Fairy Dragon dwarf Shantung.  Acer truncatum, Shantung or Shandong maple.
Happy Dragon dwarf Shantung maple.  Acer truncatum or Shandong maple.
Flower God dwarf Shantung maple.  Acer truncatum or Shandong maple.

February 2018 potting of the Dragons.  Left to right - Fairy Dragon, Happy Dragon, and Flower God original trees, and a large trunk of Baby Dragon finally going into a custom made green bonsai pot (my favorite color and it will look nice with the dwarf yellow-green flowers).  I am now using akadama, a near neutral pH clay from Japan with excellent particle size with good water and nutrient holding capacity.  Akadama is further mixed with similar size particles of pumice and black sand.  This is the bonsai soil used by bonsai experts in Japan for maples.  Lots of root work with pruners, saws, and water to wash off all the old soil in some cases.  The first two are mostly natural unpruned shapes.

Baby Dragon patented dwarf Shantung maple.  Acer truncatum or Shandong maple.
Micro Dragon dwarf Shantung maple.  Acer truncatum or Shandong maple.
Dancing Dragon dwarf Shantung maple.  Acer truncatum or Shandong maple.
Pure Fun dwarf Shantung maple.  Acer truncatum or Shandong maple.
Dizzy Dragon dwarf Shantung maple.  Acer truncatum or Shandong maple.

Wiring trunks and branches with Shantung dwarf’s flexible wood on original Micro Dragon (left).  The mostly natural shape of the original Dancing Dragon born in the first batch of dwarfs in 2010 (center left).  The 2013 first graft of the first dwarf discovery shows no graft scar and has great bark and a shape just like mother Fire Dragon.  It is now in a bonsai pot and all the branches were removed to get new smaller ones (center right).  New ones like this 3 year old dwarf seedling that is not from Fire Dragon are put into the bonsai program.  Dizzy Dragon (right) got its name from falling off a table in its first year slowing its growth but it is a fast grower.  In this small pot it should slow down and the best bonsai long term and grown carefully and slowly.  I’ve noticed some of the trees are developing horrible roots for bonsai and that is probably from my impatient use of excessive fertilizer, water, and Superthrive.

Acer truncatum White Dragon, Shantung maple dwarf with exceptional fall colors discovered at Metro Maples.
Acer truncatum White Dragon Shantung maple.

White Dragon on 12/13/17  a glowing pink in sunrise light.  It could be due to a thinner leaf with a waxy cuticle covering.     One year graft is upright and branched at every internode.  By now I have run out of good names but there is history in ancient Welch mythology and England using White Dragon flags.  The petioles turn white in fall also (see inset).

Happy Dragon Shantung maple, dwarf, suited for bonsai.  Excellent Shandong maple.  A. truncatum.

Dwarf Shandong graft of ‘Happy Dragon’ on December 3, 2017.  Metro Maples will propagate more of this for bonsai.  Grafts grow much faster than the original seedling but still not big for 3 years.  Later it will be air-layered for bonsai.

Happy Dragon Shantung, or Shandong maple.  These truncatum will make great bonsai or dwarf maples in the landscape.

Close-up of ‘Happy Dragon’ dwarf Shandong maple graft on December 3, 2017.  Red as my coffee cup.  The normally thumbnail size leaves are larger on grafted ones, especially the summer growth leaves as shown.

Acer truncatum Flower God.  Dwarf Shandong maple.  A good Shantung for garden, patio, or bonsai.
Flower God dwarf truncatum, a favorite Shantung Shandong maple.  Acer truncatum Flower God.  Dwarf Shandong maple.  A good Shantung for garden, patio, or bonsai.

‘Flower God’ dwarf Shandong maple on December 3, 2017.  This is a summer cutting left to grow with its own shape and is 3 1/2 years old.  It received 2 TBS Osmocote , some Calcium nitrate, and in summer a little gypsum and 20-20-20 all purpose.  This is protected from the one hard December freeze we had and then fall colors last a full month.

Acer truncatum Flower God.  Dwarf Shantung maple from Fire Dragon Shandong.

Why do some of the small leaves of Flower God turn mixed colors instead of all red.  Usually the smallest leaves are found in the lower interior from early spring and summer growth leaves are larger.   I’ve got 6 theories so far and have been able to eliminate some of them, but nothing explains it perfectly yet.  It is most likely a combination of the size of the leaf containing less energy and the wild up and down  fall temperatures in north Texas making them turn fall color too soon.

