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How to Grow: Maples
Acer spp, culitvars and hybrids
Full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Grown mostly for its stature and vibrant, yellow, orange, and red fall leaf colors
Mature Height x Spread
30 to 70 feet x 30 to 50 feet
native, fall color, drought tolerance, deer resistant
People travel from around the world to see the fall foliage colors of New England and the maple is one of the primary trees making this display so amazing. This native tree has many variations. I covered the smaller growing Japanese maple in a separate section. Here I’ll talk about the large maples that make great shade trees, add country charm to a residence and produce the highly desired fall foliage show. But maples aren’t just about the fall foliage. The seldom used, paperbark maple (A. griseum) has attractive exfoliating bark that gives the tree winter interest as well. Throughout New England, and especially where I live in Vermont, the sugar maple (A. saccharum) is famous for yielding sweet sap used to make maple syrup.
When, Where and How to Plant
Maples are generally hardy throughout New England, but some hybrids may vary in their hardiness. Purchase trees from a local nursery and plant from spring to early fall in well-drained, moist, fertile soil in a full to part sun location. Avoid alkaline soils since they can cause nutrient deficiencies. Sugar maples are not tolerant of salt spray, heat and air pollution. Silver maples (A. saccharinum) are tolerant of seasonal flooding. Space trees 30 to 50 feet apart.
Keep young trees well watered. Once established, older trees are drought tolerant. When grown as a lawn tree, create a mulch ring around the tree to keep the soil evenly moist and protect the tree trunk from damage due to lawn mowers and string trimmers. Fertilize young trees in spring with a tree plant food. Older trees don’t need fertilization.
Regional Advice and Care
Maples require little care and pruning once established. Remove dead, diseased and broken limbs as needed. Silver maples have weak wood that often breaks in storms. Trees may get black tar spot blotches on their leaves during wet summers or leaf scorch during hot, dry conditions. Neither condition is a concern.
Companion Planting and Design
For shade trees, grow red maples (A. rubrum) and sugar maples. In wet areas near ponds or streams, select silver maples. But don’t plant silver maples near a sidewalk or driveway. Their shallow roots with buckle pavement. For a more ornamental tree, try the paperbark maple for its shorter stature (30 feet tall) and exfoliating cinnamon-brown bark. Avoid planting invasive maples, such as ‘Norway maple (A. platanoides) and amur maple (A. ginnala).
‘Armstrong’, ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Sunset’ are some of the red maples with particularly good fall foliage color. ‘Green Mountain’ is a good sugar maple selection. ‘Cinnamon Flake’ is a newer paperbark maple hybrid that’s hardy to zone 5. ‘Silver Queen’ is a good silver maple selection. ‘Autumn Blaze’ is a new hybrid cross between a red and silver maple with fast growth rate, brilliant fall color and good drought tolerance.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.