The maple tree is one of the most common trees in North America. Its leaf is even found on the Canadian flag. From the Sugar Maple, the sap of which is the ingredient of maple syrup, to the Red Maple, which is known for its colors in fall, the maple tree has adapted to thrive in almost any condition. In Oregon alone, the Bigleaf Maple is the fourth most common tree in the Willamette Valley, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Even if you don’t have one in your yard, chances are that there is one nearby. If you do happen to have one, be it the Bigleaf variety, Red Maple, or even a Japanese Maple, it is important to know how to properly care for these trees.
Here are some tips to help you maintain your maple tree:
If you’ve decided to plant a maple tree, it is important to keep its soil quality in mind. Soil with a pH above 7.3 is not good for maple trees as these varietals require a more acidic environment. Instead, look for heavy nutrient-rich soil.
Before planting, you’ll want to dig a hole that is at least three feet deep, keeping in mind that its roots will need at least four feet to spread. Maple roots are strong and can lift paving and fences, so plant your tree away from these potential obstacles.
Pruning is the act of removing dead or weakened branches from a plant and is very important with maple trees, especially young ones. Pruning will help your tree develop strong branches and keep it blooming year after year.
If you are pruning your own maple tree, remember the following:
• Pruning is best done in late spring or summer after the tree has fully leafed
• Prune away any dead, diseased, or weak branches first
• Prune side branches, and make sure you leave only one leader
• Do not prune too early as that will cause too much sap loss
• Do not prune too late as that does not give the tree enough time to heal its wounds
If you are not familiar with tree pruning, it’s best to contact a professional tree service. Improper pruning can lead to diseased or poorly developed trees.
Maple trees require around 11 gallons of water a week to stay healthy. Keep an eye out for wilting or leaf scorch (leaves browning and/or curling up), as this is a sign of drought stress. If your maple is showing signs of wilting—it usually starts from the top of the tree and moves down—your best course of action is to begin watering immediately. Think about investing in a tree watering bag. This is great for saving time and water, and is best for trees 2 to 3 years old.
Make sure that the water is reaching at least 10 inches below the surface, properly hydrating the maple tree’s root system. Also be careful not to water too much or too often.
Adding mulch around the base is also useful in conserving water and regulating ground temperature for your tree. Leave at least four inches between the fertilizer and the base of the tree to prevent moisture from building up and causing problems for your tree.
4. Fertilizer & Improving Soil Quality
Fertilizing newly planted trees is also important unless you planted them when dormant. Contact your local arborists if you have questions about this process or need assistance caring for your new tree while it’s taking root.
Most maple trees will need fertilizer to maintain the proper soil for continued growth. Here are some things to keep in mind, if you decide to take this on yourself:
• Never fertilize drought-stressed trees as chemical fertilizers will draw water out
• Fertilizers that release too much nitrogen will cause too much upper-canopy growth that the roots will not be able to support
• Do not fertilize in late fall or winter as the tree is going dormant
Another recommended way to improve the soil quality for your maple trees is by adding mycorrhizal fungi. That is a type of fungi that 99% of plants have evolved a symbiotic relationship with, including the maple tree. In exchange for sugars and simple carbohydrates, these fungi help expand the tree’s roots further into the soil, feeding it nutrients and moisture. This is often missing from urban soil where your tree may be planted.
Maple trees are susceptible to a few diseases. Here are some common issues that plague maple trees in the Pacific Northwest.
Anthracnose: This is a fungal disease that will cause the leaves to brown and drop in mid to late summer. Signs of this are fungal spores on fallen leaves and twigs, as well as cankers. The best treatment is prompt removal of fallen leaves and twigs and pruning dead twigs and branches.
Tar Spot: This is another fungal disease that doesn’t kill the tree, but forms dark spots on the leaves. It is best treated by cleaning up fallen leaves in fall.
Verticillium Wilt: It usually appears on damaged or stressed trees and is caused by a soil fungus that causes the water-transporting cells of an infected tree to shut down. This manifests as browning and dying leaves. Treatment involves using low-nitrogen fertilizer, pruning dead or dying branches, and/or soil solarization.
If your maple tree is experiencing any of these problems, be it drought or an infection, contact your tree service.
Maple trees can grow to heights over 150 feet when properly cared for. If you provide them with the right soil quality, water amounts, and regular pruning, your maples will shower you with shade and beautiful colors each fall.