Happy Dragon Shandong maple.  A dwarf A. truncatum, Shantung maple.
Happy Dragon Shandong maple.  A dwarf A. truncatum, Shantung maple.

Original ‘Happy Dragon’ on November 15, 2017 at 8 years old.  I like what I see 50 years from now as a bonsai.

Some ‘Baby Dragon’ TM pictures from 2017 and is a nice cascade at 8 years.  Use the arrows to scroll thru.

Acer truncatum Sweet Spot Shantung maple, or Shandong maple.
Acer truncatum Sweet Spot Shantung maple, or Shandong maple.
Acer truncatum Sweet Spot Shantung maple, or Shandong maple.

‘Sweet Spot’ Shandong maple is awesome on November 30, 2017 when I visit Metro Maples.  15 feet tall and wide after 20 years.  Unfortunately the spots have not been reproduced on grafted trees.  Collected some Fire Dragon seeds too.

Acer truncatum Baby Dragon TM dwarf Shantung, or Shandong maple.

Dwarf Acer truncatum ‘Baby Dragon’ TM Shandong, or Shantung maple is making an excellent cascade bonsai.  Eight years old here on November 11, 2017.  It colored up early this year.  It does take some effort to get the lower branches to grow as the top gets more sun.  Keep the top branches from growing by pruning  and it will work out just fine.  Use bonsai wire to shape the branches where you want them.  It is a vigorous dwarf.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon.  Shantung maple with red fall color.  Great shape on this Shandong maple too.

Mother ‘Fire Dragon’ on November 30, 2017 at Metro Maples.  Around 33 feet tall.  The caliper at 1 foot above ground is over 13 inches now.  A seedling in 1999, the red is noticed right away among hundreds of other yellow Shantung maples.  First grafts in 2002 and sales began in 2006 after the patent approval and with thousands already in inventory.

Flower God dwarf Acer truncatum.  This Shantung maple in bonsai training.
Flower God dwarf Acer truncatum.  Emerging leaves on this Shantung maple in bonsai training.
Flower God dwarf Acer truncatum summer growth on this Shantung maple.
Acer truncatum Flower God dwarf Shantung maple mock up of bonsai goal.

Flower God dwarf Shantung in bonsai training.  Fall, first leaves in spring , summer, and a mock up of the final goal.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon, Shandong or Shantung maple.

Mother Fire Dragon TM at Metro Maples on September 16, 2017.  Trunk is over 13 inches in diameter now.

Acer truncatum Flower God, a dwarf Shandong maple.  This Shantung maple is in bonsai training.

Flower God dwarf in bonsai training with new pink growth on June 16, 2017.

Acer truncatum Super Dragon Shandong maple.  Shape and colors of this Shantung maple.

Super Dragon TM on May 8th at Metro Maples showing it’s natural fountain shape and leaf color.

Acer truncatum Baby Dragon TM.  Dwarf Shandong, or Shantung maple, heat and cold tolerant.  Great for bonsai too.

A 5 year Baby Dragon graft in July, spreading and slightly weeping from dense leaves growing on thin branches.

Acer truncatum, Shandong or Shantung in bonsai training.  A dwarf, 5 years old.

A dwarf Shandong in 2017 in bonsai training.  5 years old, 1 1/2” caliper trunk.  This shape resembles Fire Dragon.

Acer truncatum, Shandong or Shantung in bonsai training.  A dwarf, 14 years old.
Acer truncatum, Shandong or Shantung in bonsai training.  A miniature, smaller than dwarf, 7 years old.
Acer truncatum, Shandong or Shantung in bonsai training.  A dwarf, 7 years old.
Acer truncatum, Shandong or Shantung in bonsai training.  A dwarf, 7 years old.

Retirement plan is to create dwarfs as bonsai. TARP Dragon, Happy Dragon, Pure Fun, and Fairy Dragon.

Acer truncatum dwarf Baby Dragon TM Shantung maple bonsai.

A good maple trunk for bonsai is a tapered trunk.  Maples will have trunks with the thickness about the same from bottom to top unless it goes through a period of trunk chopping.  This Baby Dragon was started in year 2010 and grown in the ground until November 2015 when it had a 4-5” base at the soil line and then chopped and potted in this large growing pot.  The middle left trunk, where you see some grey cut paste, is almost healed up 2 years later but on July 8, 2017 I noticed the new top was getting too large and about to lose the taper so I decide I must make the second trunk chop.  Behind you see the 6 foot of tree that was cut off.  It isn’t the best time to do this but it is a Baby Dragon and they will do most anything you tell them to do.  Early June or February are better times to trunk chop.  Japanese bonsai masters don’t like maples trunk chopped as it leaves a tiny scar but with truncatum’s thicker bark that may not be the case.

