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How to Make Maple Seed Messes Easier to Manage

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Wondering how to clean up maple seeds?

Those maple seed helicopters are no fun to clean up. But, maples are gorgeous trees worth growing. And, no, spraying your trees won’t help you clean up those maple seed messes.  So, what can you do to make cleaning up those pods easier?

First, where do you need to clean up those maple seeds?

Learn how to clean up maple seeds & love these beautiful trees!If your maple seeds have fallen on a patio or deck, you may be able to simply rake or sweep them. But, if your maple is dropping seeds in a pond, you may need to get out a pond vacuum. And if they’re dropping on a driveway or other concrete surface, you may be able to slurp up your maple seed messes with a shop vacuum.

However, if your tree is dropping seeds in a gravel path, that’s going to be extra challenging. This is because those little helicopters will wedge themselves into the gravel and become nearly impossible to take out. Except, it might work if you’re willing to hand pluck every single little pod.

But who wants to clean up maple seeds that way?

Let’s assume you need to clean them out of a garden bed…

When maple seeds fall in your garden beds or your mulch, you have a few options:

In the first place, you could just let them stay put. That’s because most of them will fail to germinate. And those will become organic material to feed your soil.

But some will sprout. So, you’ll need to be prepared to hand pull those later. Or, better yet, dig them up to transplant somewhere in your garden!

How to stop maple samara messes before they’re hard to clean up…

Another option would be to preemptively clean up maple seeds by catching them. This requires knowing when your maple will shed its helicopters. And timing will vary, so watch your trees.

To avoid maple seed messes before they’re a big problem try this:

Just before shedding time, drape an old sheet under the trees. This will help you catch the flying ‘copters before they embed themselves into your garden.  Or you could use a tarp, but a sheet will allow moisture and light to reach your garden better. Moreover, it may be much easier to work with.

Also, be sure to weigh down your sheets so they don’t blow away. Finally, as soon as possible, gather up the sheet so plants underneath don’t suffer. In fact, you may want to gather up the samara-filled sheets more than once during the seeding season to empty them out. That way you aren’t as likely to have some of those samaras (maple helicopters) blow off the sheets and into your garden anyway.

Finally, dispose of those seeds somewhere besides your compost heap, unless you want them to germinate into trees to transplant later.

Need help with other maple gardening challenges?

Before you try pruning your maple, check out this article for tips to transform it into a specimen.

And, when you prune your maple, does it bleed? Learn more about this pruning phenomenon in this article.

Finally, if you need more help learning to care for maples and other trees, join our online gardening classes and sign up for our in-person events now. When you join our programs, we’ll help you learn lots of ways to make your garden gorgeous, productive, healthy, and easier to care for as well!

17 comments on “How to Make Maple Seed Messes Easier to Manage

  1. mark major on

    I was told that the tree could be sprayed at the correct time to “trick” it into not seeding. The tree is too big to move. (it was there first) The pool is a small in the groud Figerglass and I am told that Maple trees and pools don’t mix. It’s a 30×70 ft area i need to cover. Thanks for your service

  2. Katy on

    Speaking from a certified arborist point of view (not a spray applicator), I’m not sure that there is a spray that you’d use to reduce seed production, or that that would even be the best practice for your tree. If you indeed follow garden mentor’s suggestions about contacting a consulting arborist for a professional opinion, ask them about pruning options too. If your tree is in good condition, you may be able to reduce some foliage by window pruning or thinning to reduce the amount of seed bearing branches.

    Also, the last few years here in the northwest have been unusually high seed producing years for our Big Leaf maples … we’ve been hoping that the deer are going to help mow those down here on Bainbridge.

    Good luck!

  3. rhaglund on

    Katy…I’m not advocating this, but I’m wondering if the “spray” Mark was told about might be a growth inhibitor. I don’t know how this would work on seed production or when spraying would have to happen or what long term effects might be, but after sleeping on it, that’s my one guess. (And, I still don’t think its a good idea!)

  4. Katy on

    Yes, well, growth inhibitors only work for two to three years (so I’ve heard) and need to be repeated. Pruning every year (if a reasonable option) would probably be just as effective, eliminate the need for spraying or injecting a chemical while avoiding trying to fight the battle with genetics (you won’t win). Mark?

  5. rhaglund on

    Katy…do you know why the growth inhibitors only work for 3 years? Do the plants outsmart them or just get so inhibited that they stop growing altogether? I’m not interested in using inhibitors but just curious.

  6. Donna Ngai on

    My neighbor’s tree is filling my yard, my pool, my deck, my rock garden , my side garden & my front porch with thousands of dry, brown polynoses, or Samaras. Would trimming the tree annually keep it in better condition?

