Sugar maple trees are a staple in many yards, and with their seasonal color show and classic form, it’s no wonder. However, because of their popularity, they also tend to end up planted in less than ideal areas.
Sugar maple trees grow their best when planted in well-drained, loamy, and sandy soil. Plant your sugar maple in full, unfiltered sun inside USDA Zones 3-8 with nutrient-dense soil. For best results, consider germinating your own seeds and planting them during the Fall.
Once you know their basic requirements, it isn’t so difficult to grow a sugar maple tree in your own yard. We’ll cover the best places to plant sugar maple trees, and just how to go about planting them!
1. Sugar Maples LOVE Well-Drained Soil
Sugar maple trees like plenty of water, but they don’t want to soak in it. It’s best to keep the soil moderately damp, but not exactly wet.
It’s also important to remember that sugar maples are pretty drought-tolerant. So it’s better to make sure that the water you give them isn’t just sitting in the soil.
It’s fair to say, sugar maples don’t like wet feet. Meaning, that while they need their share of water, they also need soil that drains well enough to keep their roots from being constantly submerged in soaking-wet soil.
If you’d like to learn more, check out our piece on why maple trees need so much water!
2. Sugar Maples Also Grow Well In Loamy And Sandy Soil
These trees are a hardy sort, but it’s still always best practice to grow them in environments where they can really thrive. If there’s an ideal way to describe the way that these trees like their soil, it’s loamy and slightly sandy.
What does that mean? Well, loamy soil typically has plenty of humus (deteriorating plant matter), and as a result, the soil is fertile. Loamy soil often also has some amount of clay and sand, and while it can drain, it often stays damp.
Bet you thought that meant ground chickpeas at first – huh?
If you need to add some humus to your soil, a product like The Anderson’s HumiChar, an organic soil amendment, can do the trick. The other good news about products like these is that you really don’t need to use them much in order to see results.
If there’s an area in your yard with this kind of soil, and you’re looking to plant something there (not all plants do very well with loamy soil), a sugar maple just might do the trick.
Of course, you’ll still need to make sure that it’s an area that receives adequate sunlight.
If you have clay soil, take a peak at our guide on planting maple trees in clay so you can make it work!
3. Make Sure To Plant Sugar Maple Trees Where There Is Full Sun
Sugar maple trees grow especially well in bright, sunny spots.
Full sun means a minimum of 6 hours in direct sunlight. However, many plants (including sugar maple trees) can really thrive with more than that. If you can, it’s best to plant these trees in an area where they can get from 8 to 10 hours of sun each day.
Can you plant sugar maples in partial sun? Yes, technicwaterally you can. With that being said, though, there’s definitely a reason it isn’t recommended. Without enough light, they won’t grow as well, or may not reach their full potential height.
These trees grow at a moderate to slow rate. If your sugar maple tree is receiving everything it needs, it should grow between 1 and 2 feet per year.
4. Sugar Maple Trees Need The Correct Growing Zones
USDA growing zones are specific climatic areas, as specified by the United States Department of Agriculture. Here’s a quick guide from the United States Department of Agriculture on Growing Zones if you want some deeper info. Basically, growing zones are used to specify where you live, and can be used as a guide on when to plant certain crops.
It’s best to grow sugar maples in zones 3 through 8.
That’s a wide range, and it covers a lot of the continental United States. However, there are certain areas that aren’t as well suited to growing these trees, so make sure you check your zone before you plant. Here’s a growing zone map that can help you identify which growing zone you’re located in.
The map linked above is much more detailed than many other guides you may see. However, if you’re not quite sure that you’re in the correct hardiness zone (also known as a growing zone) to grow sugar maple trees, this map will leave you without a doubt.
5. Make Sure To Plant Sugar Maple Trees In Nutrient Dense Soil
One thing you should know about sugar maples is that aside from well-draining soil, they also need soil that’s packed with nutrients. Ideally, you can plant your tree in an area that is already stocked with humus and plenty of nutrients.
Of course, you might not always have this nutrient-dense soil available in your yard, or you might not know whether or not the soil there is rich enough in essential nutrients for your tree.
Be prepared to do some testing and add extra nutrients on a regular schedule if your soil doesn’t contain the right amounts of certain nutrients.
How To Plant Sugar Maple Trees
Now that you’ve scoped out your planting area, checked out the soil, and made sure you’re in the right climate to grow a sugar maple, how do you plant sugar maple trees?