Acer truncatum, Shantung maples abound in the Dragon Lair.  Dwarf Shandong maple for bonsai.

Retirement from Metro Maples , Dec. 31, 2016 and back home.  Time to rethink my life and goals.  I bring home 225 small trees in an effort to finish some Shantung maple testing, to try and get some 3rd generation seeds, to create or refine some Shantung maple bonsai, to introduce the bonsai world to dwarf Shantung, and to make my backyard full of maples with awesome beauty to prove the worthiness of my treasures.  Above are some brought home to this sunny area called The Dragon Lair.  It should be no less adventurous and thrilling than before.

Fire Dragon Shantung maple and siblings of all sizes.  Acer truncatum.  Maple.

Late 2015 and my work at Metro Maples is almost over.  I plan to retire and sell the farm to Scott Hubble and it couldn’t be in more capable hands as he is a very accomplished expert after 9 years of maple farming.  The photo shows the larger Fire Dragon now in all sizes, a mid-size growing FIYA Dragon, and a dwarf Flower God.  Here is a listing of other worthy Shantung maples I have named in case anyone ever wants to grow them:  Baby Dragon and Super Dragon patented trees, Gate Dragon, the columnar Doric Dragon, Golden Dragon, Skinny Dragon, King of the Shandong, Blaine’s Dragon, Hubble’s Dragon, Sweet Spot, Deplorable Dragon, Dizzy Dragon, Bride of Dragon, Son of Dragon, Happy Dragon, Dragnado, Micro Dragon, Nano Dragon, TARP Dragon, Green Dragon, The 2nd Coming, Pure Fun, Fairy Dragon, White Dragon, Dancing Dragon, FDBD#8, Eye of the Dragon,  Witches Dragon, Orange Dragon, Neglected Dragon, FDBD2015#1, FDBD2015#2, and Sugar Dragon.  36 beautiful survivors.

Acer truncatum, Baby Dragon Shantung maple flowers.  Shandong maple dwarf.

February 2015 and the unknown is revealed.  First flowers on a dwarf Shantung maple and they are very small.  Peter Gregory calls them the smallest maple flowers he has seen.  I think they are gorgeous flowers too.  These occurred on a high graft Baby Dragon that is grafted two years earlier on a dozen branches on a 10 gallon seedling Shantung.  I did not know if the dwarfs would ever bloom or what they would look like and am completely overwhelmed with the flowers.  Now if only I can get some seeds and get some 3rd generation maples.  The US Patent Office is finally reviewing my patent application that is filed a year and a half ago, but I do get to add the flower descriptions.  The patent is approved after 2 years from the filing date.

Acer truncatum Flower God, dwarf Shantung maple in fall color.  Metro Maples has discovered many dwarf Shantung.  Bonsai use.

Flower God dwarf Shandong maple in December 2014.    It has great potential for garden and bonsai use.  Dense hard yet flexible wood, small leaves, great bark, small flowers, hardy, heat tolerant and vigorous.  I believe that heat stress is a factor in producing the many new dwarfs, along with inbreeding.  After the many years of struggling to grow hundreds of thousands of maples in containers in all kinds of harsh weather, I’ve come to realize, and you can quote me on this, that “the weather is always perfect.”

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon Shantung blooms at Metro Maples.  Shandong maple blooms before the leaves.
Acer truncatum Fire Dragon Shantung blooms at Metro Maples.  Shandong maple blooms before the leaves.

Blooms on Fire Dragon TM at Metro Maples, early spring before the leaves in 2014.

Acer trunctum Super Dragon at Metro Maples, May 2013. A bright yellow leaf Shantung, or Shandong maple.

Super Dragon TM growing at Metro Maples in May 2013.  It maintains bright yellow leaves all year.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon Shantung maple in Nov. 2013.  Fall colors are great on Shandong maples.

Fire Dragon at Metro Maples in a 300 gallon container in 2013.

Unloading maples and admiring Shantung maples at Metro Maples, Fort Worth, TX.

