When looking to accent your landscape with trees, maples are often one of the top choices for homeowners. They come in many sizes, and their foliage can be stunning. Maple trees can create beautiful focal points, provide shade, and even increase property value, but what are the best maple trees to plant?
Maple trees thrive in yards that get a steady amount of sun and have little to no obstructions underground. Some of the best maple trees to plant in your yard include sugar, Japanese, red, black, paperbark, crimson king, or silver maple trees.
Whether you have a small yard or an expansive sea of grass, you can find the right maple tree for your area. We’ll include trees hardy to many growth zones, small trees, and large trees, and we’ll include any pros and cons that go along with these trees. Let’s get to it!
About The Mighty Maple Tree
There are over 125 different species of maple trees across the world, but only 12 varieties are native to North America. Most maple trees can be recognized by their distinctive five or seven lobed leaves—think of the Canadian flag—but there are others that have completely different leaf shapes.
Some maple varieties can grow to well over 100 feet tall, while others won’t surpass five feet in height. Maple trees are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in cold weather, though in some places along the Mediterranean region, they never lose their leaves.
Some maple trees have shallow roots that will seek water sources, such as drain pipes, irrigation lines, or septic tanks. These roots can squeeze themselves into the tiniest of spaces and bust open or clog these lines, so caution needs to be exercised with certain species.
Most maple trees can be tapped in order to collect sap for syrup production, the sugar maple—which is native to Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States—is the most commercially tapped variety.
What Maple Trees Are Best For Your Yard?
This can be a tough question to answer without getting a good bit of information first. Consider the size of your yard, how many buildings you have on your property, and what you are looking to accomplish with the maple tree to start with.
Do you want some shade? Are you looking for a striking focal point for your flower garden? Do you want beautiful colors for a particular season? Or maybe a combination of all these reasons?
Your particular grow zone and soil type will also need to be considered because, while some maples are very tolerant, others require specific conditions for optimal growth.
Japanese Maple Tree
The Japanese maple is popular among many gardeners and homeowners alike. They typically have bold colors that last throughout most of the growing season or show up in early fall.
They can grow upright or droop down in showy cascading patterns and have distinctive leaf shapes.
While there are many subspecies of Japanese maples, we will focus on the two most popular varieties; the Bloodgood maple, and the dwarf Japanese maple—of which there are many cultivars.
You can get your own Japanese Red Maple Tree right here. These will grow well in zones 5 to 8!
Bloodgood Japanese Maple Tree
|Name||Acer palmatum Bloodgood|
|Average size||15’ to 20’|
|Hardiness zones||5 – 8|
|Conditions||Full sun. Slightly acidic, well-draining soil.|
Bloodgood Japanese maple trees are the most common Japanese maple tree that comes to mind when you think of the species. They’re truly a beautiful addition to any yard and they’re an accent tree to boot!
Dwarf Japanese Maples Tree
|Name||Acer palmatum (various)|
|Average size||6’to 8’|
|Hardiness zone||5 – 9|
|Conditions||Full to partial sun. Soft, well-drained soils.|
Most dwarf Japanese maple trees are very slow-growing, and often mounding shrub-like trees. They often have layers of thin, wispy branches with bright showy, or lacy leaves which make them perfect focal specimens.
They are perfect for small yards that won’t allow full-sized, towering trees.
Overall, Japanese maples work great in smaller yards because they don’t get exceptionally tall or wide. They are easy to trim because of their smaller stature and they show off deep, crimson leaves throughout the growing season.
Since these trees don’t grow very tall or get thick and hefty, you won’t have to worry about them falling down onto your house or garage.
Their roots are not terribly invasive like other varieties of maple trees, meaning these roots won’t be lifting your sidewalk or digging into water pipes.
They can be a great focal point around a flower garden, or help to break up a bare yard with some striking color.
Overall, problems for Japanese maples include relatively weak branches and trunks and the price tag. Heavy snow, extreme winds, or thick ice will break branches.
Japanese maples can be quite expensive depending on the species and how old they are. Often even smaller trees only a few years old will be upwards of $100-$200.
While Japanese maples rarely suffer from serious insect infestation or other maladies, they can get cankers, root rot, and pests like aphids and mites.
