Plant taxonomy classifies Autumn Blaze maple tree as Acer x freemanii 'Jeffersred' Autumn Blaze®. It is a hybrid of the red maple (Acer rubrum) and the silver maple (Acer saccharinum). 'Jeffersred' is the cultivar name, but the plant is better known by its registered brand (trade) name.
Features of the Plant
At maturity, Autumn Blaze maples will reach about 50 feet tall by 40 feet wide, with a rounded to oval crown. Fortunately, maturity comes quickly: They can grow as fast as 3 feet per year under the right conditions. Their fast-growing nature is, in fact, one of their best qualities. The branching pattern is dense and ascending. They come into their own in fall, as their fall color is a brilliant orange-red.
Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements, Other Selections
Autumn Blaze is suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-8. The plants are best grown in a moist but well-drained soil and in full sun to partial shade. They prefer a soil pH that is acidic.
There are many other popular cultivars, hybrids, and brands of A. rubrum:
- Red Sunset®, October Glory®, and Autumn Flame® all have a mature size similar to that of Autumn Blaze.
- 'Armstrong' can grow to be taller than Autumn Blaze (up to 70 feet) and yet has a narrower spread (15-20 feet); this gives it a distinctly columnar shape.
- 'Marmo' also has a columnar shape, but a less pronounced one. It too can grow to be 70 feet tall; it attains a width of 35-40 feet.
- 'Columnare' advertises its columnar shape right in its name. Its height range is 40-80 feet; its spread is 15-30 feet.
Care, Landscape Uses, Benefits, Drawback
Autumn Blaze maples can function in the landscape as fast-growing shade trees and as specimens highly valued for their fall foliage. With back-to-back "Urban Tree of the Year" awards in 2003 and 2004, you know they are pollution-tolerant (an important fact if you will be growing them along a street in a busy neighborhood). As with other trees deemed suitable for urban areas, they can adapt to a wide range of soil conditions and are both insect-resistant and disease-resistant.
In fact, these plants need little care. You must keep the soil around their roots moist while they are still young. But, after that, they will need watering only during long periods without rainfall. Nor do they require pruning, generally. If you have a specific reason to prune them, do so in late spring or early summer. Likewise, fertilizing is not really a necessity and should be avoided altogether for the first year after you have planted the tree. But if you would like to give an older plant a boost, fertilize in early spring or in the fall with a fertilizer high in nitrogen (as indicated by the first number in the NPK sequence on the fertilizer bag).
These are outstanding fall foliage specimens. While their strength and their tolerance for pollution are useful qualities, it is their fast-growing nature and beauty in fall that ensures them a place among the best landscape trees, along with Red Sunset and October Glory, which also have their champions. How do you choose between these different types? To help you in your plant selection, always take a look at examples growing locally (in parks, botanical gardens, arboretums, etc.) and/or check with your county extension, because one type may perform better in one part of the country than another will.
About the only drawback that Autumn Blaze maple has is that it is shallow-rooted. This means that, over time, the roots may stick up out of your lawn. Such roots are not very pleasant to look at, and they are also hazardous. You can trip over them or accidentally hit them with your lawnmower blade. The solution is to cover the exposed roots with a small amount of soil (but the devil is in the details).
Why This Super Hybrid Cultivar Is Superior to Wild Maple Trees
How is this hybrid cultivar better than a plain old red maple tree (Acer rubrum)? Well, for one thing, homeowners often become impatient with newly-planted red maples, which do not look like much for several years. The cross with silver maple seems to have given a boost to this hybrid, making it grow faster without compromising the natural strength of red maple branches (a strength lacked by silver maples). This fast grower will not make you wait so long for that much-anticipated shade that you need for your yard.
Moreover, cultivars often promise uniformity in their characteristics. Want a tree that will attain a certain height, keep a certain shape, and produce leaves of a certain color? Then your best bet will often be a cultivar. Take the feature of mature height, for example. It may be important to you that your tree reach a specific height and not grow any taller than that, perhaps because you have a small yard and do not want your property overwhelmed by a gigantic tree. The height of wild maples (and even some cultivars) varies wildly; it is not something that you can count on very firmly. By contrast, Autumn Blaze maple trees are consistent about reaching their mature height of about 50 feet tall, with little variation.
Other Choices With Colorful Fall Leaves
Sumac is one of the shortest fall-foliage standouts. It is classified as a shrub, although staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) can grow to be tall (18-35 feet) and rather tree-like. Sumac shrub tends also to be one of the first plants in autumn to assume its fall foliage.
By contrast, oak and beech tend to be two of the tardiest in putting on their fall colors. Also, sweetgum tree often makes you wait until November before it becomes colorful. If you do not want the job of having to clean up the gumballs of a sweetgum, select a non-fruiting cultivar. Along the same lines, most people prefer to grow the male Ginkgo biloba, because the fruiting female can be very messy.
Dogwood and shagbark hickory are two of the more versatile specimens. Both "flowering" dogwoods and "Japanese" dogwoods are better known for their spring flowers than their fall foliage, although they would be well worth growing for the latter, alone. Meanwhile, hickory provides not only a golden fall foliage but also its namesake nuts.