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Every fall, our Maples show us why we planted them! True, many have already given us a glimpse of things to come with bright new leaves in spring, and those large enough have provided us shady respite during the heat of summer. But fall is what we’ve been waiting for. Because in fall, like jewels in our collective crown, they brighten everything with gold, crimson, orange, pink and purple.
Acer japonica 'Aconitifolium'
If you have not yet planted a Maple tree there is a world of possibility before you. Maple trees come in all shapes and sizes, so whether you have a small spot for a little container, or you have acres on the outskirts of town there is a Maple tree for you.
Here are some of our favorite maples for fall color.
Vine Maple, Acer circinatum
Native to Northwest forests, Vine Maple grows naturally as an under story tree, thriving in moist soil and shade. If planted in full sun leaves can burn or color early. Multi-stemmed tree. Grows 10-15’ tall. Hardy z5
Fall color – gold in shade - red, orange & yellow in sun (See sidebar photo also)
Amur Maple, Acer ginnala
Native to China, Manchuria & Japan. Multi-stemmed 10-20’ tree with round shape.
Sun-pt shade, adaptable to varying soils but best in a well-drained spot, very cold tolerant species, hardy z2
Fall color – red to orange
Japanese Maple, Acers japonicum, palmatum, shirasawanum – Native to Japan, China and Korea, but long cultivated in Japan. This is a huge group of maples. Leaves can be green, red, purple, white, pink and gold and that’s just during summer. Leaf-shape varies greatly as well, between big leaves with fat lobes to delicate lace-leaf forms and linear leaves that look like needles.
Many sizes and shapes exist. Upright growing varieties can grow as tall as 25’ with dwarf varieties maturing around 2’ tall and many cultivars between. Weeping types are common sites around Portland, dotting front yards with a splash of red. Allowed to grow for years, weeping maples can achieve formidable size; 12’ x 12’ in 40-50 years. Their relatively slow growth makes them easy to keep smaller with minimal pruning.
Leaves burn in hot summer sun, so they are best in morning sun and afternoon shade, hardy z5
Fall color – red, orange and yellow.
Be sure to see our page on Acer palmatum
Red Maple, Acer rubrum
‘Rubrum’ is Latin for ‘red’. In this case the red refers to the flowers of the maple, which bloom in late winter, covering the branches in scarlet before green leaves fill in. Red Maples are native to the SE United States from Florida to Texas and north to Minnesota. They are a good choice for a mid to large size tree with many varieties maturing at 35-40’ tall, but growing larger given time.
Sun – adapts to soil pH, hardy z4
Fall color – yellow, orange, red and purple. New introductions are selected based on the timing of fall color. ‘Autumn Flame’ is one of the first to change color, usually in late September. ‘October Glory’ and ‘Red Sunset’ follow about two weeks later.
Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum ‘Saccharum’ is latin for sugar cane. This is the tree of Maple Syrup, the Canadian flag and legendary Vermont fall color. It’s native from the southern maritime parts of Ontario and Quebec to New York, down to Georgia and east to Texas. Maturing at 60-75’, this tree wants to get big and dislikes being crowded.
Likes sun or part shade, hardy z4.
Fall color – varies from brilliant yellow to burnt orange to red.
J. Frank Schmidt is a local grower and developer of many maples commonly available in nurseries and landscapes today. Visit their website for more photos and plant information.
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Genus: Acer – The Latin word for Maple is Acer. Acer also means ‘sharp’.
Origins: Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America. Several species are native to the Pacific Northwest.
Characteristics: 150 species of mostly deciduous trees. Small flowers occur in spring and usually go unnoticed, but are delicate and pretty if you take time to observe them. Maples have winged fruit called samaras, or more commonly, ‘whirly birds’ or ‘helicopters’.
Leaves are opposite, usually simple and palmately lobed with veins, but a few are compound. Leaf color varies greatly among species and cultivated varieties. Summer colors can be green, red, yellow, white, pink, purple and various combinations of all of the above.
Fall Color: Many maples have a genetic ability to change color in autumn, but varying cultural conditions may cause differing leaf color from year to year. If autumn weather is warm or wet, color may be less intense and trees planted in shade may show little or different color change compared to those planted in sun.
Bark: Winter is time to shine for maples with glowing coral, peeling cinnamon or snake-striped barks.
Look for these specimens:
Size: Varies per species and variety so check individual plants closely. Most plant labels will give a 10-15 year size estimate based on the tree’s growth rate.
If growing conditions are good, the plant may grow faster and larger and if you have 50 years to wait, the tree will definitely grow larger than the label suggests.
Culture: Light requirements vary per variety. Generally large-growing maples like full sun and smaller-growing species prefer some shade because they are second-story trees in their native forests.
Moist, well-drained soil is ideal for all maples but some species adapt to varying pH levels, compacted soil and crowding better than others.
Diseases: Generally maples do well in the northwest, but insects and diseases can have problems; aphids, borers, canker, anthracnose, mildew, spider mites and verticillium wilt to name a few.
If you have concerns over a maple tree, please bring a sample of the affected leaves or bark to our information desk or call either location for help.
Also the Oregon State University Extension has excellent information available on insect and disease diagnosis and control. See their site...