Maple trees are widely celebrated across North America. While they're most famous for their syrup, their wood is also harvested commercially for beautiful furniture and a delicious flavor in smoked foods. In Canada, maples are considered so important that their leaf adorns the national flag. Every year, many of the 128 species lend their colors and spinning seeds to decorate a memorable fall; there are many options when considering which maple to cultivate in your backyard.
The most common tree in eastern North America, the red maple is known for its large, dark green leaves, and red flowers, twigs, and seeds. In autumn, the leaves also turn a deep scarlet. Each tree can reach 100 feet in height and is best planted in a large open space with average temperatures between -40 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s adaptable to many soils, the red maple prefers full sun or partial shade. Water the tree regularly after planting to help it establish and grow healthy and strong.
This tree is sometimes mistaken for a different species altogether. Unlike most maples, its leaves are composed of three separate parts. Boxelders can reach around 50 feet in height, growing two feet per year in most soils when given full sun or partial shade and a climate between -50 and 30 degrees. They are a great choice across many Western states, as the location triggers the most spectacular fall colors. To create the optimum shape, you’ll need to prune boxelder in late winter or early spring. Look out for the boxelder bug, which may move into your home as winter approaches.
This classic tree needs no introduction. Its sap is one of the main sources of maple syrup, particularly in Canada, and its wood is prized for its strength. Sugar maple leaves turn a wonderful mixture of oranges, yellows, and reds in the fall. In the spring masses of yellow-green flowers may appear. The sugar maple likes harsh winters. Annual temperatures between -40 and -10 will help the sap sweeten enough for tapping. It’s best situated in full sun or partial shade with lots of space, as it can eventually reach around 110 feet in height, averaging one to two feet per year. Deep, moist, well-drained, and acidic soils provide the best conditions.
Sometimes called the field maple, this tree is distinguished by its more rounded leaf-shape and yellow fall foliage. Recently, it hsa become fashionable as a hedging plant. Originating in Europe and Asia, hedge maple thrives in many soils and makes an excellent Bonsai tree if you have limited space. This plant prefers annual temperatures between -20 and 20 degrees, in full sun or partial shade. Regular pruning will help control its growth in urban areas, although if you have space it will happily form a densely leaved crown and reach around 80 feet tall.
This small, delicately leaved maple is of Japanese origin and is available in many interesting cultivars. It often grows to 20 feet in both height and width, increasing about two feet per year. Its fuzzy spring buds soon open up to reveal large, serrated leaves that turn a spectacular deep pink-red in autumn. The amur is reasonably cold-hardy, tolerating average temperatures between -20 and 20 degrees, but needs a sheltered spot with moist soil.
This tree is found mainly on the Pacific coast and has olive-green leaves up to two feet wide which bring bright hues of orange and yellow to the region each fall. Bigleaf maples thrive in a variety of light levels, provided they have well-draining, moist soil and a climate between -20 to 30 degrees. Be sure to plant them well away from buildings, underground pipes, and sidewalks, as they can reach up to 150 feet and have a large root system.
Originally from China, this smaller, pest-resistant maple has become widespread since the early 20th century. Its attractive, peeling red-brown exterior lends the tree its name. Forming a pleasing, spreading oval shape, the paperbark maple can reach 30 feet in height and width. This makes it well suited to the urban landscape, particularly in locations where clay soil makes other plants tricky to grow. It prefers temperatures between -20 and 20 degrees and partial shade or full sun.
This indigenous, woodland-dwelling maple has distinctive grey and white striped bark and papery three-point leaves that turn yellow in fall. In some Native American cultures, the striped maple is used medicinally. As an understorey tree, it often appears shrub-like and rarely exceeds 30 feet. Shady sites with temperatures between -40 and 10 degrees and well-drained, moist soil suit it best.
As the name suggests, this small tree is ideal for mountainous and rocky regions. Its leaves are an irregular shape, with fine hair on the underside, and they turn bright red and yellow in the fall. The mountain maple likes rocky areas with soil that’s both rich and well-drained. Reaching a maximum of 25 feet, this tree prefers to grow in shade.
This is a pest-resistant, native North American shrub that prefers well-drained soil with good moisture levels. The pointed, finely toothed leaves start out red in the spring, change to green, and then turn to deep yellow and red in the autumn. Vine maples can grow up to 20 feet in ideal conditions, or be pruned late in the year to maintain a compact form. Unusually, this species will send out new shoots into the ground to form an attractive arch shape. As a natural understorey tree, vine maple is happy in shady conditions.