WRITTEN BY VALERIE EASTON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY RICHIE STEFFEN
Best of Fall Show
For fabulous foliage, make mine maple
I’m really not being too harsh here, because maples take to our climate like slugs. Here, they grow magnificently, unfurling delicate foliage in springtime, offering leafy shade all summer, and maturing to fiery autumnal shades late this month. Even their seeds are prettily winged like little helicopters. Maple bark can be striped, peeling and variously colored, and I've yet to see a maple be anything but elegantly shaped whether a native big leaf or a frothy little weeper.
Native to Japan, the Himalayas, Europe and North America, maples are easy to care for. Because they have shallow root systems, they need to be watered regularly, but otherwise, they aren't greedy. A little organic fertilizer in spring and a bit of compost improves the soil and keeps roots from drying out. Pests and disease rarely bother maples, although sometimes branches die back due to verticillium wilt. If this happens, cut out the affected parts and hope the rest of the tree thrives, which it usually does.
Do as little pruning as possible. Remove dead wood, and in winter when the leaves are gone so you can see what you're doing, you might shape a bit or thin to reveal the trunk. It's best to plant the tree where you can let it grow into its natural, shapely silhouette.
If hardy geraniums are the little black dresses of the garden, then maples are more like T-shirts adaptable to any occasion, location or mood. Vine maples (A. circinatum) are narrow trees tolerant of nearly any sun, shade or soil conditions. Many of the Japanese maples flow dramatically down rockeries or alongside streams, and the towering Norway maple creates a majestic canopy.
There are enough maple possibilities to fill a book, and a gallery of color photos is needed to do justice to their beauty, so check out the new "Maples" by Rosemary Barrett (Firefly Books, $16.95) and the updated classic, "Japanese Maples," by J.D. Vertrees (Timber Press, $49.95).
Now is the time to view maples at the height of their color at the Washington Park Arboretum's Japanese garden and at Kubota Garden in South Seattle.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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