My good friend, Rene Rodgers, doesn’t even looked tired after helping Scott and I unload 20 tons of maples in March 2013.  His Fire Dragon is a very nice red in the alkaline clay in Mansfield, Texas on December 12, 2016.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon in Mansfield, Texas.  This patented Shantung maple photo from 2016.
Acer truncatum Fire Dragon.  This Shantung maple sold at Munn's Nursery, Brooks, Or.

Oregon grown Fire Dragon TM at Munn’s Nursery, Brooks, OR.  It sells fast even among his 55 acres of Japanese maples.

Acer truncatum and Fire Dragon Shantung maple in Nov. 2013 at Metro Maples.

November 18, 2013 and both ‘Fire Dragon’ TM and a yellow fall Shantung called ‘Gate Dragon' are spectacular.  Gate Dragon is picked out from other 15 gallon seedlings with a superior shape without pruning, strongest vigor, and fall color.

Acer truncatum, Shantung maple in Nov. 2013 at Metro Maples.
Acer truncatum Super Dragon Shantung maple fall color 2012.

Super Dragon Shantung on November 23, 2012 showing it’s true fall colors which is rare in Texas due to the hot fall temperatures.  Here it usually gets a little greener in early fall then turns a pastel yellow.  This year a reverse osmosis water purification system is installed and the major water issues are fixed.

Keith Johansson Shantung maple 3 star general.  Fire Dragon, Super Dragon, Baby Dragon patent owner,

After victory over the Summer From Hell with very few casualties, and filing 2 more United States Plant Patent approvals, I promote myself to a 3 Star Maple General.   I sometimes think I’m General Patton reincarnated and have his big ego to prove it.  All my life I’ve had an unusually strong determination to succeed at whatever I do but in my everyday mind my love and addiction to plants is all I see.  At Metro Maples this petal pusher really believes “it’s all about the trees”.  Ask anyone, I don’t even try hard to sell them as I’d just as well keep them.  I grow them all like they are going in my garden and price them where I don’t care if you buy them or not.

Dwarf shantung maple Eye of the Dragon and Robert Hafeskebring.

Robert Hafkesbring owns Designs In Nature with a large tree inventory and delivers and plants more of them than anybody in the Dallas Metroplex.  A good friend and business partner that loves my trees and buys every named Shantung maple I have for his beautiful new garden.  He motivates Tree Town USA into growing Fire Dragon.  Left is a 2 year old Eye of the Dragon dwarf growing like a weed in the worst clay possible.   On the right we are in front of a favorite Shantung of his while I bring him yet another maple for his yard.

Robert Hafeskebring and Keith Johansson with Shantung maple.
Acer truncatum Flower God, a dwarf Shantung maple.

A miracle in early 2012.  One of my top ten favorite new dwarfs is lifted February 17th after only 23 days as a hardwood cutting.  Lots of roots and even 6 new leaves.  None of the 5 scions off the mother plant are successful grafts and a few weeks later the mother plant is dead.  So this is the only surviving piece.  This cutting grows nearly 3 feet its first year.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  I give it the best name I can think of, Flower God.  Cecil Briley used to call me Flower God and a supreme flowering Japanese azalea I love is named Shinsen, and that translates into Flower God.  So after naming 25 trees I name one after me.

Fall color on Acer truncatum dwarfs after the 2011 record heat.  Shantung, or Shandong maple dwarfs with Fire Dragon parentage.
Fall color on Acer truncatum dwarfs after the 2011 record heat.  Shantung, or Shandong maple dwarfs with Fire Dragon parentage.

About 40 of the ‘Fire Dragon’ dwarfs die in 2011 from the record heat and/or phytotoxic spider mite spray and genetic deficiencies.  The remaining have a truly glorious fall color display that lasted into the next year.  I still have 60 to test and eventually name.  It takes extraordinary techniques to graft these dwarfs with extremely thin branches.  That’s a 2 year old branch shown above and it’s still thin and older wood doesn’t graft well.  None of the 2012 dwarf Shantung grafts take.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon survives The Summer From Hell.  Shandong, or Shantung maples can take the heat.

