How to Grow & Care for a Paperbark Maple Tree

paperbark maple tree

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

In This Article

Paperbark maple is a relatively small deciduous tree that provides unique beauty to the landscape year-round, thanks to its fall color (typical of maples) and its peeling copper-orange to reddish-brown bark (quite unusual for maples). The tree has trifoliate leaves that are dark green and toothed.

Native to China, paperback maple trees grow more slowly than many other maple varieties (less than 12 inches a year) and may take up to 20 years to reach their full height, which can be up to 30 feet. Its slow-growing habit also means it can be a relatively expensive tree to purchase as mature from garden centers. Paperbark maples are best planted in the fall but can be planted any time the ground is not frozen.

Common Name Paperbark maple
Botanical Name Acer griseum
Family Sapindaceae
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 20–30 ft. tall, 15–25 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Green (flowers are insignificant)
Hardiness Zones 4–8, USA
Native Area China

Paperbark Maple Care

Paperbark maple is a good choice in areas where clay soil makes other trees problematic. Once it's well established, this species is fairly tolerant of drought and is remarkably free of problems from pests and diseases. You may see aphids, caterpillars, mites, and scale on this tree, but these pests are rarely life-threatening, especially to larger specimens.

The papery, peeling bark that gives this tree its name doesn't appear until the tree is six or seven years old. Once it starts, the bark continues to peel for the rest of its life. Acer griseum is the only maple species with this type of peeling bark. Unlike many maples, paperbark maple is an excellent small tree for small yards, where it can work well as an ornamental specimen near a deck or patio. It can also be planted as a lower-level tree below a towering canopy of taller trees. Due to their slow growth, paperbarks are popular among bonsai enthusiasts.

paperbark maple
​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
paperbark maple tree
​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 
paperbark maple tree
​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 

Light

Paperbark maples thrive in both full sun and partial shade, so you can place them in a variety of locations where they can get between two and six hours of light daily.

Soil

The best soil for paperbark maple trees is moist and well-drained, but the species can also tolerate many different soil types and textures, including clay soils that challenge many other trees. Paperbacks do well in a variety of soil pH levels, but neutral to slightly acidic soil is ideal.

Water

A paperbark maple's water needs are considered medium or moderate. Make sure the roots stay moist during the first two or three growing seasons. After that, you can give the roots a deep soak every week, but only during hot, dry weather. Otherwise, mature trees usually don't need additional watering beyond natural precipitation.

Temperature and Humidity

Hardy in zones four through eight, paperbark maple trees can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. They're also is considered drought-tolerant but can experience leaf scorch in very dry, hot weather.

Fertilizer

Feed your paperbark maple tree in early spring before new growth appears using an all-purpose granular fertilizer (preferably organic). A layer of organic mulch mid-summer will help keep the roots of the tree cool, retain moisture, and give an additional nutrition boost.

Pruning

Soon after planting your paperbark maple tree, you will need to decide if you want the tree to have a single trunk or multiple stems. To train it as a single-trunk specimen, choose a central leader and prune away all others. Beyond this kind of shaping, not much pruning is required—just periodically remove any dead, diseased, or damaged wood as needed. Pruning is best done as soon as the tree enters dormancy in late fall or early winter. If you wait until spring to prune, don't do it until later in the season, as maples tend to bleed sap.

How to Grow Paperbark Maple From Seed

Growing from seed is the preferred method of starting a paperback maple tree over propagation through grafting, which is notoriously difficult and unsuccessful. However, growing from seed can still take a lot of trial and error (not to mention numerous years), so selecting an already established young tree from a nursery is typically the route to go for most homeowners. If you're still interested in growing a tree via seed, you can follow the below steps:

  1. Start by soaking the seed in hot tap water and allowing it to sit for at least 24 hours to begin coaxing it out of dormancy.
  2. Combine a 50/50 mixture of compost and perlite in a large plastic freezer bag. The mixture should be moist but not wet.
  3. Place the soaked seed inside the bag and put it somewhere warm for at least 17 weeks.
  4. After the 17-week warm period is up, the seed will need another 17 weeks in the cold to break dormancy. A fridge is a great option for this.
  5. Once the cold pre-treatment has finished, your seed is ready to be planted. Fill a seed tray with quality compost and plant the seeds no more than 1 centimeter deep into the soil.
  6. Keep the seedling at a moderate temperature (no warmer than 80 degrees Fahrenheit) as it germinates. It should grow between 4 and 15 inches the first year and will be ready to be planted in its permanent position after about two years.
FAQ
  • How long can paperbark maple trees live?

    While it varies slightly depending on location and care, most paperbark maple trees live on average 80 to 100 years.

  • What are alternatives to the paperbark maple tree?

    If you're looking for a tree with visually interesting bark like the paperbark maple, consider planting a river birch, crape myrtle, or bald cypress.

  • Can paperbark maple trees grow indoors?

    While paperbark maple trees can be started indoors, they're best grown and cared for outdoors in order to meet all their necessary growing conditions.