A tree prized for fall color, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) displays brilliant shades of red, orange, gold, and yellow in autumn. Its characteristic three- to five-lobed leaves are green in summer before they turn to the golden hues of fall. This attractive shade tree does best in well-drained soil, where it has room to spread its roots, and in an open spot, where it can spread its canopy. Sugar maples are a commercial crop in colder climates, where the sap they produce in early spring is cooked to make maple syrup.
• Common name: Sugar maple, rock maple, hard maple
• Botanical name: Acer saccharum
• Plant type: Deciduous tree
• Height: 70 feet tall
• Zones: 4 to 8
• Family: Aceraceae
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil is best. Avoid compacted soils.
• Moisture: Water during times of drought.
• Mulch: Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the tree to conserve moisture, reduce weeds, and protect bark from damage from lawn mowers or string trimmers. Leave a 4-inch gap between mulch and the tree’s trunk.
• Pruning: Prune dead, diseased, or rubbing branches in winter while trees are dormant.
• Fertilizer: In most soils, fertilizing is unnecessary.
• Acer saccharum ‘Bonfire’: Grows 70 feet tall with bright orange-red autumn foliage.
• A. saccharum ‘Goldspire’: Grows 70 feet tall with a tall, narrow habit and orange-yellow autumn foliage.
• A. saccharum ‘Green Mountain’: Grows 70 feet tall with yellow to red autumn foliage. More tolerant of drought than other sugar maples.
• A. saccharum ‘Sweet Shadow’: Grows 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Known for its deeply lobed leaves and orange autumn color.
• The sugar maple is a slow-growing, hardwood maple.
• Because it doesn’t like compacted soil, avoid planting sugar maples on a small lawn or in a planter.
• Sap to make maple syrup starts to “run” in the very early spring. Tap mature trees about 40 years old and at least 10 to 12 inches in diameter. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
Pests and diseases
• Watch for anthracnose, which causes leaves to look scorched and blotched with gray, tan, or dark brown spots.
• Dark, water-soaked cankers may form on the bark and branches of the tree.
• Leaf spots may cover leaves with yellowish or dark spots.
• Verticillium wilt, a soil-borne fungus, causes leaves to wilt and turn yellow early in the season. Branches start to die one by one.
• By seed or cutting
All in the family
Aceraceae includes a large group of shade and ornamental maples. Some of the most familiar are the paperback maple (Acer griseum), boxelder (A. negundo), Japanese maple (A. palmatum), Norway maple (A. platanoides), red maple (A. rubrum), and silver maple (A. saccharinum).
Where to buy
• Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska City, NE, 888-448-7337, www.arborday.org
• Cold Stream Farm, Free Soil, MI, 231-464-5809, www.coldstreamfarm.net
(Photo of Acer saccharum courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)