The sugar maple is a very prolific and important tree in the United States. There are more sugar maple trees in the forests of the northeastern United States than any other species of hardwood tree!
If you’re looking to grow a sugar maple, look no further, today we are sharing a full sugar maple growth timeline!
Sugar maple trees may not be the fastest-growing trees, growing only one-two feet each year, but their spectacular canopies at full maturity, especially in the fall, are worth the wait.
Read on for more information about the growth timeline of the sugar maple tree and how to aid this tree in growing to its fullest potential in your yard, and if you are unsure of how to go about growing your sugar maple – make sure to check in with a local professional.
The Sugar Maple: An American and Canadian Stalwart
Sugar maple trees are, of course, a variety of maple tree. They are deciduous trees, meaning that their leaves change color, die, and fall off every autumn and are replaced by new budding leaves every spring. The sugar maple also has flowers that appear before the new leaves.
Sugar maples are most often seen in the southeastern part of Canada (a country that features a maple leaf on its flag) and the northeastern region of the United States.
There are more sugar maple trees in the forests of these regions than any other type of hardwood tree, and sugar maples are so popular that they are honored as the state tree of four different U.S. states, plus they appear on Vermont’s commemorative quarter.
Uses Of Sugar Maple Trees
Sugar maples are used for myriad purposes. They are harvested for lumber, as their hardwood is famously durable. In fact, these trees are sometimes referred to as “hard maple trees.” The wood is used for many purposes, including furniture, bowling pins, and baseball bats.
Sugar maple trees are also used, as you might guess, for maple syrup.
This sap was used by Native Americans as one of their main sources of sweeteners for food.
Sugar Maple Sap Is Super Sweet
Sugar maple tree sap is among the sweetest types of sap that comes from maple trees, and it is often harvested to make the sweet syrups used for pancakes around the world. And you need a lot of sugar maple sap for that!
According to the Ohio State University, you need to harvest 40 liters of sugar maple sap to make just one liter of maple syrup!
And it’s none of our business if you wanted to eat maple syrup straight from the tree itself, but just in case you were wondering how – we made sure to write an article about it!
Sugar Maples Provide Shade
Another very popular use of sugar maple trees is for shade.
These trees produce very large and full leafy canopies, lending a wide swath of shade to everything beneath them in three seasons of the year.
We think maple trees are so good at providing shade, we wrote a whole article about it!
Sugar Maples Help The Wildlife
Sugar maples are also important for the wildlife of the northeastern United States, where these iconic trees are home to a number of types of birds that like to build their nests there, including orioles, cardinals, and woodpeckers, among many others.
Some birds also eat insects from sugar maples. Other animals that eat parts of the sugar maple, like the bark, seeds, and leaves, include deer, squirrels, rabbits, and even porcupines and moose.
Distinguishing Characteristics Of Sugar Maples
The sugar maple, which has the scientific name acer saccharum, boasts the characteristic lobed leaves of all maple trees.
The sugar maple’s leaves usually have five lobes, but they can sometimes have three. The lobes have points, forming that famous almost star-shaped appearance that you can see on Canada’s national flag or the jerseys of the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL team.
The leaves of the sugar maple are green in the spring and summer, but in the fall, sugar maples famously put on an autumn show with their bright yellow, orange, and red leaves.
Sugar maple trees have smooth, gray bark when they are young that changes to a coarse, darker bark as the trees mature. Like most maple trees, the sugar maple’s seeds are contained in samaras, those helicopter-like seed pods that spiral down from the tree’s branches.
Where Do Sugar Maple Trees Grow?
According to the Harvard University, there are about 31 million acres of land on which sugar maples currently grow.
Sugar maple trees are very hardy trees, able to bounce back from damaging events like drought. They are therefore found in a number of different environments.
They appear frequently in forests, including very dense forests, as they are able to tolerate shade and can therefore grow alongside other trees that block some of the sunlight.
They Are Often Found In Towns And Cities
Sugar maple trees are also often grown in towns and cities and yards, though some of the common characteristics of urban environments, like salt, lack of space, and lack of water, make it more difficult for sugar maples to grow there than in forests.
But some parts of residential neighborhoods have fewer of these problems, so sugar maples often grow very well there!
Sugar maple trees are frequently planted in both urban and suburban environments, and we will give you tips on how to make your sugar maple tree feel so at home in your yard it will think it is in a forest!
The Life Timeline Of A Sugar Maple Tree
It takes about 20 to 30 years for a sugar maple tree to be considered fully mature.
