Of the deciduous species which make good bonsai Maples (Acer Sp) (it means shining) are the stars. They are hardy, easy to train an care for and stunning to look at even when not in leaf.
There are two maple species commercially used, Acer Buergeranium (Trident maple) and Acer Palmatum (Japanese Maple ). The Japanese maple has several cultivars some of which have beautiful,(there's no other word which fits the bill) spring foliage.
A 'Deshojo' Japanese maple, in spring colour
Maples respond well to leaf trimming and this helps to create a fine branch structure.
All Maples are easy to root from cuttings, or indeed layerings. The roots of red leafed Maples are however weak and the tree will die if the roots have the slightest problem, that's why most red leafed Maples are grafted onto 'normal' rootstocks.
Hormone rooting powders/gels will speed up the process, but are not essential and a softwood cutting, in a good gritty compost, will root in two to three weeks if taken in early summer.
Layerings depend upon the thickness of the wood, but generally can be sperated (depending on the root volume) in a couple of months, remembering to remove enough of the top of the tree to bring it into balance.
The roots of younger trees are more susceptible to frost in their first couple of years and will need winter protection, a garage or greenhouse will do although I dig my pots into the ground over winter and that seems to work.
The Spring foliage of maples is likely to suffer if the tree is placed in a windy location. The tips of the opening leaves are prone to dry out.
Summer also has it's problems. Maples should not be placed in full sun all day, morning sun is best but the hot afternoon sun will put the tree and your ability to water it adequately, to the test.
Acer Campestre the field maple. (Autumn)
Watch out for
The Red leafed cultivars of the Japanese maple (Acer Palmatum), are usually grafted onto normal (green leafed) rootstock, as they don't do well on their own roots. If you are buying a tree from a garden centre to convert into a bonsai, take a good look at the condition of the graft when purchasing the tree.
In The UK we have two 'native' maples, the Field Maple Acer Campestre and the Sycamore Acer Psudoplatanus, the Field Maple makes a very good bonsai, having small leaves and good colour, the Sycamore does not!.
Even young Maples will flower and while they can look attractive, any attempt to flower and fruit will stress the tree, you're better off removing them.
In case you thought I was joking about the illustration at the top of the page, I thought I'd include this.
© Allen. C. Roffey 06:11 08/04/99