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Essential Red Maple Information


Essential Red Maple Information

Red Maple in Autumn

Steve Nix


Red Maple has an oval shape and is a fast grower with strong wood, reaching a height of 75 feet. Unless irrigated or on a wet site, Red Maple is best used north of USDA hardiness zone 9. Trees are often much shorter in the southern part of its range unless growing next to a stream or on a wet site. This tree is preferred over Silver Maple or Boxelder when a fast growing Maple is needed. When planting the species Acer rubrum, select only those which have been grown from local seed sources.


Scientific name: Acer rubrum
Pronunciation: AY-ser ROO-brum
Common name(s): Red Maple, Swamp Maple
Family: Aceraceae
USDA hardiness zones: 4 through 9
Origin: native to North America
Uses: Bonsai; wide tree lawns over 6 feet wide; medium-sized tree lawns 4 to 6 feet wide; recommended for buffer strips around parking lots or for median strip plantings in the highway; near a deck or patio; reclamation plant; screen; shade tree; residential street tree


In the northern and southern end of the range, choose cultivars with regional adaptation. The Cultivars are: ‘Armstrong’ - upright growth habit, almost columnar, somewhat prone to splitting branches due to tight crotches, 50 feet tall; ‘Autumn Flame’ - 45 feet tall, round, above average fall color; ‘Bowhall’ - upright growth habit, branches form embedded bark, graft incompatibility on grafted trees; ‘Gerling’ - densely branched, broadly pyramidal, about 35 feet tall when mature;

More Cultivars:

More Cultivars are ‘October Glory’ - above average fall color, excellent tree, retains leaves late, 60 feet tall; ‘Red Sunset’ - above average orange to red fall color, does well in the south in USDA hardiness zone 8,probably the best cultivar for the deep south, oval, 50 feet tall; ‘Scanlon’ - upright growth habit; ‘Schlesinger’ - good fall color, rapid growth rate; ‘Tilford’ - globe-shaped crown. Variety drummondii suitable in USDA hardiness zone 8.


Height: 60 to 75 feet
Spread: 25 to 35 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular outline or silhouette
Crown shape: oval; round; upright
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: fast
Texture: medium

Trunk and Branches:

Trunk/bark/branches: bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact; branches will droop as the tree grows and requires pruning for access beneath the canopy; not particularly showy; should be grown with a single leader
Pruning requirement: requires pruning to develop strong structure
Breakage: susceptible to breakage either at the crotch due to poor collar formation, or from weak wood that tends to break
Current year twig color: gray; reddish
Current year twig thickness: medium


Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: lobed; incised; serrate
Leaf shape: ovate
Leaf venation: palmate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: orange; red; yellow
Fall characteristic: showy


Most red maples, if in good health and free to grow, need very little pruning. Only "train" for developing a leading shoot which will become the dominant shoot that establishes the tree's framework.

Maples should not be pruned in spring and will bleed profusely. Wait to prune until late summer to early autumn and only on a young tree. Red maple is a large grower and needs at least 10 to 15 feet of clear trunk when it matures.


Light requirement: tree grows in part shade/part sun; tree grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; acidic; extended
flooding; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: low
Soil salt tolerance: poor

In Depth:

The outstanding ornamental characteristic of Red Maple is red, orange or yellow fall color (sometimes on the same tree) lasting several weeks. Red maple is often one of the first trees to color up in autumn, and it puts on one of the most brilliant displays of any tree. Still, trees vary greatly in fall color and intensity. Cultivars are more consistently colored.

The tree makes the best growth in wet places and has no other particular soil preference except chlorosis may develop on alkaline soil where it also grows poorly. It is well-suited as a street tree in northern and mid-south climates in residential and other suburban areas but the bark is thin and easily damaged by mowers. Irrigation is often needed to support street tree plantings in well-drained soil in the south. Roots can raise sidewalks as silver maples can but they have a less aggressive root system and so they make a good street tree. Surface roots beneath the canopy can make mowing difficult.

Red Maple is easily transplanted and usually develops surface roots in soil ranging from well drained sand to clay. It is not especially drought tolerant, particularly in the southern part of the range, but selected individual trees can be found growing on dry sites. This trait shows the wide range of genetic diversity in the species. Branches often grow upright through the crown forming poor attachments to the trunk. These should be removed in the nursery or after planting in the landscape to help prevent branch failure in older trees during storms. Select branches with a wide angle from the trunk and prevent branches from growing larger than half the diameter of the trunk.

The newly emerging leaves and red flowers and fruits signal that spring has come. They appear in December and January in Florida, later in the northern part of its range. The seeds of red maple are quite popular with squirrels and birds. This tree is sometimes confused with red-leaved cultivars of Norway Maple.

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