Sugar Maple Tree
|Average size||50’ to 75’ tall|
|Hardiness zone||4 – 8|
|Conditions||Full sun to partial shade. Well-drained, moist soil.|
These giants are the trees that produce the sap which can be boiled down into scrumptious maple syrup (sugar maple trees are actually one of the best maple syrup trees!)
They also create show-stopping colors in the fall. Their deep emerald leaves will glow yellow as the temps drop, then they transform to orange, and finally deep red.
If you are looking for a tree that will wow friends, family, and neighbors with rich autumn colors, the sugar maple is a superb choice.
Just make sure you have plenty of yard for this big tree or it could cause some major headaches. They need to be planted at least 30 feet away from your house or other structures.
Sugar maple roots are not considered to be invasive, but you should still map out plenty of space for them when you plant the small sapling. Just because these roots aren’t considered invasive doesn’t mean they won’t dig into your underground pool if the tree is planted close by.
This maple tree is probably one of the most cold-tolerant of the species found in North America. If you are worried about harsh winters and planting trees, this variety will probably be able to handle it.
The wood of sugar maple trees also has commercial uses and makes great smelling, hot burning firewood, but you’re probably not planting it hoping to make furniture or heat your house.
When planting saplings, especially in hotter climates, you’ll have to watch out for sun scald. What happens is the bark can create small cracks during the winter when the sap freezes. During the summer months, the heat damages the soft growing tissue underneath the bark, causing severe damage to the trunk.
Severe sun scald can be a game ender to trees, especially newer sugar maple tree saplings.
Once sugar maple trees are established, they can create a dense upper canopy that makes it hard for other vegetation to grow beneath these trees. The leaves create a near-constant blanket of shade, and rainwater drops around the drip edge. Think of a sugar maple as nature’s umbrella.
Some plants can tolerate shade well enough (maple trees generally need more sun than shade), but few can survive long periods of drought.
You’ll have to water underneath large maple trees constantly or have a big bed of mulch to keep from having a barren wasteland underneath them.
You’ll also need a lot of space to plant sugar maples. Small or medium-sized yards will have a hard time accommodating all the space these trees take up. They also don’t do well in busy urban areas, as pollution and emissions can shorten their lives.
Some maple varieties can be susceptible to fungal afflictions and insect pests. Sugar maples could get anthracnose fungus or leaf spots as well as defoliating insects such as tent caterpillars and gypsy moths.
For zones 4 through 8, especially on the eastern side of North America, you can have your own Sugar Maple Shade Tree shipped to your door. They are 2’ to 3’ saplings.
Paperbark Maple Tree
|Average size||20’ to 30’|
|Hardiness zone||5 – 7|
|Conditions||Full sun to partial sun. Needs watering in times of drought, will tolerate acidic soil.|
The paperbark maple is another smaller specimen of maple that can work well in small or medium-sized yards. This tree resembles birch trees with the peeling habit of the bark, but it still grows the iconic “winged” seed pods that some affectionately call “helicopter seeds.”
Most of these seeds end up being sterile, so you won’t have to cut down, or pull up a ton of paperbark seedlings every year.
The paperbark maple’s tolerance of shade means you can plant them underneath larger trees or areas the sun barely touches.
They also work great as focal points in any garden. Their birch-like bark peels away to reveal cinnamon-colored bark underneath that is stunning in the bleak, colorless winter.
The paperbark maple is a slow-growing tree that will eventually reach heights of 25 to 30 feet tall. The green leaves will darken to a beautiful scarlet red in the fall, making it an excellent showpiece.
This variety of maple has very few cons. One is that it can be a messy tree. Smaller branches fall off during storms, and the peeling bark can be a minor nuisance.
Leafminers can inhabit the paperbark causing extra leaf drop, but other than that, these trees are about as easy to grow as they come.
Silver Maple Tree
|Average size||60’ to 80’|
|Hardiness zone||3 – 9|
|Conditions||Full sun. Moist, acidic soil.|
This maple tree is aptly named because of the silvery undersides of the leaves and the similarly colored bark. In some communities, people believe they can tell a storm is coming when the leaves all turn silver. Strong winds flip the leaves over and around, revealing the silver color.
Silver maples have recently become more popular in home landscapes because they grow so rapidly, and produce a lot of shade in a relatively short time.
These trees can grow large, up to 80’ tall, and have massive trunks. This is also one of the most striking features of the silver maple. In the winter, the trunk and limbs are a sight to behold.
