I am often asked how we manage to germinate thousands of Japanese maple tree seeds each year because conventional wisdom says this is considered very hard to do.
In this article I’ll reveal to you the little known “Nursery Secrets” we use to guarantee virtually 100% germination rates and debunk the myth that…
Germinating Japanese Maple Seeds Is Hard To Do… If you’ve read any standard text or instructions for germinating Japanese maple seeds and you’ll usually find virtually identical advice.
Conventional wisdom holds that successfully germinating Japanese maple seeds is hard to do, definitely something for the more advanced gardener. Conventional wisdom also says that the key to successful germination is a combination of soaking the seeds in water followed by “stratification” *(see below).
Soaking the seed is recommended because almost all the seed you buy from merchants or from unknown sources (such as you will usually find on e-Bay) is dry. Dry seed needs to be re-hydrated then stratified* before it has any chance to germinate.
*Stratification is the scientific term used to describe allowing the seed to experience an extended period of cold for at least 90-120 days – as if the seed has been through a winter period after falling naturally off the tree.
Even if you’ve tried soaking and germinating dry Japanese maple seed, you’ll know the results are still hit and miss. People tell you it’s difficult and, indeed, it is difficult to get any decent level of germination from dry seed.
So we discover by painful practical experience that conventional wisdom is correct. It’s hard to germinate most of the Japanese maple tree seed you’ll find offered for sale. To make up for any lack of success as a result of using this conventional method, you’ll be advised to leave your seed pans on the ground for another year in the hope that a few more seeds might germinate.
Well, good luck! You might be lucky and get a few more seedlings – but it’s more likely you’ll have provided the local mice and other critters with a tasty winter meal!
Conventional Wisdom Overturned!
Year after year in our nursery we get germination success of 87%, 92%, even 98% in some cases. And we don’t even soak our seed!
Here’s the REAL “Secret” to Virtually 100% Success in Germinating Japanese maple tree seed…
…Use FRESH, new season seed! Yes, honestly that’s the most important thing you need to do. Please do NOT buy from seed merchants or from online eBay sellers who do not care about your seed germination success. You are almost certain to get old, dry seed buying that way.
Having bought Japanese maple tree seed myself in the past from big name seed companies and then failed to germinate them, I decided there has to be a better way.
Quite by chance I stumbled on the ‘secret’ of using fresh seed only after finding a ‘rare’ source that offers fresh seed.
So here’s what you need to do to get guaranteed germination success…
1. Get fresh, new season seeds. Note: Fresh seed season is typically December through March.
2. Store them in a zipper bag.
3. Keep them for at least 90-100 days in the refrigerator.
4. Look at the seeds from time to time and make sure they are not becoming dry. If needed, add a DROP or two of water, every few weeks, so the seeds do not dry out.
5. If (and only if) you see mold develop, and as soon as you see it, use a fungicide, very sparingly, following the manufacturer’s directions or apply a weak solution of bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts of water)
6. At the end of the period of cold storage, the seeds are germinating naturally, even in the zipper bag in the fridge!
7. Transplant the seedlings as they germinate, planting the emerging rootlet in a seed compost. We use and recommend using a coir (coconut)-based growing medium.
We grow a lot of our seedlings in plastic tubes. These are the same tubes used by the USDA Forest Service. This way we minimize the additional handling of seedlings (thereby reducing our time/cost and chance of damaging the delicate seedlings when replanting).
You should also be careful to watch out for late Spring frosts. Search for our YouTube video and additional online articles on Spring frosts and Japanese maple trees! Your seedlings might germinate in January – February – March and you could be faced with a period of several weeks when the new seedlings are at risk from frost damage. Your seedlings need to be kept in a frost-free place but also need to get good light and air movement around them. Keep the seedlings in good light or they will grow long, straggly and weak stems.
It is important to remember that seedlings are hybrids. We know the ‘mom’ tree that provided the seeds…
…But we don’t know the ‘dad’ tree whose pollen (thanks to the bee) fertilized the flowers on the ‘mom’ tree. So, just like our kids, these seedlings will be similar to, but NOT identical to the parents.
Seedlings should exhibit some of the characteristics of the ‘mom’ parent, but they will not be identical (a true clone). This means we CANNOT name the seedlings with the same cultivar name as the parent. For example, seedlings from Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood” can only be called ‘Seedlings from “Bloodgood” seed’ or Acer palmatum Atropurpureum (if red leaved).