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How To Care For A New Maple Sapling In The Winter

 In Inexpensive Tree Care Blog

The days grow shorter. The nights grow longer. Many of us begin to make early holiday plans. And the deciduous trees in our neighborhoods begin to drop their leaves.

Fall is here, and winter is coming. In some higher elevations — and even right here in the Willamette Valley — snowdrifts bury tree trunks, the ground freezes, and root systems are at risk.

Maples have sensitive and shallow root systems that can uproot sidewalks and damage septic systems. Plant them in an appropriate place to ensure their longevity.

For those of us who live and work in the northwest — among the trees of our renowned urban tree canopy — it’s time to think about protecting young maple trees during the long, cold months ahead.

A Little Help From My Friends (Of Trees)

Most trees don’t need additional protection; they’ve got millions of years of evolution and adaptation on their side. Others, such as maple saplings sometimes need a little help to thrive in their early stages. That’s why we have to pay close attention to them and be able to distinguish warning signs from standard tree operating procedures.

“Newly planted trees often show initial signs of stress, so there may not be cause for alarm,” reports the Home Guides of the San Francisco Chronicle. “In the fall and winter, maples lose their leaves. No leaves at this time of year is normal. If the maple does not have leaves in the spring or summer within a year of planting, it is not going to recover.”

If you’re wondering how to care for a new maple sapling in the winter so that it’s ready to flourish come spring and summer, then read on!

Maple Trees

There’s a lot we can do to assist our communities in nurturing our urban tree canopy. We all have a part to play. However, with such arboreal diversity in this portion of the world, it can sometimes be hard to keep track of each and every species and their specific needs.

But maples are staples, and saplings are happening, so we thought it was a good idea to provide some general guidance on their care.

Maples are beloved the world over for their beauty, their leafy cover and, as master gardener Jeanne Grunert sats at LoveToKnow.com, “their stunning display of fall colors in reds, gold and yellow.”

“Maple trees make a striking addition to the landscape,” Grunert writes. “Gardeners have a host of selections useful as shade, specimen, or accent trees and smaller types work well in containers dressing up a porch or entranceway.”

For these reasons and more, many of Inexpensive Tree Care’s customers have asked us how to care for a new maple sapling in the winter. Let’s take a quick look at how it’s done.

Maple Tree Sapling Care

First, caring for a maple sapling begins before the tree is planted.

When you select a maple, be sure to examine it thoroughly. There are more than 120 species of maples, including sugar maples, Japanese maples, and big leaf maples.

Not every tree-buying tip will apply in every case, but generally speaking, here’s what to look for:

  • Healthy, bendy (not breaky) branches
  • Firm, solid trunk (it shouldn’t feel light or hollow)
  • Strong root system with no rot
  • Clean leaves (no spots or holes, which may be signs of fungus or infestation)
  • A strong, earthy smell (nothing rancid or foul-smelling)

Second, plant your sapling in the fall and — this is crucial after the sapling has lost its leaves.

Choose your planting spot with care. Try to find a shady spot. Plant maples in soil with an appropriate pH balance. Fortunately, maples can thrive across a wide range of soils — from acidic to alkaline.

Maple Planting and Placement

As mentioned above, keep them away from sidewalks, driveways, plumbing and septic systems. (This is a general rule for planting any tree, actually. Be sure to consult local ordinances for rules and regulations for tree planting. Portland’s is here.)

Third, dig a hole deep enough for your sapling’s root system. Arrange the roots as naturally as possible — i.e., don’t “bunch, twist, double-over, or bend them.”

Next, add a layer of mulch around your newly planted and dormant (leave-less) maple sapling. 

Follow this helpful and simple rule of (green?) thumb from our neighbors to the north at MapleLeavesForever.com: “Do not ‘volcano’ the mulch into a pile around the base, this will encourage rotting at the base of the tree.”

Finally, prune your maple sapling. Remove any unwanted or dead branches.

Do not fertilize the tree. There’s plenty of time for that in the spring.

Contact Inexpensive Tree Care with any questions.

Until then, bundle up for the winter months — and happy planting!

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