Silver maples were prized in the pioneering days, according to The Arbor Day Foundation. They say settlers of the Ohio Valley loved silver maples for their willingness to grow in a variety of soils and their fast growth. These settlers also preferred to make syrup from silver maple sap, though they didn’t produce as quickly as sugar maples.
With the exceptionally fast growth, comes weaker wood. This maple variety has a problem with dropping limbs easily, so be careful where you plant them. You’ll want to make sure they are a suitable distance away from any buildings.
The roots of silver maples are notoriously invasive. They will stretch out and clog up septic drain lines, or dig their way into any small, leaking supply line. They will also push up sidewalks and paving stones.
These fast-growing trees need a lot of space, so you’ll have to have a good-sized yard to let these trees free.
Red Maple Tree
|Average size||40’ to 60’|
|Hardiness zone||3 – 9|
|Conditions||Full sun to partial shade. Tolerates most soil types.|
The red maple is aptly named because it likes to show off something red during every season.
In spring, there are small red flowers. During summer, the leaf stalks turn red, while in autumn the leaves themselves glow a deep crimson red, and in winter, the tree has pops of red buds all over.
The red maple is very similar to the sugar maple. The fundamental difference—which isn’t that big—are the leaves. Red maple leaves have a V-shaped groove between the lobes, while the sugar maple has a more U-shaped groove.
This tree grows faster than sugar maple trees, but not as fast as silver maples. These trees are also very cold hardy, but they can withstand hot temperatures as well, so they do well in most U.S. grow zones.
Red maples easily get fungal infections that cause leaves to drop and weaken them. Limbs and trunks can sustain damage fairly easily, which can allow rot to set in. To combat these issues, keep the trees as healthy as possible.
Their roots, though not as invasive as silver maple, are still shallow. This makes mowing difficult. Sidewalks and driveways near red maples will inevitably get cracked and raised by the shallow root structure.
Check out these to start your own Red Maple Shade Tree!. They are live trees and shipped when they are between 2’ and 3’ tall.
Korean Maple Tree
|Average size||15’ to 25’|
|Hardiness zone||4 – 8|
|Conditions||Full sun to partial shade. Moist well-drained soil. Doesn’t tolerate drought.|
These trees are similar to Japanese maples as they are similarly sized, but they can withstand cooler temperatures. If you have tried Japanese maples but the winter devastated them, a Korean maple might be what you’re looking for.
They can grow in shady areas, don’t get very tall, and take well to containers. In the spring these maple trees sprout little purple flowers, then continue the color show in autumn when the leaves turn rich, deep red.
Korean maple trees don’t get very large, so you can plant them in smaller yards, or group several of them together in larger plots.
These trees are quite cold hardy, and they don’t have many major problems. They are susceptible to leaf fungus, and some insects, but a healthy Korean maple will easily survive most afflictions.
Tatarian Maple Tree
|Average size||15’ to 20’|
|Hardiness zone||3 – 8|
|Conditions||Full sun to partial shade. Any well-draining soil|
The best thing about these maple trees is they will grow in nearly any soil type as long as they don’t sit in water. They will even grow in loam and clay soil if it drains well.
Tatarian maple trees are also fast-growing, shorter trees that will reach their max height soon. Once they are finished with the adolescent growth spurt, they take on the “dad-bod” and start growing as wide as they are tall.
While these maples will grow in shady areas, they do best in full sun conditions. Like most other maple trees on our list, they put on a beautiful colored leaf show in the fall.
Since they stay relatively small and wide, they work well in smaller landscapes where massive trees just can’t grow.
Tatarian maple trees originated in Korea and China, so they are an introduced species to other countries like North America.
Since they can tolerate several temperature extremes and most soil conditions, they are considered invasive in many areas.
Black Maple Tree
|Name||Acer saccharum nigrum|
|Average size||50’ to 75’|
|Hardiness zone||4 – 8|
Black maples are very similar to sugar maples. In fact, they are considered a close cousin. They can still be tapped to make maple syrup and grow to a similar height.
Mature black maples fill out into a pleasing, rounded shape and will glow with yellows, oranges, and reds in fall like sugar maples. Since they get quite large and can live for well over 100 years, plant these trees where they have plenty of space to grow.
If you are looking for a great shade tree, then a black maple might fit the bill. Their canopies stretch out up to 50 in diameter, giving you plenty of cooling area in a wide open yard.