During those first few decades, the tree goes through its normal cycles, and after that time, the tree spends decades in a steady state before its eventual late-life decline.
For more information on other types of maple trees and their growth timeline, check out our other article for comparison!
Timeline From Bud To Mature Tree
Sugar maple trees begin life as seeds in samaras, which grow in spring and fall to the ground in the fall.
The seed of a sugar maple tree has its best chance at germinating (which is sprouting the initial growth that will turn it into a sugar maple seedling) if it lands on the moist ground of the deep forest when the weather is cool but not too cold.
The seeds usually fall in the autumn, then the sprouts of successful seedlings emerge in the fall. Those sprouts take hold in the ground, forming the roots that become a maple tree sapling.
Saplings Grow Slow
Sugar maple saplings grow at a somewhat slow rate that ranges from less than one foot per year to up to two feet per year.
A sugar maple will be mature, meaning it will stop growing and be at its full height, after about 30 to 40 years.
Once the tree has established itself, though, it can live for up to 200 or even 300 years! Planting this type of tree definitely qualifies as what is known as planting a legacy tree for many generations to enjoy.
Growing Your Own Sugar Maple Tree
You can plant your sugar maple tree anywhere in your yard that has enough space for such a large tree and is able to be watered regularly, particularly if you live in a dry climate.
It should be noted that, if you do live in a very dry or hot climate, you might want to consider a different tree than the sugar maple.
Sugar maple trees really only like to live in places where the temperatures stay quite cool and there is lots of rain and humidity.
This is why these trees are generally found in the northeast United States and are rarely found much further south than Tennessee.
There are other types of maple trees that might be easier for you to grow. Check out our other post on the best maple trees to plant, to help you decide the best variety of maple tree for your needs and your environment.
Where To Plant A Sugar Maple Tree In Your Yard
Once you have determined that a sugar maple tree is right for your yard and can thrive there, it’s time to figure out where exactly to plant it.
Keep in mind that this tree will eventually be very large, so choose your spot carefully!
Finding The Right Light For Your Sugar Maple Tree
Sugar maple trees do well in the shade, which is how they often naturally grow in very dense forests, so you can plant a sugar maple near other trees that may take some of its sunlight; just make sure they are not planted too close for their root systems and canopies.
In general, it’s best to plant a sugar maple tree about 30 feet away from another large tree.
Finding The Right Spacing Between The Tree And Your Home
You should also keep in mind the tree’s proximity to your house. Once the canopy spreads and the branches grow, you don’t want them scraping up against the side of your house or roof; this can damage not only your house but also the tree.
You can also take into consideration whether you want the tree to shade a particular part of your house.
In many parts of the country, where air conditioning is not a given in some houses, people rely on shade from trees to help keep their homes cool in the summer. You might want to consider this added bonus.
And even if you do have air conditioning, shade from a sugar maple tree could go a long way toward helping lower your summer electricity bill!
Finding The Right Spacing Between The Tree And The Street
If you are planting your tree close to the street, you should also consider whether any obstacles will arise once the tree has reached its full height.
Are there power lines running down your street? Is there a street light nearby that could be blocked by high-reaching foliage years down the road?
If you plant your tree where it blocks power lines or other types of utility lines, the city or county in which you live may be able to prune your tree away from those lines, which can result in an ugly shape of your tree’s canopy or even permanent damage to your tree.
Try to plant your sugar maple so that it is clear now of any obstacles and will still be clear of them 30 years down the road when it is a fully mature tree.
Helping Your Sugar Maple Tree Grow Faster
Sugar maple trees may not grow as fast as other types of maples, but this is because of the density of their wood.
They are hardwood trees, which means that the wood of the trees is very hard and difficult to break!
Typically, trees with softer wood might grow faster, but they are not as durable. Their branches and limbs are more susceptible to damage from even natural causes like wind or ice.
Hardwood maples, however, like the sugar maple, grow more slowly but are less likely to break in these types of environments.
Give It Some More Sun!
One way to help your sugar maple sapling grow faster is to give it more sunlight than it might get in a dense forest.
Do be careful, though, because sugar maple trees are susceptible to having their leaves scorched by too much direct light or heat.
Using A Container To Grow Your Sugar Maple Sapling
If you want to try growing your sugar maple tree with a little extra light, it is important to make sure it isn’t getting too much light.
This can be a difficult balance to achieve in your yard, where the tree is immobile.
