How to Grow Red Sunset Maple Trees

More Reliably Red Than Its Wild Cousin

Red Sunset maple just starting to turn red.


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In This Article

"Red Sunset" maple is the trade name for a cultivar ('Franksred') of the wild red maple tree. It is grown for the richness and reliability of its fall foliage color (turning from green to brilliant red) and for its cold hardiness. The mature size the tree attains (a manageable 40 to 50 feet) is also more predictable than it is for the wild plant, which is an important consideration for homeowners with small yards who need assurance that a tree is not going to overwhelm their properties.

The Red Sunset maple tree is a moderately fast grower. It is best planted in the late fall or the early spring in most climates.

The Red Sunset maple needs a lot of water. This trait immediately suggests that it would be well suited to being grown in a rain garden. It is also suitable for use as a specimen for the front lawn and works well as a small shade tree.

This tree is ill-suited, however, to being used as a tree to line a driveway, a sidewalk, or a masonry walkway. This is because it has shallow roots that can damage such structures if planted too close to them.

Learn how to grow Red Sunset maple and make it a central feature of your fall foliage display.

 Botanical Name Acer rubrum 'Franksred'
 Common Name Red Sunset maple
 Plant Type Deciduous tree
 Mature Size 40 to 50 feet tall, 30 to 40 feet wide
 Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade 
 Soil Type Moist but well-drained, and of high fertility
 Soil pH Slightly acidic
 Bloom Time March
 Flower Color Red on the female, yellow on the male
 Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
 Native Area This is a cultivar. The species plant is native to North America.

Red Sunset Maple Care

Mulch the Red Sunset maple to help keep its root system cool and to retain water. But, be careful when mulching as a depth of 2 to 3 inches is enough, and the mulch should not come into contact with the trunk of the tree (which would invite pest and disease problems).

Light

At the northern end of its range, give Red Sunset maple full sun to promote optimal fall leaf color. At the southern end of its range, it can take partial shade.

Soil

Red Sunset maple likes soil rich in nutrients and with a pH value that is slightly acidic. You can achieve both of these ends by feeding it with a fertilizer intended for acid-loving plants. Follow the instructions on the label to determine the amount of fertilizer to apply.

While the tree tolerates being in standing water for short periods of time, over the long run, it will perform better in soil that drains well.

Water

The Red Sunset maple tree has above-average water needs and its soil must be kept evenly moist.

Fertilizer

The first time that you will be feeding Red Sunset maple is when you initially plant it. The best fertilizer to use at planting time is a slow-release fertilizer, because this type of fertilizer is less likely to burn the tender young roots of the tree. As a further precaution against burning the roots, mix the fertilizer thoroughly into your soil first rather than simply pouring the fertilizer into the planting hole.

Thereafter, feed Red Sunset maple in early spring annually with a fertilizer meant for acid-loving plants.

Red Maple Varieties

Maple trees belong to the soapberry family, making them relatives of horse-chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum). Both red maples (Acer rubrum) and sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are valued for their fall foliage color.

The advantage in growing cultivars of red maple rather than the wild trees is that the performance of the former is more predictable than it is for the latter. Most importantly, the cultivars achieve the desired red color more reliably than do the wild plants. Conditions may cause the color of the latter to be yellow instead of red, despite the common name. In addition to Red Sunset maple, another excellent cultivar is 'Autumn Blaze.'

Common Pests & Diseases

Among the worst pests affecting Red Sunset maple are aphids, borers, caterpillars, leafhoppers, and scale. Its chief disease problems are canker, fungal leaf spot, root rot, and verticillium wilt.

The pests can often be eradicated by using neem oil. Unfortunately, the disease problems are not as easy to solve (after the fact) and are best addressed through prevention. Some preventative techniques include optimal site selection, spacing to promote airflow, and a proper watering regimen.