These trees don’t have major issues to worry about. Minor problems include leaf scorch, fungus, and boring insects. They also don’t do well around coastal areas, the salt will hamper growth.
They are also not very tolerant of air pollution. These trees prefer clean, country air.
The Best Time To Plant Maple Trees
Technically, trees can be planted nearly any time the ground isn’t frozen, but to give them the best chance, fall is the optimal time.
When a tree’s roots are disturbed, they need time to establish themselves before the trees should start spending nutrients and energy on leaf growth. The best time for undisturbed root stimulation is the fall.
The tree goes through its dormant phase and can get the roots settled before winter sets in.
Summer isn’t a good time to plant trees because the heat and typically dry conditions can stress the plant. Trees pl›anted in summer don’t get the water, or the time needed to establish themselves. Weakened and stressed trees have a hard time fighting off insects and other afflictions.
If you’ve decided that you need to move your maple tree, you can take a look at our piece on transporting your maple tree here!
Why Not Plant Maple Trees In The Spring?
Spring tree planting may seem like the best time for them because that’s when they wake up from their dormancy. Leaves grow, April showers and all that, so it would theoretically seem like the perfect planting time.
While this may be true for flowers and some other species of trees, for maples, spring planting isn’t the perfect season for them. Maple trees produce a lot of sap that they have to push through the trunk and up to the leaf buds to make them expand and grow.
If the trees are trying to establish a strong root system—the roots are like the heart of the plant—then they can’t afford to expend more energy on growing leaves and new branches. Trees will work on roots first and foremost, while everything else comes in second.
Planting in fall will give the tree time to get a strong, healthy root system developed, then it will be ready for spring and the seasons beyond.
Don’t Prune Maple Trees In Spring Either
Again, pruning is often a spring or early winter activity. However, for maple trees, spring pruning can be harmful to them. This again has to do with sap production.
While trees can afford to lose some sap—thank goodness or maple syrup might not be a thing—it’s required to prepare them for leaf production. Maple trees produce a lot of sap, and the bigger they are, the more sap is needed for bushing out the wide leaf canopy.
Cutting the limbs around this heavy sap production and movement time will cause the trees to “bleed” more profusely and could result in a weakened tree. Just like humans, when trees aren’t feeling their best, infections have an easier time setting in.
When you prune or have your maple trees pruned, try to schedule it for fall. The tree won’t lose so much sap, the wounds will heal better, and it will be healthier overall.
How Long Do Maple Trees Live?
A properly cared for maple tree, depending on the species, can live between 80 to 300 years. Sugar maples tend to be the longest-lived of them, as some have been reported to live for 400 years.
Red maples often can grow for over 300 years, while the fast-growing silver maples live hard and fast. They typically last about a century before giving up the ghost.
The slow-growing Japanese maple will often live to the ripe old age of 100. Depending on the variety, you could have a tree that will last for several generations.
If you want to expand the longevity of your maple tree, take a look at our piece on the best maple tree fertilizers!
That’s All We’ve Got!
Maples, like all trees, have plenty of pros and cons, and quite a variety to choose from for all your landscaping needs. If you want a long-lived, giant shade tree, silver, red, or sugar maple might be your pick.
If instead, you want something a bit easier to manage that won’t engulf your smaller yard, then Japanese, Korean, or a paper bark maple might be just what you need.
All the maple varieties in this list will give you plenty of beautiful fall color, while some will even continue providing a colorful show throughout the winter. Whatever you are looking for, maple trees can probably check off the boxes!
Wada, Naoya, and Eric Ribbens. “Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. matsumurae, Aceraceae) recruitment patterns: seeds, seedlings, and saplings in relation to conspecific adult neighbors.” American Journal of Botany 84.9 (1997): 1294-1300.
Godman, Richard M., Harry W. Yawney, and Carl H. Tubbs. “Acer saccharum Marsh. sugar maple.” Silvics of North America 2.654 (1990): 78.
Saeki, Ikuyo, et al. “Comparative phylogeography of red maple (Acer rubrum L.) and silver maple (Acer saccharinum L.): impacts of habitat specialization, hybridization and glacial history.” Journal of Biogeography 38.5 (2011): 992-1005.
Download My Free E-Book!
If you’re new to planting or want a refresher, take a peek at my guide on choosing and planting your very first tree. It specifically details planting trees in your yard and goes over the wide variety of options you have to start your #treejourney!