We’re not just here to tell you about where to plant sugar maples. We’re about to tell you everything you need to know about how to plant them and why they’re one of the best maples to plant!
There are a few things you need to consider: will you be planting an older tree or growing from seed (or seedlings)? Are you willing to plant your tree in a different season from the rest of your plants? And, are you willing to put the work into the soil to help your new sugar maple tree thrive?
1. Consider Planting Sugar Maples From Seed (Or Seedlings)
Sugar maple trees often have years where they produce heavier numbers of seed than others. If you already have sugar maples, you have probably noticed that every 4 to 7 years the trees produce significantly more seeds than in other years.
If you’re gathering seeds from trees you already have, these are the best years to gather seeds from (and the seeds tend to be of better quality).
If you’re unable to gather seeds on your own, it’s much better to buy seeds from a local grower. Not only will that grower be able to give you more information in person, but they may also have seeds from trees that are better adapted to your local conditions.
2. Try Planting in Early Fall
Alright! So now you have your perfect seedlings (or seeds) and you’re ready to get growing. But, there’s a slight caveat, which we hinted at in the section above.
Sugar maple trees aren’t like the geraniums or zinnias you start growing after the last frost. In fact, you’re going to wait until much later.
In fact, you won’t plant your sugar maples until months later (if you’re being wise about it).
Why Plant Sugar Maples In Autumn?
Sugar maples are native to colder climates, which means their growing seasons are slightly different from those of other plants from warmer climates.
When you plant them in the fall, the seeds, or seedlings, have more time to prepare to grow as soon as spring arrives. They will slowly grow and germinate while the weather is cooler. Then, when spring arrives they can pop up from the ground and really start to thrive.
Not only does this help them get in sync with a proper growing cycle, but it also allows young trees to grow and gain enough strength before the coming freeze in winter.
3. Use Soil Amendments For Young Trees
Young trees have much higher nutrient requirements than older, and mature trees. This is where soil amendments come in.
Soil amendments are the things that you put into soil to enrich it.
So, what does that actually mean for you, when you’re planting a young sugar maple tree? It may mean that you need to add fertilizers. (That’s one of the most common soil amendments, no matter what plant you’re growing.)
Or it could mean adding compost to the soil as a nutrient-rich additive that continues adding nutrients as it decomposes.
Fun fact! Here’s another reason you should be extra motivated to make sure your sugar maple trees have soil with the right mix of nutrients (especially nitrogen). According to a study in the journal Tree Physiology, the amount of nitrogen contained in the leaves can affect when leaves turn red, and how bright that color is.
How Much Do Sugar Maple Trees Grow?
Speaking of growing sugar maple trees, it’s a good idea to make sure you can also handle the fully grown mature tree and not just the sapling.
A fully grown, mature sugar maple tree can grow to be between 60 and 75 feet tall. Their spread can reach between 40 and 50 feet.
As you can see, sugar maple trees can grow to be quite tall. Make sure that you plant them in an area where they can reach their full height and spread unimpeded (and without encroaching on other trees or structures).
If you want some specifics on maples in general, take a look at our full maple tree growth timeline here!
How Fast Do Sugar Maple Trees Grow?
Sugar maples can add about 24 inches to their height every year. They don’t grow very quickly, but they do tend to maintain a steady growth rate until they reach full maturity (which can take between 30 and 40 years for most trees.)
That still means that after just 10 years, you’ll still have a nice-sized tree, probably around 24 feet tall or even more. Even a tree half that age can still make a nice fixture in your lawn; sugar maple trees are known for their beauty no matter what age they are.
Considering that sugar maple trees are known for their incredibly long life spans, they actually reach maturity (and their full height) relatively early in their lives. These trees are known to live for hundreds of years. It’s not at all uncommon to hear of sugar maple trees living to 300 or 400 years, and many at least reach 200.
Sugar Maple Tree Growth Requirements
Now that we’ve covered where to plant these amazing trees, it’s time to look at the strictest of requirements they need to live.
Some trees are pretty happy in just about any kind of soil, and with nearly any amount of light their planting area affords them. A sugar maple tree is hardy, but that doesn’t mean you can simply neglect their needs.
Sugar Maples Love Sun
Sugar maple trees really thrive with plenty of sun. Even though they can live in partial sun, it’s best to maximize the amount of time they get in pure, unfiltered sunlight.
