Red Maples Signal Approaching Fall by Diana Politika


Summer has passed and fall is beginning to show its colors. Our native plants truly lack visual pop compared to that right hand side of the nation. Various shades and hues of green. Various muted yellows. The real show stopper in our native arena is the vine maple.

Vine maples can be quite tall or kept to a manageable height of around 8 feet by pruning. In early spring the emerging growth reminds one of small cocktail shrimp lined up on the branches. Lush, medium green leaves follow that create a nice respite from midday sun.

Vine maples begin to show the beginning of fall color as early as July 4th, which I can attest to by spending 17 years in Forks for the holiday celebrations. A light copper sheen begins across the most sun exposed area of the leaf. By September, the show is in full swing with bright orange, red and sometimes plum tones.

All maples will lose their leaves in fall but most turn fabulous colors prior to doing so. The range of adaptation is vast. Some grow only a few feet tall while others may stretch to 70 feet.

Many of the 30 – 50 foot size maples are in the group called red maple. Which, contrary to logic, does not mean that they are red in summer. There are many named varieties of red maple, all having something a little different from the straight species “Acer rubrum”. Some are thin; the canopies can be various widths and forms. Some color earlier than others, some hold their leaves longer. Some have pinkish tones in the coloration, others are fire engine red. The most valuable characteristic to red maple is the adaptability to soil conditions. They can grow in soil that floods or has a high water table. They can grow in soil that becomes positively parched in late summer, although early leaf drop may occur. They are not prone to weediness as the Norway maples are, sprouting seedlings everywhere a “helicopter” seed lands.

All of the Japanese maples are much smaller in stature. These are known as “Acer palmatum” with a possible addition of “dissectum”. The dissectum group consists of lacy, deeply cut, weeping forms. They are the maples that grow in the shape of mushrooms. They are generally very slow to add height although there are tricks to manipulate it to do so. Only a handful of dissectum types grow without the weeping habit. Because of the delicate nature of the leaf, dissectums do best in areas out of strong winds. They will grow nicely in full sun or part shade although sunny locations will require adequate water in summer.

There are over 600 varieties of Japanese maples and they run the gamut of forms, leaf shapes, fall color, leaf color ( even pink, green and white on the same leaf! ) and bark color. They all respond well to container growing ( think bonsai ), pruning, shaping and general garden manipulation. Spring growth can be as interesting as fall color in many.

There is a maple out there for every need. Specimen showpiece to low growing filler to cascading forms for ponds, walls or rockeries. There is no better tree than a maple for summer shade. Generally free of insect problems, few diseases and strong wood capable of standing up to our winter winds, maples are an excellent choice to add to your property.

Consider planting a tree ( or 10! ). They breath in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. The tropical rainforest was once called the lungs of our Earth. Millions of acres have been deforested there. They will not regrow naturally. A tropical seed must germinate immediately or it will be eaten or rot. The forests are gone. Plant a tree for Earth. Plant a tree for the future. Plant a tree for life.

Written by Diana Politika, owner of The Greenhouse Nursery. Conveniently located between Port Angeles and Sequim, one mile east of Wilder Toyota. Always featuring a vast selection of trees, shrubs, perennials and oddballs. Open year round!

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