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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.
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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.