If you would like to try a method of light variation, you can begin by planting your sugar maple tree in a container, then moving it to its permanent location in the ground a year or two later, after it has established itself and experienced perhaps some expedited growth due to extra sunlight.
A container is also an easy way to provide extra rich soil, something else that really helps speed up sugar tree maple growth.
One of the main ways to speed up growth in your tree is to make sure its processes of photosynthesis are as optimized as possible. This optimization is the goal of most plant fertilizers.
Fertilizer can help young trees grow faster, and the best type to use is one that slowly releases nutrients into the soil around your tree.
An organic option is to use organic fertilizer spikes around the base of your sugar maple tree, like Purely Organic Molasses and Soy Fertilizer Spikes.
Using fertilizer can be a great way to maximize growth, particularly while your sugar maple tree is young.
Fertilizer Can Be Used In A Container Too
If you have chosen to begin your sugar maple tree’s growth in a container, using fertilizer may be even easier.
You can pot the entire container with potting soil that contains growth-aiding nutrients, like this Miracle-Gro Potting Mix that claims to make plants grow much bigger.
The best time to use fertilizer is in the summer.
For a more in depth fertilizer guide, read our article on how and when to fertilize your maple tree.
Using Plant Food
The amount of nutrients in the soil in which a sugar maple tree is growing is incredibly important, more so than with other types of trees.
This can be a good case for using some products that can enhance the nutrients of the soil in which you have planted your sugar maple tree.
For example, Espoma Organic Tree-Tone Fruit and Shade Tree Food are formulated specifically for shade trees, like maple trees.
You can also try speeding up the growth of your sugar maple tree with a concentrated tree food, like Covington Naturals Chelated Liquid Iron Plus Concentrate Blend, but this type of food should only be used on a mature tree, as it contains nitrogen. Young trees that get too much nitrogen can grow leaves faster than their roots can keep up, leaving them dehydrated.
The best time to apply plant food is in the spring.
Expediting Growth And Preserving Healthy By Preventing Insect Infestation
Sugar maple trees are susceptible to some types of pests, most notably, insects that are known to bore into the tree and a pest called the cottony maple scale, which can damage the tree by eating its sap.
Even though sugar maples do not usually suffer much from infestations, any setback could be enough to slow the growth you are trying to accelerate.
To feed your tree some extra nutrients while also giving it some protection against infestation from potentially harmful insects, you can try a product like BioAdvanced 12 Months Tree and Shrub Protect and Feed.
This can rid your sugar maple tree of current infestations or prevent future ones.
If you’d rather plant a quicker growing maple tree, take a gander at our guide on the fastest growing maple trees here!
Using Mulch To Keep The Ground Moist
Sugar maple trees do not do well in dry soil, so it is very important not only to keep your sugar maple tree well watered but also to make sure that the soil is able to retain that moisture at all times.
One of the best ways to do this is to put mulch around your tree.
To mulch your sugar maple tree, follow these simple guidelines:
- Start a circle of mulch that begins ways out from the trunk of your sugar maple tree. Do not pile the mulch into a mound around the base of the tree. Keep the entire flare at the bottom of the trunk free of mulch.
- Mulch helps keep the moisture in, but too much mulch can keep the oxygen out, so make sure that you only put down a layer of mulch about 2 to 4 inches thick and no thicker.
- Check the mulch every few months and be prepared to re-mulch about once a year. Mulch will naturally get dispersed, spread out, and thin over time, so you will have to do a little maintenance every several months or so.
- Use a high-quality mulch made from all-natural materials, like this Organic Mechanics All Natural Hardwood Bark Mulch.
That’s A Wrap!
Now you are ready to decide whether a sugar maple tree is right for your yard, and when and how you want to plant one. While the growth rate might not be the fastest, these trees have a spectacular payoff with large canopies, beautiful leaves, and long lives.
You can also speed up their growth with some of the methods explained here.
Enjoy your new sugar maple tree!
Bal, T. L., Storer, A. J., Jurgensen, M. F., Doskey, P. V., & Amacher, M. C. (2015). Nutrient stress predisposes and contributes to sugar maple dieback across its northern range: a review. Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research, 88(1), 64-83.
Lovett, G. M., & Mitchell, M. J. (2004). Sugar maple and nitrogen cycling in the forests of eastern North America. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2(2), 81-88.
Payette, S., Fortin, M. J., & Morneau, C. (1996). The recent sugar maple decline in southern Quebec: probable causes deduced from tree rings. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 26(6), 1069-1078.
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