Fire Dragon at the end of the hottest year on record in north Texas, year 2011.  This colored up in the hot, completely dry sand without any irrigation.  Notice the dead eleven year old juniper.  All the Eastern red cedars die this year.   The trees are also attacked literally by a million spider mites and good water wells are mostly dry.  Three separate fires erupt nearby in August and the old house to the east, just across the street, is burnt down.  A large fire came within 200 feet on the north.  Scott and I went back out there about 6 pm and connected 700 feet of hoses to help the volunteer Fire Department to put out the blaze.  Average highs were 103.7 degrees with 79 days over a hundred.  Despite all these enemies it is the greatest victory for the Shandong maples as they fight and survive The Summer From Hell.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragons in the gardens at Metro Maples 2010.  Shandong, or Shantung maples are great maple trees.

A fall garden of Mother Fire Dragon TM and a 2003 graft leaning out over the koi pond in year 2010.  A whole book could be written about water issues at Metro Maples.  The good shallows wells are producing very little for 8 years now and 4 attempts at finding new water all ended in dry holes.  The local coop water is expensive and so loaded with sodium and lime it kills Japanese maples and stunts and burns Shantung maples.  I drilled my own deep well but it was not much better.  Through a strategy of mixing wells, hand watering, and monitoring with a salt meter I somehow learn to survive the yearly droughts and record heat using only 4,000 gallons per day for 18,000 trees, many of which are large 10 gallon to 25 gallon size.  I pray and cuss often but the only message I ever receive is ‘Keith, keep going, you’re the only one that can do this.”  This also lead me into an in-depth study of plant nutrients and this knowledge with my water management skills would prepare me for the future.

First Dwarf Acer truncatum, Shandong or Shantung maples.
First Dwarf Acer truncatum, Shandong or Shantung maples.

In 2010 with ‘Baby Dragon’ already in production about 100 new dwarf Shantung seedlings are discovered.  This time the parent was ‘Fire Dragon’ and the new dwarfs inherited their mother’s fall color and came in at least 5 different growth habits.  I am resolved to study the new mystery of the dwarf Shantung maples.

Fire Dragon Shandong maple, Purpleblow maples.  Acer truncatum, Shantung maple.

Rare Texas fog in spring 2009 in the garden that is started in 2004 and now full of maples, including mother ‘Fire Dragon’ TM in the top center with a Yasemin below.  There’s also a Crimson Queen, Paperbark maple, Shindeshojo and Aratama Japanese maples in with my Japanese azalea collection.  Scott and I are challenged keeping up with the demands of growing and selling our increasingly popular trees as the financial collapse in 2008 didn’t slow us down much.  We still deal wholesale and retail and are bringing in specimens from Oregon, bare root from New Zealand, and grafting 5,000 of our own each year.  There are over 18,000 maples and  azaleas in production in hundreds of varieties.  I grew many different species from natives to ground covers to azaleas from the beginning but in 2008 it changes to all maples.

Acer truncatum, Shantung maples dug and potted in the August heat at Metro Maples in 2008.  Shandong maple is indestructible.  Keith Johansson and Scott Hubble.

The men behind the maples, Keith Johansson (left), and Scott Hubble with a couple hundred Fire Dragon dug in August 2008 which are rooted out and ready to sell in two months.   A huge 70 mph hail storm in April tore up a lot of the long soft growth from the previous greatest growing year ever.  Hundreds of hours are used fighting a gas pipeline but won a rare victory and kept them off my property.  Customers drive hundreds of miles to come for Fire Dragons and once sold 65, mostly large ones,  on a single Saturday retail in fall.  Scott is a good worker and every customer loves him.

Fire Dragon TM Shantung maple in year 2007 with Ginkgo.  Acer truncatum Fire Dragon TM developed at Metro Maples, Fort Worth, TX, a great Shandong red maple.

‘Fire Dragon’ showing its best red in a great warm and rainy year, 2007.  2004 was also a good growing year.  The other years were all hot and dry and the trend seemed to peak in year 2011 in what looks like a 30 year cycle with other hot periods in Texas in the 1930’s, 1950’s, 1980’s, and 2000’s.  Ginkgo Autumn Gold reached peak color the following day.

Fire Dragon Shantung maple.  A red acer truncatum in Fort Worth, TX at Metro Maples.

The maple knoll in 2007 had the most beautiful Shantung ever grown.  It took an extra year or two compared to other growers that pump them up with too much nitrogen and water.  Ours are pruned with thoughtfully spaced  branches and stakes are not used so the trunks are stronger.  The roots are in the perfect sized pot for the size of the tree.    It is one of the most fun times as Scott and I drive down every week and pick up more and more good looking Fire Dragon for several years and haul them to the Shandong sales area.  Eventually the demand would outpace us and we would run out of inventory so prices go up.

