Four Simple Steps To Grow Your Maple Tree From A Seed

Growing a maple tree from a seed

Maple trees are one of the most popular types of trees throughout the United States and Canada! Maple trees are known not only for the syrup they produce but for their beautiful, leafy canopies and brilliantly bright fall foliage.

If you want to plant a maple tree in your yard or garden, there is no need to purchase a sapling or young maple tree – you can grow a maple tree from just a seed. 

As long as you are adequately prepared with the right knowledge to help you cultivate your maple tree from day one, you can grow a fully mature maple tree from just one seed.

Read on for four simple steps to growing a maple tree from a seed, including some pointers about which type of maple tree to choose, how to plant the seed, and how to care for your maple tree well into its adult life!

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1. Choose A Type Of Maple Tree

There are a number of different varieties of a maple tree, including some of the more popular like the sugar maple, red maple, and silver maple.

How to grow a maple tree from a seed infographic

Which type you choose depends on what you’re looking for your tree to provide!

Let’s take a look at a few different examples to give you an idea of what might work best in your yard. 

Growing Sugar Maple Trees From Seed

The sugar maple is identified by leaves with sparse teeth, a pale green color on the underside of the leaves, and a greenish-yellow flower that grows at the same time as spring leaf growth. 

Sugar maple leaves turn yellow, red, or dark orange in autumn, and these trees are known for their beautiful fall foliage.

A grove of sugar maples with yellow fall foliage.

Sugar maples can grow to as high as 75 feet with a canopy that can be 50 feet wide when the trees are fully grown. 

Sugar Maples Grow Slowly

One potential downside of planting a sugar maple tree from a seed is that the sugar maple is a fairly slow-growing tree, growing only a foot or two per year.

But if you are not in a hurry to see a mature sugar maple tree, this might work well for you, giving you lots of time to enjoy the tree’s growth and make sure it is in the right spot, as you can move it more easily the smaller it is.

Sugar Maples Like Humidity

Like most varieties of a maple tree, the sugar maple prefers a lot of sun, though in super hot and dry climates, it might grow better as a sapling with some afternoon shade.

Sugar maple trees prefer to live in climates that are cool and experience a good deal of rain and humidity, so this tree variety may not be ideal for the southwestern states, which are normally very sunny, dry, and often hot. 

Sugar Maples Make Great Shade Trees

Sugar maples make great shade trees, so if this is part of your desire to plant a tree, this might be the right variety for you.

The sugar maple grows abundant leaves, making the space under the tree very shady in all seasons except winter, and the number of leaves when they start to change color makes for a beautiful display of fall foliage. 

If it’s shade you’re looking for, maple trees are some of the best. In fact, we listed 6 more reasons maple trees make amazing shade trees!

And, lastly, sugar maples do live up to their name, producing a sweet sap that can be used to make maple syrup.

While you probably don’t plan to collect the maple sap from your tree and eat it, it’s good to be aware that it is there, as it can leak if the tree breaks or you cut a branch from it. So, in that case, be prepared with a bucket or container to catch sap so you don’t end up with a lot of sticky syrup in your yard!

For Fall Color Choose A Red Maple Tree

Red maple trees are named for the brilliant red color their leaves turn in the fall. This bright autumn foliage is a draw for many people who travel many miles to see leaves changing color in the fall.

There are sub-varieties of red maples, such as the aptly named Autumn Blaze maple tree, which looks as though its leaves are a bright, colorful fire throughout the autumn months. 

Red maples are particularly plentiful in the northeast United States, where their bright fall colors are well-known. In fact, while it might seem like continued development of areas of the U.S. in the past decades would have meant fewer trees, the population of red maple trees in the northeast has grown quite a bit during the twentieth century. 

Red Maples Do Well In Urban Environments

Also, red maples are among the species of trees that have been found to do well in urban environments, so this tree can work very well for a yard in a more populated city. 

While red maples are frequently found in New England and surrounding parts of the country, they can be planted in most gardening zones provided they have the right initial planting conditions and are planted at the right time of year.

If you are interested in planting a maple tree with particularly brilliant fall leaves, a variety of red maple might be right for you. 

Planting A Silver Maple Tree

A single red and orange maple leaf on an otherwise bare branch.

Silver maple trees are fast-growing and they do best in very moist soil, so keep that in mind if you live in a dry climate.

Like most maple trees, the silver maple can be grown in a number of environments, but it may not do well in a dry, hot climate, and it will need special care anywhere that is not naturally rainy with a lot of cooler or even cold weather.

Silver maple trees grow quickly, and they can grow to be as tall as 80 feet. Like other maples, they are great to plant as shade trees. If you do decide to grow this variety, bookmark our guide on the best places to plant sugar maple trees.

