Growing Shantung Maples

 
 
 A red 'Fire Dragon' grows in the shadow of a standard Shantung Maple near the front gate of Metro Maples.

A red 'Fire Dragon' grows in the shadow of a standard Shantung Maple near the front gate of Metro Maples.

Finally, a colorful maple for the texas sun and soils!

Shantung Maples are a distinctly different species from the Japanese maples we sell here at Metro Maples.  Shantungs are low maintenance, sun-loving trees with reliable fall color.  Their native climate in China is very similar to ours here in Texas, and they can be an elegant, colorful and stately addition to your landscape.

The founder of Metro Maples, Keith Johannsson, is an authority on Shantung maples.  Prior to his retirement in 2016, Keith selected several specimens that were especially lovely or had truly unique characteristics.  While we still offer the standard Shantung maple seedlings, most of our Shantung inventory is comprised of Keith’s named varieties like ‘Fire Dragon’™, ‘Baby Dragon’ and 'Super Dragon'.

 

Here are the basics:

  • Typically 30-40 feet tall, but we also offer dwarf varieties.
  • Green leaves in spring and summer, with bright yellow or red  fall color, depending on variety.
  • They prefer full sun, but can tolerate some shade.  (This is the opposite of Japanese Maples.)
  • Grows well in our native North Texas soils.
  • Growth rate is typically about 3’ per year once established.
  • Relatively drought tolerant, but will grow better with some water.
  • Long-lived hardwood tree to 100 years or more.

 

Shantung maples are easy to grow here in Texas, and will quickly become a tall shade tree that can cast valuable open, bright shade on your home and landscape.  The basic growing plan is to give them sun, soil to grow in, consistent watering every week or two, and then just stand back and watch them grow!

Below are some detailed instructions on planting, watering fertilizing and pruning.

 

Planting

Your main goal in planting your Shantung is to provide ample drainage for the roots.

Step 1:  Dig a wide hole to break up the soil.  A wide, shallow hole is better than a narrow, deep one.

Step 2:  Add some organic matter (pine bark mulch, landscaper’s mix, compost, etc.) to the soil you just removed.  Mixing in amendments at a 50/50 rate to a depth of 15 inches is especially helpful if you have clay soil.  Your purpose in doing this is to help loosen the soil so that the roots have an easier time growing into it and getting that root system the proper balance of air and water they need.

Step 3:  Add a couple of inches of your prepared soil mix to the bottom of the hole and set your tree.  You’ll want the root flare to be a few inches higher than the surrounding soil.

Step 4:  Fill in the hole with your  soil mix and pack it firmly.

Step 5:  Water well to make sure that the soil has settled in well around your new tree.

Usually, staking isn’t necessary, but if your tree is in a particularly windy spot, it might benefit from staking for the first year.  After that point, the tree should be well-rooted and won’t need staking.

 

Watering

Shantung maples benefit from a consistent watering schedule until they are established.

One watering every 5 days is typically plenty, even in high temperatures.

Once established (1-2 years after planting) they will appreciate consistency – be it once a week or two or even longer.  Swings in watering frequency will result in the tree adjusting accordingly – by dropping leaves or looking stressed.

When the tree is thirsty, it will show you by wilting, or by turning fall colors early.  Don’t panic!  Just add a little more water to the schedule, and the tree should recover.

 

Fertilizing

Shantung maples are always growing.  Even in winter they are growing roots anytime the temperature is above 40 degrees.  For maximum growth they need sun, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and 13 nutrients on a balanced and continuous basis.  Here in North Texas, our soils are typically quite fertile, but using a complete fertilizer designed for trees and shrubs will give your tree all the nutrients it needs.  The ideal times to fertilize are early March, early May and late September when the temperatures moderate a bit.  We use Osmocote® but you could also use Miracle-Gro Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes,.

It’s a common mistake to think of fertilizer as food.  Plant geeks don’t help matters when use words like “nutrition” when we talk about fertilizers.  Unfortunately, this flawed analogy often leads people to try to help a stressed tree recover by “feeding” it. 

Usually, the tree isn’t missing any nutrients, so adding fertilizer has little to no effect, and often can actually make matters worse.  The best approach is usually to hold off on fertilizing until the following year.  What looks like a nutrient deficiency is most often the result of other stresses (e.g. poor drainage, damaged bark, herbicide damage, soil compaction, or inconsistent moisture).

 

Pruning

Shantung maples will look better if pruned when young.  Pruning weaker limbs that are low on the trunk (below 4-6 feet) will direct more of the trees energy into growing stronger and taller.  Removing any branches that shoot straight up or hang straight down will do wonders for the shape and general look of the tree. 

The ideal time for major pruning is either right after leaf drop in December or after the spring growth has slowed in late May/June.  On a vigorous tree, 1-inch branches pruned in December will typically heal completely within a year.

If you prune at the wrong time, you may see a lot of sap running from the wound.  While this isn’t ideal, it’s not usually cause for alarm.  After a week or two the sap will dry and the wound will seal itself off.

Regardless of timing, it’s best to remove no more than 1/3 of the branches at any one time.

Things to Avoid

  • Damage to bark.  Its best to keep your string trimmer a safe distance from the trunk of tree.
  • Weed killers.  Shantung maples have been killed by the product Image as well as other weed killers.
  • Be careful of using any foliar sprays (e.g. Neem Oil) when temperatures are above 80 degrees, as damage may result from heat-induced phytotoxicity.