Propagating a Maple Tree From a Shoot

How easy is it to grow a maple tree from a shoot growing from the tree itself?

Q: I have an ‘Autumn Blaze’ maple with a shoot growing from the bottom of the trunk. I would like to cut it off and propagate it, can you advise on the best method to do this? The shoot is approximately two feet long.

This is a complicated question for a number of reasons.

AUTUMN BLAZE (cultivar name ‘Jeffersred’) is a cultivar of a hybrid maple called Acer x freemanii. This is a hybrid between Acer rubrum (red maple) and A. saccharinum (sugar maple). The plant that you have may be grafted onto either parent plant as a rootstock, or it may be grown on its own roots. Can you tell whether the shoot that you are interested in propagating matches the main part of the tree (in which case it might be identical) or whether it looks different (in which case it might be either rootstock) ? That’s one consideration.

The next thought is the best way to propagate the shoot that you are interested in. This can be done by air layering, which is easy to do on many houseplants. On a woody tree, such as a maple, it’s much trickier, because the top layers of bark need to be carefully removed and the xylem layer exposed. To do this skillfully, it would be best to get a good book on bonsai out of the library – this is likely to have a section on air-layering Japanese maples and you could follow the instructions.

The other option is to take a cutting about 8 cm (10 inches) long around July, when the new growth has begun to harden off, but is not too woody, as it would be in late fall. Dip the end of the cutting in a rooting hormone compound, which will stimulate the cells to produce roots. Insert the cutting into sterilized seed soil 50/50 with perlite for good drainage. Keep the medium moist, but not damp. Commercial propagators use bottom heat to stimulate root growth, but this is hard to simulate at home. Keep the cutting out of direct sunlight in a bright window.

Good luck!