Silver Maples Have Beautiful Colors

Silver maples earned their name because of the silvery color found on the underside of the leaves. The leaves of the silver maple turn yellow in the fall, and the underneath of the leaves stays silver. 

While these trees are not known to be as spectacularly bright in autumn as some other types of maple trees, you might consider a silver maple tree if you want something interesting in your yard for fall or something a little more subdued to pair with a brighter tree. 

Here’s our full sugar maple tree growth timeline if you’d like more info on growing one!

Choosing Other Varieties Of Maple Tree

There are many other varieties of maple trees, too, like Japanese maple, a popular tree that is very different from the standard maple trees you are likely to find in a northeastern United States forest.

For more standard varieties, there are Norway maples, paperbark maples, and boxelder maples.

You can choose whichever type of maple tree works best for what you want, whether that be the size of the mature tree, the color of the fall leaves, or the rate at which the tree grows. If you’re curious about the pros and cons of different types of maple trees, head on over to our article for a full list of maple tree variations!

Most maple trees have similar needs regarding soil, water, and sunlight, so with only a few exceptions, our general guidelines here are applicable to the type of maple tree you decide to grow from seed. If you’d like a specific fast growing maple, take a peak at our guide on the fastest growing maple trees as well.

2. Choose A Spot To Plant Your Maple Tree

Two maple trees in a park behind a grass field. One tree has yellow foliage and the other has orange foliage.

Once you have chosen the type of maple tree you want to plant and have acquired the seeds, the next step is to choose a spot to plant your maple tree.

Most maple trees want to be located in a cooler climate and they need a lot of water, plus some moisture in the air. In fact, maple trees should be watered twice a week! For more information, check out our article on why maple trees need so much water!

If you have determined that you live in a suitable climate, you can plant the seeds directly in your yard. 

Starting Your Tree In A Container

If you are concerned about the location of your maple tree, or you want to have more control over the soil, water, water drainage, and sunlight in your tree’s first year or so, you can start by planting your maple tree seedling in a container, like a large pot.

There are a number of advantages to this method, all of which relate to giving you more control over the maple seedling’s environment from day one. 

More Control Over Soil Makes For A Healthier Tree

Maple trees like a certain level of acidity in their soil, and that is not always compatible with some parts of the country, like the southwest.

If you want to give your maple seedling the best possible start, you can start by growing it in potting soil, which will be ideally formulated to help your seedling grow as well as possible. 

Potting soil, like this Miracle-Gro Garden Soil Trees & Shrubs, often also contains fertilizer and other nutrients to help your plants, like maple trees, grow faster and healthier from the very beginning.

A healthy seedling is the best possible start to a long-lived, healthy maple tree. 

Ensuring A Proper Watering Schedule

A common problem with planting maple tree seedlings, or any tree seedlings, especially in a part of the country where there may not be as many native maple trees, is controlling the amount of water your tree gets.

Planting your maple tree in a container will help you ensure that the tree is not only adequately watered but also that the water is draining properly from the roots of the tree. Too much water can be a bad thing.

To make sure your container drains well, you can start by buying a container that includes a drain at the bottom of the container itself. Then, help drainage even more by adding a layer of bark or even rocks at the bottom of the pot before you put in any soil. This can help your tree’s roots stay hydrated but healthy as you water them. 

Controlling The Location Of Your Tree

Choosing where to plant your tree can be a difficult decision. The tree will need a lot of sunlight, but, depending on how much sun your home normally gets, it might need a little shade, especially at the beginning of its life when it is just starting to establish its roots and branches. 

Being Able To Move Your Maple Tree

If you plant your maple tree in a container, you can place it in the best possible place to begin with, and you will be able to move the tree without having to dig it up and replant it, if you determine the location is not good.

A tip here is to put your container on a wheeled plant stand so you can move it more easily, as a large container full of wet soil is extremely heavy. 

Another bonus of being able to move your maple tree seedling in the first year or so of its life is that you will be able to take it indoors for the winter if you want to make sure it is not shocked or harmed by snow, ice, and extreme temperatures.

You Can Bring The Tree In For The Cold

While maple trees are very hardy trees able to withstand and even thrive in cold weather, as made evident by their native locations of the northeast United States and in Canada, young trees are more vulnerable than those that have been established. 

Rather than cover the seedling with burlap or a tree bag in the winter, if you have a maple tree in a pot, you can simply bring it indoors. This will also allow you to place the plant somewhere where it is easier to control the humidity around it, not just the temperature. This can be particularly valuable if you live in a very dry climate, as maple trees prefer moist air. 

