Sugar Maple Bonsai | Growing & Care Guide

When looking for a plant to grow into a bonsai, you would naturally look for one that is appealing but offers more. Changing the colors of foliage during the seasons is one extra perk that would make this plant a great bonsai. 

Growing a sugar maple bonsai will require the following:

  • Porous soil embedded with hummus
  • Medium watering and tolerance to various humidity
  • Direct morning sunlight and partial sun in the afternoon
  • Temperature below 90℉ 
  • Regular fertilizing with granular and liquid fertilizers 

If you think you are ready to grow a sugar maple bonsai, go ahead and read on to get all the starting points you need to succeed! 

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What Is A Bonsai?

The art of bonsai first originated in China, a thousand years ago when trees were grown in earthenware trays. But, it was the Japanese who perfected the art and further developed it. 

Using techniques such as pruning, shaping with wire, and trimming the tree is kept small and made to replicate normal-sized trees. 

Sugar Maple Tree

The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is a large tree in the soapberry family. It is widely grown as an ornamental or shade tree and is native to North America. The sugar maple tree is of commercial interest as it is a source of maple syrup, maple sugar, and lumber. 

Hardwood lumber is good for furniture and wooden flooring. The maple tree itself is an attractive tree that grows to a height of 40 meters. But, the best part of this tree is that in the fall the leaves turn to various shades from gold to maroon. 

And that is just one of the reasons that makes it a wonderful bonsai subject! 

Other Names For The Sugar Maple 

Other names sugar maple is known as:

  • American Maple
  • American Maple Bonsai
  • Canadian Maple
  • Canadian Maple Bonsai
  • Maple Bonsai
  • Sugar Maple Bonsai Tree
  • Sweet Maple

How To Grow Your Own Sugar Maple Bonsai From Seed?

If you want to grow your own sugar maple bonsai from seed you can, it’s just that it will take longer to grow and shape into a bonsai. However, we will walk you through the procedure step by step.

  1. Firstly, obtain the seeds (they must be fresh)
  2. Soak the seeds in water that is at room temperature for 48 hours. This softens the exterior skin so they can germinate
  3. Get a planter ready with media to germinate the seeds, make holes and put a seed in each hole. Cover with soil  
  4. Spray the media with water then cover the planter with plastic film
  5. Place the planter in a cool place to germinate, temperatures from 33℉ to 46℉ are needed 
  6. The seeds need 90 days to germinate. Check on them weekly
  7. Once germination has taken place, remove the plastic lining and place in a warm environment. Allow the seedlings to receive indirect light 
  8. Also, ensure you keep the soil moist at all times
  9. Once the seedlings are bigger you can transfer them into individual pots, where they will grow their first sugar maple leaves
  10. You should place them in such a spot that they receive morning sun and afternoon shade 
  11. Monitor water needs. Only provide water when the top 1 inch of soil is dry
  12. Do not keep the soil soggy once the plant is larger
  13. Once the plant is growing, use wire to induce growth of the trunk in the shape you desire. This can take years to successfully pull off!

Requirements For Growing Your Sugar Maple Bonsai 

Now that you know the steps that go into growing your sugar maple bonsai, you need the finer details about the conditions in which a sugar maple will thrive. 

1. Location: Outdoors or Indoors

As most of the sugar maple bonsai tend to be larger than the average bonsai (even in their bonsai form) they are kept outdoors. Sugar maples do not mind the cold which is an advantage. In extreme cold, you may have to find a way to shelter the bonsai or bring it indoors.

2. Soil

In the initial growth phases, a well-draining soil amended with much organic matter like hummus is preferable. However, as the plant progresses into a tree, it becomes tolerant to varying soil types. 

Apart from the requirements of well-draining soil, sugar maple bonsai must be loose. Thus it will allow good water retention as well as good aeration. Several ingredients for the soil will be able to accommodate air pockets to provide airflow to the roots as well as micro bacteria.

Sugar maple bonsai plants are tolerant of loam and loose clay soils. However, strict requirements are organic materials and loose soil that is not compacted! You can always add more hummus to the soil if you feel your bonsai is not adapting well to it.  

The most common soil mixes for bonsai are pumice, Akadama, lava rock, fine gravel, and organic potting compost. Ideally, your potting mix should be pH neutral, a pH between 6.5 and 7.5 is ideal. 

3. Watering Routine 

Water your bonsai when needed only. Watering habits depend on whether the plant is indoors or outside. The humidity and season all play a part in how much water you give the plant. However, during the growing season, you should water every day.

If your bonsai is outside, water in the morning so that it has time to soak up the water and not spend the night with soggy soil. Additionally, take care to not get the leaves wet as it will cause scorching. 

4. Light Requirements

Too much direct light will burn the bonsai leaves, morning direct sun and partial sun in the afternoon will be ideal. While in direct sun during summer, ensure your bonsai is getting an extra fill of water. 

Location is key as it can make the difference between your bonsai living or dying due to sunburn! So, carefully observe your indoor and outdoor spots to ensure that the plant is receiving the right amount of sunlight for the right amount of time.  

