What Maple trees, and how to get the best leaf colour.


I had an interesting question posed to me by an enthusiastic gardener recently. The query related to maple trees. Put in nutshell it was " I've a space for two maple trees in my garden, what ones should I buy, and how do I get the best leaf colour from them.

I gave my answers on the spot but I promised the gardener that I would answer it through this week's column as well, so that others could benefit. So here goes...

Maple growing tips.

Now although maples are generally very hardy and frost is not an issue, wind however is. Shelter from harsh winds is import as maple leaves may burn, turn crisp, and fall before they have had a chance to colour well. It's pointless growing maples if their autumn colour change to red, orange, and yellow is usurped by a handful of cold winds.

So seek out a sheltered area for planting. Look to get a buffer between you new maple and the southwesterly winds at least. If no closure is available, by all means still plant your maple, but just don't expect too much fiery colour from young trees and the Japanese maples.

Next up is the type of soil the maple likes to grow in. By and large they prefer moist soil with a neutral to acid Ph. If the maple dries out leaf growth is slowed down and autumn colouration is suppressed. Many gardeners will apply a 7-8cm (3 inch) layer of bark mulch to the trees base just to keep it moist in the ground.

Along with the moisture is the trees need for a neutral to acid Ph. The pH level of your soil indicates its relative acidity or alkalinity, or to put it another way whether your soil is sour (acid), sweet (alkaline), or a balanced neutral. Most essential nutrients that your maples require are soluble and available for use at pH levels of 5.5 to 7.5 (slightly acid), which is why we should strive to provide this level.

You can use a simple home soil test available through your local garden centre or online to determine your soils ph. By taking account of the test results you can then decide how much if any amendments are required to bring the to pH of your soil in line for maple growing.

Two top maples.

Now on to my current suggestion for the two maple trees within a garden...

An American, Acer rubrum would be my first choice. Commonly known as the Red, Scarlet or Swamp Maple this fast-growing tree has the ability to grow to twenty metres within fifty years. Its broad crowned (up to 10 mtrs across) is normally made up of dark green, 3-5-lobed leaves with bluish-white undersides. In autumn though green leaves are forgotten as the tree comes alive with shades of red and gold.

A European, Acer platanoides or the Norway maple would be my second choice. Now while the common Norway maple has dark green leaves that rarely show much autumn colour there is one cultivated variety that offers much more in year-round colour. That cultivar is Acer platanoides "Schwedleri" a generally purplish-bronze leaved specimen that reddens deeply in autumn. "Schwedleri" is a tad lower than Acer rubrum when mature; it stands approximately fifteen metres tall.

No room for any of the large maples? Well try a Japanese maple. Japanese maples also known as Acer palmatum or Acer japonicum are diminutive in stature compared to other maple trees, range from 1 metre to 7 metres.

Words cannot do justice to the colour displayed by a Japanese maple; to see it is to be believe it. You will experience fiery new spring growth, calm summer foliage and even fierier autumn chilled leaves. Keep your eyes open for the varieties "Bloodgood" and "Aureum" when sourcing your Japanese maples.

View further information on this topic in the Irish gardeners forum >>>>

Back to articles >>

Back to top
Bookmark this site
Client comment

"You cannot appreciate the joy, therefore, of having someone listen carefully to what we wanted, and to turn a mishmash of random ideas into a clear, workable, easy to follow plan that mirrors exactly what we wanted"

- Lee Suter
Read more client comments...