Whether you plant your tree in a container or directly in the ground of your yard, picking a good location from the beginning can be the difference between a maple tree seedling that thrives and one that does not even survive. 

3. Turn Your Maple Tree Seeds Into Seedlings

A large maple tree with red fall leaves in front of snowy evergreen trees and a cloudy sky overhead.

Once you have chosen a location, you could just put the seeds in the ground and walk away, as this is, after all, how they grow naturally in forests.

The best time to germinate maple tree seeds is in the fall, and the best time to plant the seedlings will be in the spring, so plan accordingly.

While you might think that you will just be digging a hole and putting the maple tree seeds in, it is actually best to germinate the seeds first, which means to let them grow a little bit and start their roots, before you put them in the ground.

Building A Seedbed

To do this, you can build a seedbed. That can be a container you have built out of wood or it can be pots or containers, but you want to be able to control the environment, as the seeds will initially only be planted an inch or so under the soil. 

You should make sure all the soil around the area you want to plant the seed has been broken up, and you should remove any rocks or other objects that are not dirt.

You should begin your seedbed with nothing but the soil that was already there. 

When you are ready to plant, you might think that one tree equals one seed, but because so many seeds may not survive, it’s actually best to plant quite a few–as many as 50. Put the seeds about one inch below the surface of the soil.

Waiting For Seeds To Germinate

The process at this point can take a couple of months.

While your seeds are germinating, your main job is to keep the soil moist.

Sunlight is not as important at this stage, as the seeds are completed underground. 

Planting Your Tiny Maple Tree Seedlings

After a couple of months, when your seedling is several inches tall and has roots, you can move it to a more permanent location, be that outdoors in the ground or in a container as discussed above. 

If you are planting the tree outdoors in your chosen location, wait until early spring, after the winter has passed, then dig a hole that will cover the roots.

If your sapling is very small, it’s probably a good idea to put some type of fencing or protection around it so it doesn’t get accidentally walked on or hit with a lawnmower.  

Water the tree carefully, making sure to use a very gentle setting on your garden hose so the pressure of the water does not damage the tree. 

4. Caring For Your Maple Tree Sapling

The red leaves of a japanese maple tree partially framing a snow capped mount fuji in the background.
Japanese red maple leaves in autumn

Once your tree has been planted, the basic care of your maple tree sapling can begin.

This really just means making sure the tree is protected from the elements and has plenty of water. But if you want to give your tree some added advantages, or you want it to grow faster, there are a few additional steps you can take. 

Using Fertilizer To Make Your Maple Tree Grow Faster

One way to boost the growth of your maple tree is to add some plant food to the soil around it, like these Miracle-Gro Tree and Shrub Plant Food Spikes.

These spikes go into the soil around your tree, providing added nutrients to the sapling as it grows.

Another option for a fertilizer that can easily be placed around growing trees is Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes for Trees & Shrubs, which also provide added nutrients in the soil around the base of your tree. 

For a deeper dive into the world of fertilizers, check out our list of the 5 best maple tree fertilizers!

Protecting Your Maple Tree From Wildlife and Accidents

One easy way to keep people from accidentally harming your tiny maple tree is to place a small garden fence around it.

This will keep anyone from walking on it or keeping any garden vehicles away.

If you are concerned about wildlife, you can also use fencing to keep animals away. Wildlife is not a big concern for a young maple tree at this point, but you might want to use fencing to discourage even your pets from trampling your tree. 

Long-Term Care Of Your Maple Tree

Maple trees are easy to care for once they are well-established in the ground, as long as you live in the right environment.

If you live in a hot, dry climate, you may find that the leaves experience some health issues and that you have to work very hard to give your tree enough water.

But in most parts of the United States, many varieties of maple trees will flourish without any extra help from you.

That’s A Wrap!

Now you are ready to choose the type of maple tree best for your yard, germinate seeds, and watch one of those new seedlings grow into a mature maple tree.

The different varieties of maple trees grow at different rates, so how quickly you see your tree mature will depend a lot on whether you have chosen a slow-growing or fast-growing maple tree.

But either way, your tree will eventually mature into a classic shade tree with beautiful fall foliage. 

For more information about growing your maple tree, check out our post on the full life of a maple tree, Maple Tree Timeline: How Long It Takes For Full Growth

Happy planting!

References

Abrams, M. D. (1998). “The red maple paradox.” BioScience, 48(5), 355-364.

Sonti, N. F., Hallett, R. A., Griffin, K. L., & Sullivan, J. H. (2019). “White oak and red maple tree ring analysis reveals enhanced productivity in urban forest patches.” Forest Ecology and Management, 453, 117626.

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