Sun requirements for sugar maples:
- Full sun – At least 6 hours of unfiltered sunlight every day, even up to 8 or 10 hours.
- Partial sun – A minimum of 4 hours of sunlight every day, but more is better.
They Prefer Slightly Acidic Soil
While you already know that sugar maple trees need well-fertilized soil, they also have other requirements when it comes to soil.
These trees like slightly acidic soil: not quite neutral or alkaline, but not too acidic either.
A study from Environmental Science and Technology has confirmed that improper acidity and a lack of available calcium not only contribute to less seed production, but also to less, and thinner lower canopy growth.
If you’re not sure about this part of your soil’s composition, you’re not alone. Plenty of people never consider the pH levels in their soil, and simply plant their garden where it fits best.
However, if you’re planting a large specimen, like a maple tree, it’s worth making sure that the soil is suitable for them.
Trees are an investment, so a small tool like the Apine Soil Meter is worth picking up before you plant. It quickly reads the pH of your soil, and it also has a sensor to determine the moisture in your soil, as well as the light intensity.
Well-Drained Soil Is A Must
Sugar maple trees certainly do like a good watering. However, it’s best not to leave them in a situation where their roots are basically sitting in the water.
Well-drained soil can help ensure that your tree gets enough water, without letting the roots soak. This is especially helpful when you live in an area that gets heavy rainfall because you don’t have to worry about the extra watering causing more harm than good.
Now, sugar maples do like soil that’s slightly damp, but it shouldn’t be squelching wet. This is yet another situation in which a good little soil meter can make a huge difference. Use a soil meter that can detect moisture, and check the soil in your planting area multiple times before you put your new tree in.
How Can I Check How Well My Soil Drains?
For example, check the moisture after a good, heavy rain. Then, check it a day or two after the rain stops. And lastly, check the soil again after several days without rain.
This will help you determine how quickly excess water drains from the soils, and how long the soil can hold onto moisture. As a bonus, it will also help you determine how frequently you will need to water your tree, as it relates to the changes in the weather.
Help Your Sugar Maple Thrive With Annual Pruning!
It’s only fitting, then, that we also discuss one of the important measures you can take to keep your tree stay healthy as it grows.
The fact is, doing some light pruning on your sugar maple tree every year can actually help it grow better.
When your tree is younger, pruning can help determine the shape that your tree will grow into as it matures. This part is mainly for superficial purposes, but it can also help your tree grow into a more manageable tree than if you don’t start it early.
Why Would I Want To Prune My Maple Tree?
Pruning mature sugar maple trees serves more than one purpose. The first purpose of annual pruning is to get rid of ‘problematic’ branches.
If you notice branches that are dead or broken, make sure to remove those as you go through your annual pruning. Likewise, if you notice branches that may be ill, it’s important to remove them before issues spread to other branches.
The next reason to prune your tree annually is to prevent damage. Maple trees can become overcrowded with branches if you’re not properly managing them.
Thinning out branches keeps your tree happy, and ensures that the leaves from the branches that are left are able to get their fill of sunlight.
Here’s A Quick Recap!
If you want to grow a sugar maple tree, the good news is you can! While they do have some specific needs, if you carefully select where you plant them, these classic trees can grow for hundreds of years.
Remember this when planting sugar maple trees:
- Plant them in full sunlight
- Use slightly acidic soil
- The soil should drain well, and be somewhat loamy
- Make sure the soil has plenty of nutrients
There are five ways to find the right place to plant a sugar maple tree. As long as you follow our guide, you can look forward to a tree that only gets better with time (and, for several hundred years, in fact!)
Cate, T. M., & Perkins, T. D. (2003). Chlorophyll content monitoring in sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Tree Physiology, 23(15), 1077-1079.
Schaberg, P. G., Van den Berg, A. K., Murakami, P. F., Shane, J. B., & Donnelly, J. R. (2003). Factors influencing red expression in autumn foliage of sugar maple trees. Tree Physiology, 23(5), 325-333. Sullivan, T. J., Lawrence, G. B., Bailey, S. W., McDonnell, T. C., Beier, C. M., Weathers, K. C., … & Bishop, D. A. (2013). Effects of acidic deposition and soil acidification on sugar maple trees in the Adirondack Mountains, New York. Environmental science & technology, 47(22), 12687-12694.