Dr. Richard Olsen and Shantung at Morris Arboretum.  Acer truncatum maple at 100 years old.

In 2007 I join The Maple Society and go to the Morris Arboretum and find this 100 year old Shantung maple.  That’s Dr. Richard Olsen who works at the US Department of Agriculture.  The USDA is doing research on Shantung maple with a goal of introducing trees but the program is dropped in 2016.  I ask him why they ended the program and he tells me it is because they have me doing it.  He has 2 Fire Dragon planted at the US National Arboretum.  I met many other knowledgeable people in the Maple Society like Peter Gregory, Hugh Agnus, Talon Buchholz, Tim and Matt Nichols, Todd Laseigne, Keith Warren, Sue Weigreif, Jim Schmidt, Frank Byles and Cor van Gelderon and many more.  In 2008 I want to go to Japan and ask my wife but she doesn’t want to go.  I must go.  I sign up myself and get in big trouble and have to sleep on the couch for 6 months, but I must go.  Other Maple Society meetings take me to Holland, Westonbirt Arboretum, northern France, Atlanta, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, DC, and North Carolina.

Sue Mohr planting a Fire Dragon Shantung maple before the historic freeze.
Sue Mohr's Fire Dragon Shantung maple after the historic 2007 freeze.

My very good gardening friend, Sue Mohr, Clinton, Arkansas, received one of the first Fire Dragon in the fall of 2006.  We are in the Ozark Chapter of The American Rhododendron Society and she taught me a lot about plants.  The photo on the right is Fire Dragon in June of the following year showing zero damage after a tremendous late freeze that damaged trees from Oklahoma to North Carolina.  The freeze destroys 3 years of native and ornamental tree growth but Fire Dragon even in full leaf is undamaged.  The ultimate hardiness test.  You fall in love with trees and people like this.

Acer truncatum Baby Dragon TM Shantung maple summer growth.

High nitrogen fertilizer for Baby Dragon TM with warm temperatures makes for very bright color new growth.

Acer truncatum Baby Dragon TM Shantung maple summer growth.

Baby Dragon sits around for years in the shade for ease of maintenance but once the grafted clones are put out into the full sun with some July rain like in 2010, the striking new pink growth became quite apparent.

Acer truncatum Baby Dragon TM, a dwarf Shandong, or Shantung maple.  Small thumbnail size leaves,

‘Baby Dragon’ has thumbnail sized leaves and can take all day Texas sun but is planted in a shady spot and ignored for many years.  This photo from June 2007 shows it at 14 years old.  Propagation began in year 2009 after 3 years of rapidly increasing Fire Dragon sales.

Acer truncatum Super Dragon TM a great yellow leaf Shandong maple taking the hot sun better than any.  Another Shantung intro by Metro Maples.

Besides propagating a lot of Fire Dragon in 2007 a little plant discovered in 2005 and first named Dwarf Golden Dragon was getting attention.  Shown above in spring 2007 compared to the famous Golden Fullmoon Maple, A. shirawsawanum ‘Aureum’.  Dwarf Golden Dragon later becomes the patented Super Dragon TM.

Shantung maples, acer truncatum in production at Metro Maples.

Decemeber 2005 the 15 foot high mound named the Maple Knoll is created with a bulldozer with top soil from a pond that is dug.  It is a pot in pot system that holds 400 15 gallon Fire Dragons.  In a couple weeks I hear the space shuttle Challenger explode in the sky.  Roy Gallegos, right, is a great volunteer  Saturday salesman and also helps during a week in May when we install 4,000 spitters in this area to grow Shantung maples.  Spitters are similar to a drip system but spitters spray out water over the entire soil surface.  2005 was the start of what I call the Maple Wars because demand was rising 20% every year all across the country and growers of Japanese maples had not been propagating enough so they totally ran out of red Japanese maples.  I had several offers to sell my entire stock but turned them all down to keep a supply on hand for my loyal customers.  The year was extremely busy with retail and wholesale customers and teaching clarinet lessons.  Also a huge drought made me do a lot of hand watering to save water as the shallow wells were running dry and new drilling only produced dry holes.  A total of 15,000 trees were repotted which helped to save water and satisfy the growing demand.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon planted 2004. Shantung maple patented.  Shandong maples great trees.

