Paperbark Maple Plant Profile

A distant paperbark maple (Acer griseum) in a park
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Paperbark maple is a relatively small deciduous tree that provides unique beauty to the landscape, thanks to its fall color (typical of maples) and its peeling copper-orange to reddish-brown bark (quite unusual for maples). Thus, this tree adds ornamental interest year-round. Like eucalyptus and birch trees, the peeling bark delights children, who may harass the tree a little more than you like, unless you guard against it.

When mature, the paperbark maple grows to about 15 to 30 feet tall and wide, usually with an oval to a rounded oval shape. In rare instances, old trees may grow as high as 40 feet. This tree grows more slowly than many maples and may take 20 years to reach full height. Its slow-growing habit also means it can be a relatively expensive tree to purchase from garden centers.

Paperbark maples produce greenish flowers in spring (usually April), but the blooms are not significant. The flowers then give way to the familiar maple seed samaras (winged seed pods), about 1 1/4 inches long. The seeds are unusually large for maples.

Botanical Name Acer griseum
Common Name Paperbark maple
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide
Sun exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained
Soil pH 6.5 to 7
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Green (flowers are insignificant)
Hardiness Zones 4 to 8
Native Area China
Paperbark Maple
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How to Grow Paperbark Maples

Paperbark maple is a good choice in areas where clay soil makes other trees problematic. Once it is 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.

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.

Light

Paperbark maples thrive in both full sun and part shade, so you can place them in a variety of locations.

Soil

The best soil is moist and well-drained, but the tree can 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; slightly acid soil is ideal.

Water

Water needs are considered medium or moderate. Make sure the roots stay moist during the first two or three growing seasons. After that, 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 to zone 4, the paperbark maple can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. It is considered drought-tolerant but can experience leaf scorch in very dry weather.

Fertilizer

Feed the tree in early spring (in most areas) with a granular fertilizer (preferably organic).

Propagating

You can propagate this tree using cuttings, grafting or seed. For grafting, use the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) as the rootstock for best results. The germination rate of seeds is very low, so cuttings are the best option.

Landscape Uses

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 its slow growth, paperbarks are popular among bonsai enthusiasts.

Paperbark maple is a good choice when you want to have color in all seasons. The peeling reddish-brown bark is very attractive against a snowy background. The foliage turns a beautiful reddish-orange in fall, later in the season than most other maples. And the leaves are uncommonly pretty even in summer, when the darker green on the top surface contrasts with a more silvery-green color on the bottom sides.

With these distinctive characteristics in mind, most gardeners plant their maples in conspicuous locations, such as near a living room or kitchen window or bordering a porch or patio, to provide the best view of the tree's seasonal transformations.

Pruning

Soon after planting, 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.