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Maple Tree "Helicopters"
Answered by Tom Mugridge

Q: We are loaded with those "helicopters" from the tress this year. Why? Any advice on cleanup? My granddaughter wants to plant a tree - how should she proceed? Thanks

A: Many silver maples have produced an extra-heavy crop of seeds this year, most likely due to the extra stress of last year's drought followed by a long cold winter followed by a dry April. It seems that dry springs tend to produce this effect more often than wet springs.

This is all a reaction to environmental conditions. In response to conditions that threaten them, they produce extra seeds to proliferate their species. They do this to their own detriment, though, because they're using energy to produce seeds that would otherwise go to leaf and twig growth.

Thus, their leaves develop more slowly and tend to be smaller for the year, giving them a sparse appearance.

Plus, the helicopters turn brown up in the tree, and this causes alarm because everyone thinks it's the leaves turning brown, but it's not.

The only thing to do is to water thoroughly during any dry spells (a dry spell is when we go for more than 7-10 days without 1-2" of rainfall). Liquid fertilization can help the tree replace spent energy.

During the growing season, I would use a lower rate than normal just to try to give the tree a bit of a "boost", then give it a regular-rate fertilization in fall, and repeat annually.

As for cleaning up, you're stuck with using rakes, brooms and leaf-blowers. They're definitely easier to clean up when it's dry, so I'd go for it when conditions are good.

You especially want to keep your gutters clean -- plugged gutters mean big trouble!

You can grow a new maple easily by simply placing helicopters in the soil. There's no need to open them up -- they do fine by themselves, as Nature intended.

If you want to be sure to grow new maples, plant a lot of helicopters, as not all of them will sprout. You might start by potting several, then choosing the ones that develop the best to plant later.

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Tom Mugridge

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