5. Humidity

Although the sugar maple, like other maple trees, is tolerant of a wide range of conditions, it does not take kindly to high or low humidity. In this case, having the bonsai indoors, you will be better equipped in controlling the humidity, rather than having it outdoors.

In the end, if your home is too dry, a humidifier can easily solve that problem. 

6. Temperature

As we have mentioned previously the sugar maple bonsai does not like warm temperatures, and prefers the cold. Temperatures above 90℉ are harmful to your bonsai. The trick is to keep it hydrated and shaded.

Sugar maples do not like the heat, and they only go into dormancy at temperatures below 32℉.

7. Fertilizer

Bonsai trees need to be fertilized as they do not have enough room or soil to get oxygen or nutrients from the soil. Therefore, you need to supplement with nutrients to make up for the lack of nutrients they would otherwise get from the soil.

There are two main types of fertilizers that are used for bonsai, liquid fertilizers, and granular fertilizers.

While liquid fertilizers are fast acting they have the disadvantage that you need to apply them quite often. Also, every time you water your bonsai you are washing away nutrients.

Granular fertilizers are easy to control as can be seen. Most bonsai gardeners use both liquid and granular forms of fertilizer.

8. Pruning

Pruning and shaping a bonsai tree is a skill that can take professionals years or even decades to master! It requires special tools and attention to detail, not to mention in-depth knowledge as to how plants grow. Here is a list of the basic tools needed to get you started.

  • Pruning Shears- This is one of the first tools you should buy. As your tree grows long unwanted shoots, you will have to cut them. Pruning shears can get into places that a pair of scissors cannot.
  • Concave cutters- This cutter is razor sharp and can cut branches flush to the trunk making healing fast and with little scarring. 
  • Knob Cutter- This is another handy tool to have. The blades of this cutter are shaped like two halves of a sphere. This shape allows the cutter to bite into the wood firmly and it allows you to remove a lot of wood quickly.
  • Root Hook- This is a tool used to comb out and straighten the roots.
  • Root Rake- A root rake is very efficient when it comes to removing the soil around the bonsai roots for aeration and weeding.

There are still many other tools needed for bonsai. We have just named a few! 

9. Diseases

When growing plants and molding them into bonsai, diseases are something to be aware of as they are not immune to them. If anything, they may be more at risk if you do not take care of them properly. 


This disease is actually a fungal disease that affects the leaves and stems of the sugar maple bonsai. Signs and symptoms of this disease are light browns, tan, and darker brown spots on the underside of leaves. 

Since anthracnose occurs mostly during spring, you are better off letting the bonsai dry and avoiding overly wet or moist conditions during this time. 

10. Pests

Bonsai aren’t immune to pests either! Just like full-grown trees, pests are bound to find them and do considerable damage if they are not dealt with. But, it is best to dissuade them altogether.


These minute insects may seem harmless. However when present in swarms that can easily reach hundreds! Hundreds of aphids trying to suck the sap from your bonsai can spell disaster. The plant will not grow and start to diminish. 

Plus, don’t forget that aphids emit a substance called honeydew, attracting ants. They will form a commensal relationship and the ants will want to keep the aphids around as a food source. So, getting rid of one gets rid of the other as well. Neem oil or horticultural oil is the best treatment and prevention plan for bonsai. 


These insects can bore a hollow cavity into the woody stem of your bonsai, producing ill effects as well as compromising the structural stability of your bonsai. Signs and symptoms of borers are droopy leaves and falling foliage as well as drought. 

Treat your bonsai stem with a spray of Carbaryl, or else any other systemic pesticide chemical. 

Scale Bugs 

Again not being very large, scale insects are common for sucking sap from your bonsai. Signs and symptoms are yellowing of foliage before the imminent death of the plant. 

If you notice these insects and do not want the overall health of your bonsai to diminish, an application of Neem oil or insecticidal soap is the best prognosis. 

Slugs and Snails

You cannot rule out the presence of slugs and snails on your bonsai. You would want to avoid these pests since they can devour all the leaves on your bonsai in just one night! 

Keep slugs and snails away from your bonsai by using chemical or pellet-based bait. Or you can even pick them off your bonsai at night when these insects are most active.

11. Other Problems

Here are some other problems you will have to deal with if you are growing a sugar maple bonsai. 


Cankers are portions of dead bark that are usually the effects of a bacterial or fungal infection or growth defect. If possible, you are better off removing these portions from your bonsai once they run their course. 

Proper pruning techniques can ensure your bonsai does not have vulnerable points of entry for bacteria to enter. 


Bonsai are among the most popular indoor plants that can add appeal to any dull room, even if they don’t flower. But, these plants are costly to buy and you are better off making one on your own if you have time and patience! 

To compensate for the lack of flowers, a sugar maple bonsai will change its foliage with the seasons. 

To grow a sugar maple bonsai you need well-draining soil with lots of humus, moderate watering, temperatures below 90℉, direct sun in the morning and indirect afternoon sun, constant checking for pests, and regular fertilizer.

Also read: 14 Types Of Indoor Ivy Plants That Can Beautify Your Home


Will my sugar maple bonsai remain small?

All plants grown with the intention of making a bonsai will remain so if pruned and trained that way. So, it will remain small to keep the plant pruned and trained well with the right tools and practices.