because they were so rare, and so different from the typical orange. Does anyone even know what ‘rare’ means? When we all get them growing in our own garden, they are NOT rare! Has anyone tried to find an orange clivia lately? Yellow clivias had been rare back when orange was the more popular color, but only because orange clivias were the previous fad, and nurseries did not bother to grow the undesirable yellow clivias. Both yellow and orange are nice, but only if they happen to be the right perennial for a particular situation. They work nicely in spots that are too shady for other plants, and the bright colors are striking against the richly dark green foliage. However, they are not better than lily-of- the-Nile for sunny spots. I have grown more lily-of-the-Nile than I can write about, but have grown only one orange clivia.

The same goes for dawn redwood, or like landscapers with something to prove say, ‘Metasequoia glyptroboides’. They are nice trees in the right situation, particularly where redwoods would be nice, but a bit of sunlight is preferred through winter. However, that certainly does not make the right tree for every situation. I have worked with a few, but have never grown one in my own garden.

I loath Japanese maples! I do not mind growing them in the nursery, but I do not want to waste garden space on something so trendy. There are plenty of other more useful or prettier trees and shrubs. When I say that maples are some of my favorite trees, I mean ‘real’ maples, such as sugar maples and red maples. I know that silver and bigleaf maples are not very desirable trees, but they happen to be two of my favorites.

Being a good horticulturist is about knowing the many plant specie that we work with. Although silver maple happens to be one of my favorites, I have only been able to recommend it for just one application in my entire career. Just because it would be nice in my home garden, and I am willing to deal with the problems, does not mean that I can recommend it for other landscapes where others would need to contend with the problems. As much as I dislike Japanese maples, I have recommended them a few times for small spaces like atriums, particularly for clients who happen to like them. Unfortunately, they are more useful than silver maple. It is all a matter of knowing what specie are most appropriate for every application.

Sesame Street Was Wrong!

P71231It was probably one of the best television shows for children back then, and probably still is. Everyone of my generation in American remembers Sesame Street. We all identified with it, even if our neighborhood did not look like Sesame Street, or lacked the variety of neighbors. Sesame Street sometimes took us on television field trips to other neighborhoods. Some were more familiar. Those that were more foreign were presented within a compelling and inviting context that got us interested in how other children lived within their respective societies.

Some kids lived in big cities and rode on buses. Others lived in suburban areas with big gardens. Some lived on farms with hens and cows. There were even kids who lived near a forest surrounded by big tall evergreen trees. The trees were probably the firs, spruces and hemlocks of New Hampshire. I do not remember. I just knew I was fascinated with the trees.

I certainly did not need Sesame Street to show me how excellent my first silver maple was. It was my second tree, after my incense cedar. My mother thought of it as ‘her’ maple tree. Yeah, right. When it defoliated in autumn, I ‘raked’ the leaves by pairing them all up, and then pairing all the pairs into groups of four, and then pairing the groups of four into groups of eight, and so on, until there was only a single pile of leaves. When the tree was very small, it had only about sixty-four leaves, so this technique worked just fine. It was a bit more work by the second autumn. By the third autumn, I had learned how to use my little leaf rake.

During this time, I happened to learn something from Sesame Street that I had not previously known about maple trees. They make maple syrup! The kids who lived near the forest in New Hampshire went with their father out to where their maples were, to collect syrup. It was simple. The father gouged the bark, drilled a hole into the trunk, stuck a hooked device into the hole, and hung a bucket onto the hook to collect they syrup! I do not remember if that was the correct sequence of events; but how difficult could it be? The video was only a few minutes long, so I knew that it did not take long for the bucket to fill will with syrup that the kids poured over their pancakes at the end of the video.

What the video failed to explain adequately is that after the bucket was hung, it was left there overnight, and was retrieved the next day. To me, it looked like the kids got distracted and left, but then came right back a few seconds later. The video also failed to explain how involved the process of concentrating the sugar by boiling off the water from the sap. Again, to me, it looked like a pot of boiling sap was ready for pancakes a few seconds later. Like I said, the video was only a few minutes long.

Getting syrup from the maple tree was just too tempting. I took my little plastic beach pail and a small hatched for kindling and went out to get my own syrup. I smacked the trunk with the hatches and grabbed my pail to catch the sap that was supposed to come pouring out; but nothing happened. I smacked the tree again; but again, nothing happened. I gashed the trunk a few more times, in various spots around the trunk, but never got any syrup. Eventually, I got distracted with something else. I left my pail and the hatchet there next to the tree, believing that Sesame Street was wrong.P71231+