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Extension > Garden > Yard and Garden > Trees and Shrubs > Red maple

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Red maple (Acer rubrum)

Kathy Zuzek and Rebecca Koetter

Plant description

Mature height: 40 to 100'
Mature width: 15 to 75'
Growth rate: Medium to fast
Plant form: Oval, rounded, upright, columnar, irregular
Deciduous or evergreen: Deciduous
Native range: Maine south to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas.
Native to Minnesota: Yes
Invasive in Minnesota: No

Culture

Light: Full sun to partial shade
Soil texture: Sandy to clay soils
Soil pH: 4.5 to 6.5
Soil moisture: Average to wet soils and well-drained to poorly-drained soils
Hardiness zone: 3 to 9
Pests and stresses: Visit What's wrong with my plant? – Maple for a list of the most common maple pests and stresses in Minnesota.
Other: Tolerates poor drainage and compacted soils, susceptible to manganese chlorosis in high pH soils, sensitive to salt.

Red maple in the landscape

Red maple or soft maple is plentiful and common throughout its native range in the eastern United States and thrives across a wide variety of climatic conditions and soil types. In the wild, it can be found growing from dry ridges and slopes with a drying southwest exposure to swamps and bogs. Red maple transplants and establishes easily, grows quickly, and is highly valued as a landscape tree for its flowers and foliage that light up spring and autumn landscapes.

Its biggest limitation is an intolerance to soil pH above 6.5. At higher soil pH levels, manganese deficiencies occur in red maple trees that result in chlorotic foliage, stunted growth, and without correction, tree death.

Wood strength, branch attachment, and potential for damage during wind and ice storms are intermediate between the strong-wooded sugar maple and the weak-wooded silver maple. As young red maples grow, their thin-barked trunks need to be protected during winter with tree guards to prevent frost cracks and sunscald.

Red maple trees provide many seasons of interest in landscapes and are used as boulevard trees, shade trees, or accent and specimen plants. In April or May, clusters of red or magenta flowers appear well before leaves emerge and light up spring landscapes with a red haze.

Male or female flowers usually appear separately on individual branches within one tree canopy or on separate trees. 3-5 lobed leaves appear next and are produced opposite of each other along branches.

The fruit is a winged nutlet called a samara that matures in a matter of weeks and can be seen twirling to the ground in May and June. Seeds germinate easily and quickly and can sometimes become a weed issue in garden beds. The dense canopies of red maples provide shade and enclosure during late spring, summer, and fall. The main season of interest is autumn when foliage turns brilliant red, orange, and yellow.

Cultivars have been selected for fall color, plant form and size, and pest and stress tolerances.

Yellowing maples leaves with green veins are a symptom of manganese deficiency on high pH soils

K. Zuzek, UMN Extension

Yellowing leaves with green veins are a symptom of manganese deficiency on high pH soils

Native range of red maple in North America

USDA, NRCS Plants Database

Native range of red maple in North America

Native range of red maple in Minnesota

Minnesota DNR

Native range of red maple in Minnesota

Mature red maple in fall

K. Zuzek, UMN Extension

Mature red maple in fall

Summer foliage of the red maple

P. Wray, ISU, Bugwood.org

Summer foliage

Male pollen-producing flowers in spring

P. Wray, ISU, Bugwood.org

Male pollen-producing flowers in spring

Female spring flowers develop into seed after pollination

Dow Gardens, Bugwood.org

Female spring flowers develop into seed after pollination

Some cultivars grown in Minnesota:

Cultivar traits:
Cultivar Fall color Mature form Pest & stress tolerance Size
(h x w)
Autumn Radiance® Orange-red, red, early fall color useful for northern climates Oval, rounded Zone 4 hardiness 50' x 40'
'Autumn Spire' Red Broadly columnar Zone 3 hardiness 50' x 25'
'Brandywine' Red, red-purple Oval Zone 4 hardiness, leafhopper resistance, seedless 50' x 40'
Burgundy Belle® Red, burgundy Oval, rounded Heat, drought, zone 4 hardiness 45' x 45'
Northfire® Red, early fall color useful for northern climates Oval Zone 3 hardiness 50' x 40'
'Northwood' Orange-red Rounded, oval Zone 3 hardiness 50' x 35'
'Red Rocket' Red Upright Zone 4 hardiness 40' x 15'
Red Sunset® Red, long season of fall color Upright Zone 4 hardiness 50' x 40'
Scarlet Jewel™ Crimson, early fall color useful for northern climates Upright Zone 3 hardiness, resists frost cracking 70' x 30'

2016

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