Fire Dragon in year 2004 is planted and a fenced garden is started.  It is not as big as it could be because in 2002 and 2003 I cut off every twig for propagating new ones which slows down the growth.  All the twigs I could graft in 2002 is 65 trees.  In 2003 it was 400 trees but after that it is 1,000 trees or as many as I want.  Fall color was orangish-red that year but very bright.  Texas A&M University announces Shantung as one of only two trees as a Texas Superstar.  Of course I sell out quickly of seedling Shantung as I am the only one I know growing them.

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon fall color 2004 orange yellow reds.  Shantung maple patented.  Shandong maples great trees.
Carl Munn owner Munn's Nursery, Brooks, Oregon grower of Japanese nd Shantung maples.

It is an on the job learning experience  with nobody to talk to in Texas about growing maples.    All the nurseries thought I was joking when I tell them I’m growing Japanese and Shantung maples wholesale in Texas.  I did find a good friend and passionate maple farmer in Brooks, Oregon, Carl Munn (left) that had 55 acres of maples and had started ten years before me.  Sometimes we could find a moment to chat over the phone where I could pick up some grafting or growing tips and we shared stories and laughed at our difficult problems.  Even as difficult as maple farming can be neither of us would be happier doing anything else.

Shantung maple Acer truncatum Fire Dragon with precious stone bonsai.

Fire Dragon was born in 1999 the same year my mother, Dorothy Manning Johansson passed away.  My mom had a one acre Asian style garden with maples, azaleas, dogwoods, peonies, pines, etc. and an asian decorated house in Bartlesville, Oklahoma where I grew up.  Her last Christmas present to me is the precious stone bonsai, shown above.  Notice the truncated base and leaf shape and color compared to a spring Fire Dragon.  The bible I inherited dates back to the Civil War and also contains our family tree history.  The first time I open it the first line I read is “Praise the Lord and the Trees Will Sing”.  I couldn’t believe that jumped out at me at random on the first opening and began to believe that somehow my Mom is an angel behind my tree.  I also once heard my name called out from the vicinity of Fire Dragon and turned around and answered “What?”, but there is no one there.  I search the grounds but never find anyone.  Is it the voice of God and what other trees would He lead me too?

Acer truncatum Fire Dragon Shantung maple.

June 2004 and Fire Dragon first grafts from 2002.  The property is a dense mature oak forest with green briar and poison ivy everywhere.  I estimate I cut 400 miles of briar by hand.  Expenses are kept low meaning lots of back breaking long hours of work.  These and thousands of plants are hand-watered for several years before irrigation could be installed.  The only machine is a chainsaw, and is combined with shovels, wheelbarrows, and pruners.   The work week is everyday and no time off for vacation or sickness, and no time for deliveries.  If you want to buy my maples wholesale or retail, you had to come get them yourself.  I felt like a slacker after only working 360 days in a year.

Fire Dragon Shantung maple, first picture in the fall 2001.  First cultivar of Acer truncatu, Shantung maple.

Welcome to the Shandong maple blog.  I’d like to start with the first picture of the first Shandong maple cultivar, ’Fire Dragon’ TM, taken way back in the fall of 2001 at Metro Maples, Fort Worth, Texas.  I also referred to Fire Dragon as “The Tree of the Millennium”.  It is thrilling to find this special tree and it changed my life forever.  Metro Maples began in 1994 by me, Keith Johansson, an amateur gardener/plant collector and 40 years old but stronger than I’ve ever been, and a victim of corporate downsizing from a large oil company merger.    It is located just outside Kennedale and Fort Worth, Texas on the far western edge of the great American Eastern forest.  I also teach private clarinet music lessons as a source of income to pay off the loan on the land.  My first web site was built by me in year 2001 in the very early beginnings of the world wide web.  Also in 2001 retail customers are allowed after the first of many full page stories about Metro Maples appearing in both the Fort Worth and Dallas newspapers that brought in a potential of 6,000,000 new customers.  Everything is eerily quiet on 9/11 as I watch the twin towers destroyed on TV in my neighbor’s house of Jim and Emily Tripp.  They are the best neighbors ever and once owed a hardware store in Arkansas and gives freely of his knowledge and every kind of power tool.  Jim helped build the well house, garden fence, and the greenhouse and is always there as a friend and to help out.  I never would have had this land if not for him preventing the sand pits from crossing his land to dig out the sand that becomes Metro Maples.  He always thought I needed a truck and a bobcat but I had to keep expenses low and used my SAAB 9000 as a truck and unload the heavy B&B maples, many of them 200 to 300 pounds, off the 18 wheelers with my bare hands.  Fortunately, I never hurt my back or the trees.

