Sugar Maple – The King of the Shade Trees

Fall Sugar MaplesFor the October 18th Northfield News, Leif’s article addressed the Sugar Maple.  This year has been about the best in recent memory for the myriad of colors that the sugar maples showed.  This picture here was taken on the St. Olaf College campus – right across from the nursery.

Here is his article….

In these turbulent economic times adding solid proven winners to your financial assets is said to be a wise strategy.  For many of us, our house is one of our biggest assets, and lately, values have been declining.  One way to preserve and increase the value of your property is to choose landscape plants that are high quality and have a proven track record.

The fall of 2008 has shown once again that when it comes to trees in the landscape, there are very sound reasons why sugar maples have frequently been called the King of the Shade Trees.  Also known as hard maple with the botanical name of ‘acer sacharrum’, sugar maples dominated the autumn explosion of leaf color this year with their wonderful mixture of yellow, orange and red color.

Sugar Maples have visually rich layering of color combinations that adds depth, complexity and a heightened sense of color intensity.  While the top part of the tree gradually changes from green to yellow to orange and red, the lower and inner parts of the canopy change later, creating a foundation gold and green that is a perfect counterpoint for the most intensely colored parts of the crown.

As with most of the best things in life, patience is required when it comes to growing a sugar maple into an impressive sized specimen.  Growth rates are moderate to slow in most situations, but most varieties of sugar maple develop good structure, have strong wood, are very hardy in our harsh Minnesota climate, and grow well in a fairly wide variety of soils – generally the middle range of soil texture.  Avoid placing sugar maples in excessively sandy or gravely soil, poorly drained soils and compacted soils.

Sugar Maples are able to grow well in moderately acid soils to moderately alkaline soils.  With the high degree of soil disturbance in modern housing developments, this makes sugar maples fairly versatile.  Since soils in these developments very often become very compacted by machinery, extra effort should be made at planting time to dig a very wide hole, so plenty of area around the root ball is soil that has had the compactio0n largely eliminated.

It is also important to keep sugar maples from becoming waterlogged and root rotting.  Avoid low areas where water ponds, and plant the tree ½” to 1″ higher than surrounding soil, so that during excessively rainy periods water will gradually drain away from the root ball.  If you have an irrigation system, dial it down in the area of your new sugar maple and hand water the tree just enough to keep the root zone moist, but not waterlogged.  Fertilize lightly in April and late June.

Since Sugar Maples have a very wide natural range across the North American continent, care should be taken to select varieties that do well in the upper Midwest.  Of course, sugar maples from local wild seed sources are a good choice, but varieties that have proven themselves to be hardy and resist leaf tattering in strong winds are Majesty, Fall Fiesta and Green Mountain.  If you want to have one of your trees turn color a bit later in the fall in order to extend the fall color season, try Green Mountain which develops a nice round crown as it matures.  Majesty and Fall Fiesta are slightly oval as they approach larger sizes.

Plan for quality, plan for color, plan for patience as your sugar maple gradually becomes the King of your Shade Trees!