  7. Kim on

    Would it hurt the tree if we were to take about 10 to 15 feet off the top of the tree? It shades the pool too much now.

  8. Garden Mentors on

    Kim, we never advocate topping a tree. You may be able to remove some interior branches to let in more sunlight. However, you may want to bring in a certified arborist or other certified gardening expert near you before you do any pruning. Remember: once you cut something off a tree, you can’t put it back on! Good luck!

  9. Jo Ann Morello on

    As a 74 year old senior it is backbreaking by hand bent over picking up literally thousands of helicopters over the season from my 30 year old Norway Maple. The city prohibits taking it down even though it is is my backyard.

    Is anyone able to recommend a hand held vacuum that I could use to deal with this chronic issue for the whole summer? I purchased a Black & Decker blower/mulcher but it is clunky, very heavy and poor design for catcher bag which requires wrestling with a sliding bar to empty the refuse. Any suggestions are very much appreciated.

  10. Garden Mentors on

    Jo Ann, Thanks for writing in. Sorry to hear you’re struggling with your maple seeds and the tools you purchased to deal with them. Site unseen, it’s difficult to suggest specific tools for a specific situation. Since you’ve already tried one tool that isn’t right for you, it might be worth visiting your local hardware store to try out various tools on site before you purchase something else. Again, not knowing what the area is that you’re cleaning up, you might look at a small shopvac. Sometimes they can slurp up messes like these fairly easily. But that depends on your access, terrain, and more. Good luck!

  11. Mary smith on

    The maple that creates misery for me belongs to my neighbor who is most definitely not a yard person. Fifty years ago it was planted near the property line so most of the seeds fall in my yard. I recently bought a Ryobi lawn vac to deal with the maple tree seeds. Very poor results, it is not ergonomic, is heavy, generally just useless. I have tried my shop vac and it works moderately well with the exception of a clogged hose every 10 minutes or so. Walking hunched over for hours to suck up the seeds is less than ideal but it works. I stretch the hose out and run a broom handle down both ends to clear the hose when it clogs. Removing the filter from the vac is necessary; it creates a barrier to the seeds falling into the vacuum. Even raking is not effective because the majority of the seeds go right through the tines. Blowers don’t really work when there are thousands of them standing up in the lawn. Mother Nature is determined to make sure those seeds have a chance to sprout! Lesson: never plant a silver maple.

  12. Joyce Beamer on

    Serious I have two maples and wow what a tedious job that is. I use one of those long handle collection bin that’s plastic has wheels on bottom and rake with a small width rake when on grass and sweep into it and empty with a broom when on concrete. The bin I use is about 12″ across and maybe 12″ depth. Has a 3ft pole handle. Brandname is Rubbermaid commercial. Very slick tool for this horrible job every year. Love my maples, hate those seeds!

  13. Ellen Harbaugh on

    We purchased two autumn blaze, maple’s, probably 20 years ago we were promised by the landscape store that they would not produce helicopters. Well, three years later that didn’t hold true we called her and of course she said that the tree thinks it’s dying so it’s reproducing and you have to water your trees. She said I was not the first one to call this year on the helicopters in the autumn blaze maple‘s.
    Well, this year 2023 we did not get the helicopters any other maples trees in the neighborhoods did, and my only conclusion is last year. My husband thinned out the trees and actually the tree in the backyard a big branch broke due to a storm. My thinking is because of the big branch, breaking and thinning out of the trees helped with not getting the helicopters this year.

  14. Garden Mentors on

    Ellen, Thanks for sharing your story. Our understanding about ‘Autumn Blaze’ maples is that as hybrid crosses, they are considered sterile (meaning they cannot reproduce themselves from seed). However, being sterile does not mean they won’t produce seeds (aka maple helicopters). They may be intermittent in their seed production (as you have shared from your experience).

    Too, these trees are known to be weak wooded & to break often (as you have apparently learned). Losing some branches may have reduced the helicopters. However, if the plant is stressed, it may be more likely to produce more seeds. When plants are stressed or think they may die, they often produce lots of seeds to try to replicate themselves. Too, trees may have years where they produce a lot of seeds and other years where they produce fewer. And so it goes.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  15. John F Friel on

    Is there a pre-emergent that I can put down to prevent germination of the seeds?
    The 60-70ft maple is in my neighbors yard right next to the fence so I get thousands of these in An area I just cleared of weeds and overgrowth and now I have sapling coming up all over the place.
    Using a Vinegar mixture on the saplings this year, but is there something better for next year?

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