Red maples make for vibrant colors

Published 2:35 pm Friday, December 30, 2011

The cooler temperatures have really made fall colors stand out. Like north Georgia, Decatur County has a diversity of hardwood trees including hickories, American beech, black gums, tulip poplar, oaks and maples that exhibit bright leaf colors. One tree in particular whose colors tend to catch the eye is the red maple.

The red maple has long been valued in the home landscape because of its bright fall colors, its brightly colored fruit in the spring, and its ease of establishment. The tree is often preferred over silver maple when a fast growing maple is needed.

This valuable shade tree has many uses in the landscape and is an excellent tree for planting in the lawn or along the street. Because feeder roots are close to the surface, red maple should be placed where grass is not desired beneath the canopy. Grass in this area would struggle to survive, and could not be mowed without possible damage to roots protruding from the soil.

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Red maples are hardy and can be planted onto many types of disturbed sites. I have personally transplanted small maples from a streamside area on my property to my back yard with good success.

The ideal soil for red maple is moist, slightly acidic and fertile. Nutrient deficiency may occur when soil pH is high. It grows best in wet areas but tolerates occasional moderate drought. Although naturally suited to partial shade, they do very well in full sun. To maintain healthy plants it is recommended that you fertilize established plants in the spring with a balanced fertilizer.

To keep branches from drooping as the tree matures, horticulturist recommend pruning at the earliest age possible to create clearance beneath the canopy. Branches growing at sharp, upright angles should be pruned; this keeps branches growing at right angles to the trunk. This will also help to maintain a single trunk.

One interesting fact about the maple is that the sap of the red maple is sometimes used for producing maple syrup. However, the sugar content of the sap is only about half the sugar content as a sugar maple. Additionally, the American Indians used the red maple bark as an analgesic wash for inflamed eyes and cataracts. It has also been used as a remedy for hives and muscular aches.

Source: Clemson Extension, Home and Garden Information Center.

Mitchell May is the Decatur County extension agent. He can be reached at (229) 248-3033, or by email at