Red maple is a tree native to the eastern and north-central United States that belongs to the soapberry family. The United States Forest Service has singled out red maple as the eastern U.S.A’s most prevalent tree.
Red maple grows faster than both sugar and Norway maple, but considerably slower than silver maple, which makes it a superior choice in urban landscaping. It is usually found in either moist woods or wet bottomlands in the northern part of its range, but further south, you can find it in drier areas.
The tree is so named due to the lovely bright red foliage that appears in fall. This as well as its fairly minimal needs, make it one of the most popular landscape plants throughout North America. While it can grow up to a height of 70 feet, you will rarely find it growing taller than 40 feet in developed areas.
Caring for Red Maple
The tree works well for adding 4-season interest to a yard. Its reddish color isn’t just evident in fall, but also in the spring flowers and stems that are reddish in winter.
If you want a tree with bright foliage, you can either buy the tree in fall or purchase from a local nursery that will give you specific information about the tree you are considering. The canopy is relatively low, which is why it should only be planted where height clearance is not an issue.
Small red flowers appear from March to May. The reddish “helicopter” fruit/seed pods appear in early spring before the leaves start fleshing out. The leaves are between 2 and 5 inches in length, with the classic 3- to 5-lobed structure that’s common to maples.
The leaves have reddish highlights as they first unfurl in spring and change to green as they open. Unlike the silver maples, the spaces between the lobes on red maple trees tend to have relatively shallow depth.
The leaves are dark green on the top, while the bottom surfaces are grayish. The margins of the leaves are toothed and have pointed tips. In fall, the vast majority of varieties become a bright crimson red while some cultivars exhibit yellow or orange foliage in autumn.
Red maples will flourish in full sun, but they can also tolerate partial shade.
Red maple prefers acidic to neutral soils and doesn’t do well in alkaline conditions. If grown in alkaline soil, it will suffer from stunted growth and pale leaves. While it can leave in a variety of soils, it is incapable of tolerating salt.
Red maple prefers soil that’s somewhat moist, but it grows fine in dry soils as long as it is regularly irrigated. Once established, ensure that the soil remains moist – you can use a layer of organic mulch around the tree’s base to help with this. Ensure that the tree is properly watered each week, either by rainfall or irrigation; never allow the soil to dry out.
Humidity and Temperature
Red maple will survive in both moist and dry areas ranging from bogs to dry ridges. It can grow in swampy areas, mountainous areas, as well as along streams. While it requires some cooler weather, you will find it as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as the Carolinas.
Fertilization is typically not necessary, but when needed, you should apply a general-purpose fertilizer in spring. To help soil hold moisture, use a 3-inch layer of mulch.
Types of Red Maple
Red maple is incredibly easy to cultivate and grow, and dozens of cultivars are commercially available for landscape use. It is important for homeowners to carefully research growth habits and fall foliage colors before they make a selection to plant in the yard.
Fall colors will be particularly outstanding on the ‘Autumn Flame’ (a silver and red maple hybrid), Red Sunset, and October Glory varieties. Visit Thetreecentre.com. A few other popular varieties of red maple include:
– Schlesingeri: It is a faster-growing variety that produces long-lasting, deep-red autumn leaves.
– Scarlet Sentinel: It is a columnar variety that’s fast-growing with yellow-orange foliage in the fall.
– Burgundy Bell: It is a smaller tree that produces unusual burgundy-red leaves in the fall.
– Autumn Blaze: It is a tree with a rounded fall that produces lovely, long-lasting, orange-red foliage in the fall.
You will rarely need to prune your red maple, but branches should be removed to avoid having very narrow angles between the trunk and branches because wide angles are usually stronger. Red maple is incredibly sensitive to pruning, which is why you need to avoid cutting branches with a diameter larger than a few inches.
To help the tree close the wounds, cuts should be made just outside the branch collar. When you get to pruning, you should ideally do it either in autumn or at the end of summer because the tree usually bleeds sap if pruned early in the growing seasons.
Common Problems and Pets
Red maple doesn’t face serious insect problems, but it is occasionally vulnerable to cankers, anthracnose, verticillium wilt, tar spot, or leaf spot. Scale, borers, and aphids may appear as insect pets. The trees may exhibit leaf scorch in drought conditions.
Red maple does not tolerate soil compaction or street salt very well, so avoid using it as a street or boulevard tree.
Be wary of damaging the tree’s bark and surface roots with lawn equipment. Red maple has a relatively thin bark, and weed trimmers and lawn mowers can both easily damage young trees.