Metro Maples west end August 2000.
Acer truncatum Neglected Dragon drought tolerant Shantung maple.

It took 2 years to find 6 acres that is close to home and affordable.  I found some land in Kennedale but the city regulations are costly and do not even apply to a wholesale tree grower.  The land I found is just outside the town in an unincorporated area and is on the market for 20 years in an estate and never sold because you couldn’t even walk in it.  It is the densest forest I’ve ever seen but you could not even see further than 15 feet.  The land is covered with mature oaks with tens of thousands of sweet briar vines clinging all the way to the top, and mature poison ivy and in some areas the stoleniferous Cornus drummondii.  It is the perfect environment for these plants with no competition in the hot and bone dry sugar sand that once was an ancient sea bed.  I cut tons of briar with my Felco pruners and pull it down wearing long sleeves even in summer to minimize the painful scratches I got every day.   It took 2 years to clear the front land for room to grow several thousand maples.  In 2000 it is the start of really hot dry summers in Texas.  The photo top left shows some oaks in August with all brown leaves after 110 days without a drop of rain.  A patch of 20 foot tall mature staghorn sumac dies along with some yucca.  I give a talk on the new global warming science to the Rhododendron Society.  The photo on the right is a Shantung several years after it sat in a 5 gallon pot through the whole summer and lived (barely) without any water.  I never find any other plant or tree, oak to cedar elm, than can survive in a pot in Texas without water so I name this one Neglected Dragon.  I root some Japanese maples this year for a love of bonsai but don’t consider any Shantung maples as their leaves are too large.

Acer truncatum Sweet Spot Shantung maple, or Shandong maple.

I feel like an Okie from John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath leaving Oklahoma in late 1989.  A finance major graduate of Tulsa University and a former financial planing and budget analyst at Cities Service Oil and Gas cannot find suitable employment so a detailed plan is made for starting a maple farm using my talent for growing plants.  The plan shows thousands of trees in inventory as it takes 3 to 5 years to grow a nice one, and it shows that it would be many years before reaching profitability.  Possibly the hardest thing I ever did is to pick up the phone to get started and order 1,000 Japanese maple small grafts, 200 Shantung maples, 200 red Japanese maple seedlings from Oregon, and 300 large bare-root Japanese maples from New Zealand.  Something inside me is telling me to make the phone call while my common sense keeps reminding me that the work is hard and the profits are low.  I have the Japanese Maples book by Vertrees and a Fireglow that I bought in Oklahoma that is more red all year than others, but not a whole lot of knowledge about running a maple tree farm.  My first 2 years in Texas in 1990 and 1991 it never hit 100 degrees and summer rain is good so my rhododendrons collection is doing well, so it seemed at the time that the climate was nice down here in Texas.  The first batch of Shantung maples contained a weird small leaf tree that took me a couple years to realize it was some kind of genetic dwarf.  It would sit around for more another 10 years before I realized its potential and name it Baby Dragon.   The maple shown above is spotted as special with fall colors a consistent yellow with red spots so I plant it in the ground to keep it also.

Dorothy Johansson
Keith Johansson, Blaine, and Jeri Bisel.
Karl Johansson boxing in 1929.
Frank Pronio.
Ozark Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society.

This Shantung maple blog is dedicated to:  (Top Row Left to Right) -  My Mom who is the brains behind the awesome asian garden where I grew up and getting me a job at Tom Ward’s nursery during junior and high school and the best cook in Oklahoma so I grew to 6’4” tall.  My Dad who gave me my courage and strength.  The Ozark Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society that cemented my love of plants, especially Sue Mohr, Leonard Millar, Nellie McEntire, Dr. John Thornton, Buddy Lee, Larry Coleman, Scott Weddington, and Dr. John C. Pair, horticulturist at Kansas State that suggested that I grow Shantung when I was just starting the farm.  (Bottom Row) - My wife, Jeri Bisel and daughter Blaine that allowed me to start the farm.  Frank Pronio, my clarinet teacher for 6 years that taught me discipline and that hard work pays off and a system for success.  And Sparky, our Cairn terrier that chewed off both lower branches of a small Bloodgood that I picked up and rooted, thus giving me the idea to start a maple tree farm.