Maples are the premier trees for providing shade and dramatic fall color. And happily, there's a maple tree for just about every size landscape—from smaller varieties that stay below 20 feet tall to large species that can reach 100 feet or more. And if you think maples are only showy for their leaves, think again. Some types (such as the paperbark maple and coral bark Japanese maple) display intriguing branch color and texture. Other species, such as the red maple, display brightly colored flower clusters.
Choosing A Site
Maples grow best in a planting site with full sun or part shade. But check the tag that came with your specimen. Some species, such as Japanese maple, grow best in filtered light where their leaves are protected from direct sunlight (thus preventing leaf scorch). Maple trees also prefer moist, well-drained, nutrient-rich soil, although they grow well in a vast range of soil types. A few species, such as silver maple, thrive in moist to wet soil. Some species, such as Norway maple, can become invasive pests; check local restrictions before planting.
Maple Tree Care
Purchase your maple from a reputable local nursery that specializes in varieties that are well-suited to your area. Big-box stores can be a good source of trees, but it is important to carefully examine the tree prior to purchase. If possible, slip it out of its growing container and look at the root system. If the roots are circling around the outside of the soil ball, choose a different plant. Also, examine the branch structure. A worthy maple features a defined central branch growing upward along with small side branches.
Spring or fall is the best time to plant maples. Dig a planting hole that is slightly wider than the root ball. Position the tree in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding grade. If the planting soil is slow-draining, plant the maple so the top of the root ball is about 2 inches above the surrounding grade to facilitate good drainage.
Regular watering-about 1 inch of rain water or 10 gallons of supplemental water a week-is essential for newly planted maples during their first year of growth. Cover the root zone with a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch to prevent soil moisture loss.
Prune maple trees in late summer to maintain a desired size or improve the branching structure. When pruned in spring, maple trees exude sap—a messy business that's best to avoid.
As if 125 maple species aren't enough, plant breeders continue to bring new species and cultivars to the market. In recent years some introductions boast all the great attributes of a large maple while maturing at only 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. These small but mighty maples are great for suburban landscapes—providing shade, brilliant fall leaf color, intriguing bark (in some cases), and the year-round presence of a tree that's easy to grow in a small space.
More Varieties of Maple Tree
Acer tataricum ginnala has arching branches of small leaves that turn deep red in fall. This small maple is quite popular. It grows 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Zones 3-7
'Beni Kawa' Japanese maple
This variety features small green leaves that turn golden yellow in fall. Its stems bear reddish tones in winter. It grows 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide. Zones 6-9
'Beni Schichihenge' Japanese maple
Acer palmatum 'Beni Schichihenge' bears green leaves edged in pink and cream. They turn shades of yellow in fall. It grows 8 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-9
'Bloodgood' Japanese maple
This cultivar is among the most popular Japanese maples thanks to its deeply lobed, dark red leaves that turn bright red in autumn. It grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-8
Columnar Norway maple
Acer platanoides 'Columnare' fits well in small yards. The tree features dark green leaves that turn bright yellow in autumn. It grows 70 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Zones 3-7
'Crimson Queen' Japanese maple
This maple variety offers arching branches and finely textured reddish-purple foliage. It grows only 12 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-8
'Dissectum Atropurpureum' Japanese maple
Acer palmatum 'Dissectum Atropurpureum' bears broad, arching branches with finely textured reddish-purple leaves. It grows 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Zones 6-8
This cultivar bears deeply lobed, almost feathery leaves that turn yellow, red, and orange in fall. It grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8
Golden full-moon maple
Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' produces large, pleated leaves that are tinted gold and perfect for adding light to a shady spot. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-7
'Higasayama' Japanese maple
This variety bears green leaves marked in pink and white. They turn shades of gold in fall. The tree grows 15 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-8
Acer platanoides is a stately tree that has a broad, spreading canopy and dark green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. It grows 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide and may be considered an invasive species in some areas. Zones 3-7
This cultivar bears peeling, orange-brown bark reminiscent of a river birch on a small tree that features red-orange fall leaf color. It grows 30 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8
Acer rubrum has earned its name for its bright red autumn color. It's native to areas of North America and grows 70 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Zones 3-9
This type of maple is among the easiest to grow of all maples. Also called hard maple, it grows 70 feet tall and is hardy in Zones 4-8. It's native to areas of North America.
Acer triflorum is a delightful small tree with attractive peeling bark and midgreen leaves that turn bold orange and yellow in autumn. It grows 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide. Zones 5-7
Variegated hornbeam maple
This cultivar features white-streaked bark and foliage liberally streaked with white. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-8
'Villa Taranto' Japanese maple
Acer palmatum 'Villa Taranto' bears spidery leaves that start pink and fade to bright green in summer, then transform to yellow in fall. It grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 6-8