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Red Maple Tree Facts, Uses, and Planting Tips

The author has an interest in the outdoors and the health benefits of what's found in nature.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) in the New Botanical Garden Marburg in Hesse, Germany.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) in the New Botanical Garden Marburg in Hesse, Germany.

About the Red Maple

The red maple tree gets its name from, as you would have guessed, the intense red color of its leaves in autumn. The tree is also known as the scarlet maple, the swamp maple, and the water maple. The red color of its leaves, in autumn, makes it an attractive tree that will certainly stand out on any property.

Along with the color of its leaves, the buds, seeds, and new branches of the red maple also have a red tone. Red maples can vary in color of yellow, orange, and/or red during autumn. To have the best chance of getting a red maple that has red leaves in autumn would be by buying the red maple variety called Red Sunset. Another way to get the right variety of red maple, with leaves that run red in autumn, is by visiting a local nursery. You'll be supporting a local business that'll work to get the exact variety of red maple that you're looking for.

As for the regions that it grows in, the red maple is a very common native tree that grows throughout much of North America. The red maple can grow as far north as Southern Newfoundland, as far south as Florida, and as far west as eastern Texas. Red maples are most abundant in the Middle Atlantic states, New England states, Northeast Wisconsin, and the upper regions of Michigan.

It is a tree that can grow in many environments. This includes swampy areas, in soils with fewer nutrients, dry soils, and other conditions. Due to this, it can quickly take over when it's planted in forests that have been disturbed. Which can be a minus when it comes to other varieties of maples and other types of trees. This is because it can disrupt their spread and reduce the diversity of forests that are recovering from logging and other human activity. Some consider it to be, in these instances, an invasive species of maple. It is also seen as a poor tree for forests due to having a higher possibility of defects. Defects include tree and trunk damage, and cracking as the tree gets larger and/or older.

Growing range of the red maple.

Growing range of the red maple.

Traits of Red Maple Trees

Some varieties of the red maple can reach heights of up to 120 feet in better environments. Most red maples will typically be shorter though, reaching anywhere from 40-60 feet in height or so. The height the tree reaches is dependent upon the region where it is grown and the variety of red maple. It is very useful as a shade tree in lawns, parks, and many public places. They can tolerate flooding with little to no damage to the tree or its leaves. It can also withstand droughts by temporarily suspending growth to conserve water.

Due to its size, with the way its roots spread and grow, you should plan out a good place for your red maple beforehand. Mainly, a place where it won't bother sidewalks, undergrounds pipes, and other structures. The roots of the red maple can be thick and tend to grow near the ground surface at around nine to ten inches down. Depending on the size of the root along with the age of the tree, this can be a minor obstacle when mowing your lawn though that's typically only a problem in older trees.

Planting and Growth of a Red Maple Tree

When planting a red maple in the ground, as with most trees, it should be done in the fall. Red maple trees should be planted in a location in full sun and ample moisture in the soil. Putting organic mulch around the tree can also aid in holding in moisture. The red maple is best grown in soil that has a pH of neutral to acidic in the range of 3.7 to 7.0.

If you buy your red maple tree from a good nursery, you probably won’t need to prune it after you plant it. If in doubt, remove branches with narrow angles that appear to be trying to grow straight up. Wide angles between the trunk and the branches add strength to the overall structure of the tree.

The red maple is one of the first trees to show signs of life and flowers in the spring. They typically flower, with tiny red flowers, between March and May. This, of course, depends on the region where the tree is grown and other environmental factors. These flowers appear on the upper crown of the tree where they receive the most sunlight. Some red maple trees are male and produce no seeds, others are female, and some are monoecious, which means that they have both male and female flowers.

Flowering red maple at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit: Ken Sturm

Flowering red maple at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Credit: Ken Sturm

Lifespan of a Red Maple Tree

Some red maple trees can live anywhere from two hundred to three hundred years. The length of its life can be dependent on the environment and condition that the tree grows in. On average though, they will live about eighty to one-hundred years. The red maple reaches its maturity around seventy years old. These mature trees can have roots, growing horizontally, that have been known to reach a length of around eighty feet.

Edibility of Parts of the Red Maple

The red maple use parts are the sap, leaves, seeds, and the inner bark.

Like other maples, the red maple produces sap which can be boiled down into maple syrup. Note: red maples typically do not produce nearly as much sap as other maple varieties. The inner bark of the red maple can also be gathered, then dried, and ground into a powder for use as a thickener in soups and stews. This powder can also be used alongside ground cereal grain by mixing the two. The seeds of the red maple are edible. They can be both eaten raw and also after boiling them if preferred.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: After planting, the leaves of the red maple are wilting. Is the tree dying?

Answer: If your red maple has been afflicted with a fungal disease, Verticillium wilt, then it is probably dying due to the disease. If it is a temporary shock from being planted then it should spring back. Just as long as there's enough moisture in the soil or if it wasn't damaged during planting.

Question: Can I plant red maple trees in the spring?

Answer: Yes. Besides planting red maples in the fall, you can also plant them in early spring (March or April).

Question: What do I use to fertilize a red maple?

Answer: You should use a 20-5-5 (all purpose) fertilizer for your red maple.

Question: What is causing leaves to have dark spots and turning brown?

Answer: The spots on the leaves of your red maple tree are called tar spots and are caused by a fungus. It doesn't harm the tree though. You can read more at and

Question: Would Schultz Azalea, Camellia, Rhododendron plant food be okay to water a small red maple seedling planted in our yard? It is 32% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potash.

Answer: To be on the safe side, you shouldn't use that fertilizer on the red maple seedling. It would likely damage the tree due to the over-fertilization.

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© 2019 Ron Noble


The Sampsons from The Ozarks, Missouri on January 29, 2019:

We have Sunset and October Glories. Some years they look like they are on fire. Nice article.

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on January 28, 2019:

They're beautiful trees. :D