How to Grow and Care for the Shantung Maple

Shantung maple tree branches with dark green leaves in shade

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

The leaves of Japanese maples are adored for their unique patterns and fabulous colors. However, often these trees are very finicky about their growing conditions, limiting who can enjoy them and where. A maple substitute with the same aesthetic value is available in the much sturdier and versatile Acer truncatum, Shantung maple.

The real reason most people pick a plant in the first place is the aesthetics value it brings to a landscape. A Shantung maple does not fall short there. It has interesting bark that lends value even as the tree loses its foliage. The foliage, though, is what steals the show when it comes to this landscape treasure. The tree’s leaves emerge as a purplish maroon in the early spring before turning a dark green through the summer before bursting into their autumn brilliance of yellows, oranges, reds, and purples.

There are very few “no-brainer” trees, but the Shantung maple falls into that category.  It is an excellent tree to choose when looking for an ornamental maple.

Botanical Name Acer truncatum
Common Name Shantung maple, purple blow maple
Plant Type  Deciduous tree
Mature Size 20 to 25 ft. tall, 15 to 20 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, part shade
Soil Type Average, medium, well-drained soil 
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time April
Flower Color Insignificant
Hardiness Zones USDA 4-8
Native Area  Korea and Northern China

Shantung Maple Care

Shantung maple trees are very easy to grow, pest and disease resistant, and pollution tolerant. As with most easy to care for trees a large part of their success and longevity depends on where you decide to plant them and the conditions of that site.

When considering placing a tree near a home or any infrastructure, you need to be aware of power lines and foundations. The Shantung maple is small enough not to risk interfering with overhanging wires, which saves the necessity of pruning the crown because of a right of way issue. The other infrastructure issue that is less of a concern with the Shantung is its roots, which are fibrous and deep. Roots of this type are less likely to damage pipes and foundations allowing the tree to be planted closer to a structure.

If cared for correctly, they can quickly mature and live to their expected lifespan of 100 years without worry.

Shantung maple tree branches with dark green leaves hanging

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Shantung maple tree branch with dark green star-shaped leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Shantung maple tree with multiple sprawling trunks

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Shantung maples are adaptable and will tolerate both full sun and partial shade. Be aware though, that planting the maple in full sun will ensure the best fall color as long as watering is maintained through the summer.

Soil

While the tree can be easily grown in various soil conditions, it will thrive in moist average soil well-draining. When it comes to soil pH Shantungs prefer acidic, neutral, to slightly alkaline soil. 

Water

Shantung maples benefit from a consistent watering schedule until they are established. Once the tree has established itself, watering is needed if it is evident that the tree needs supplemental irrigation. You can tell by leaf yellowing, wilting leaves, mainly if it has not rained in some time or there is an extended dry spell, the tree may need a drink.

Temperature and Humidity

A native to Northern China where temperatures can range from as low as 1 degree Fahrenheit in January to 87 degrees Fahrenheit in July, the Shantung maple is acclimated to dealing with temperature extremes that give most ornamental maples serious issues. This adaptability makes it the perfect tree to plant in the United States since the hardiness zones run the gamut from balmy to frosty, too.

Besides temperature, the Northern Steppes, which the Shantung call home, are also notoriously arid. The lack of regular water has allowed the tree to develop a level of drought tolerance that is not seen in many other ornamental maples. 

Because of the extreme conditions of its native habitat the Shantung maple can do well in a vast range of temperatures, thriving in the warm summer heat and cold subfreezing temperatures that hover just above zero. It is will also do well in areas subject to low moisture as those susceptible to drought. The USDA recommends it is planted in Zones 4-8.

Fertilizer

There is no need to fertilize a Shantung maple unless the soil is extremely poor and the tree is noticeably suffering. Before enhancing the soil, testing it may be a better solution. It may be that there is another issue besides infertile soil that is causing the tree’s issues.

Cultivars of the Shantung Maple

  • Acer truncatum 'Fire Dragon': The first truncatum cultivar, Fire Dragon offers brilliant red leaves in autumn and grows vigorously.
  • Acer truncatum ‘Mainstreet’: This cultivar grows with an upright pyramidal shape to 30 feet tall by 20 feet wide.
  • Acer truncatum ‘Baby Dragon’: A dwarf cultivar of the Shantung maple with profuse foliage and a globular, weeping habit.  
  • Acer truncatum x A. platanoides ‘Crimson Sunset’:  This is a hybrid between the Shantung and Norway maple that looks very similar to the Norway maple but shows off dark purple foliage.
  • Acer truncatum x A. platanoides ‘Keithsform Norwegian Sunset': Oval shaped tree with yellow-orange to red autumn color.
  • Acer truncatum ‘Sugar Dragon’: This cultivar is a brightly colored variegated selection with new growth that is pink and yellow until eventually turning to green and white.. 
  • Acer truncatum ‘Pure Fun’: Dwarf variety that has extremely slow growth rates and beautiful colors that matures to a maximum size of less than 10 feet.