How to Grow and Care for Silver Maple

Silver maple tree with tall upright branches full of bright green leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The silver maple is a fast-growing tree that grows 50 to 100 feet tall. Its bark is grayish-brown and becomes shaggy as the plant ages. The leaves are light green on top, silvery on the bottom, 6 inches across, and have five lobes deeply cut into them. Formerly valued in landscaping for the shade it can cast in a yard, this deciduous tree has now fallen out of favor for several reasons. But the tree does still have its admirers; if you are one of them, know that silver maple is best planted in early spring. Learn the pros and cons of silver maple so you can determine whether the tree is suitable for your own yard.

 Common Names Silver maple, soft maple, creek maple, river maple, white maple, water maple
 Botanical Name Acer saccharinum
 Family Sapindaceae
 Plant Type Deciduous tree
 Mature Size 50 to 100 ft. tall
 Sun Exposure Full to partial sun
 Soil Type Sandy, loamy
 Soil pH Acidic, neutral, slightly alkaline
 Hardiness Zones 3 to 9, USDA
 Native Area Eastern North America

Silver Maple Care

Because its native habitat is floodplains, silver maple performs better in wet areas than do many trees. Happily, the tree does not demand wet soil, which gives you some leeway in selecting a location for it. But it does perform best in full sun.

Silver maple is a high-maintenance tree. It has weak limbs that tend to break during wind storms and snowstorms, causing you the extra work of having to clean up the debris afterward.

Silver maple tree branches with silvery-green lobed leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silver maple tree branch with loved leaves with toothed edges closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silver maple tree trunk with grayish-brown bark closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Grow silver maple tree in full sun for best results, although it is tolerant of partial shade.

Soil

As a tree naturally accustomed to the silt of floodplains, silver maple performs best in a light soil.

Water

While silver maple can be grown in wet soils, it tolerates drought once established. For best performance, however, water it regularly when young.

Temperature and Humidity

Adaptable to a wide range of climates (from zone 3 to zone 9), silver maple is not troubled by humid conditions. Nor is it fussy about temperature, performing just as well in cold climates as in warmer climates.

Fertilizer

Fertilize silver maple with a complete fertilizer annually in early spring for optimal performance. The instructions on the package will specify how much fertilizer to apply based on the size of the tree. Follow these instructions carefully so as to avoid over-fertilizing and potentially burning your plant.

Types of Silver Maple

  • Acer saccharinum 'Beebe' offers semi-pendulous limbs.
  • Acer saccharinum 'Blair' was bred to have stronger wood, obviating the chief drawback of silver maples: branches easily damaged by storms
  • Acer saccharinum 'Silver Queen' is a good choice for those who do not want to be bothered with having to pull unwanted seedlings, since it is seedless.

Pruning

Silver maple needs to be pruned only after limbs have been damaged. The damaged limbs should be pruned back to the collar.

Propagating Silver Maple

Silver maple can be propagated through two different methods, but the most reliable method is via (softwood) cuttings taken in mid-summer or mid-fall. Here’s how to propagate the plant via cuttings:

  1. Using a sharp knife and choosing a new-growth branch, cut a shoot 4 to 6 inches long.
  2. Get a pot ready by filling it with potting soil and poking a hole into this soil. Take off the leaves along the lower third of the cutting. Dip the bottom of the cutting in a rooting hormone, then insert this same end into the hole you just made. Water the potting soil. Keep the pot in indirect sunlight.
  3. Be extra careful to keep the potting soil moist until the cutting roots. This is most easily achieved if you create a plastic tent over the cutting. For a "tent pole," insert a small stake into the potting soil. For a "canvas," drape a clear plastic bag over the stake. Lift up the bag to water.
  4. Once the cutting has rooted, remove the bag but continue to keep the soil evenly moist. Transplant the rooted cutting outdoors next spring after all danger of frost has passed.

How to Grow Silver Maple From Seed

You can also grow silver maple from seed on your own, but this method is unreliable. It is better to let nature take its course. Paired samaras (containing the seed) succeed silver maple flowers. The seeds mature in late spring and may well sprout on their own. So you may not have to take special steps to propagate silver maple. In such cases, simply dig the seedlings and transplant them to the desired location (silver maples transplant well).

Overwintering

Silver maple is a very hardy tree. No extra care is required to overwinter it.

Common Problems With Silver Maple

Silver maple is a highly problematic plant to grow. Both its roots and its seedlings can cause you headaches.

Shallow Roots

Over time, a dense network of exposed roots may form, roots that can damage mower blades when you mow the lawn. The solution is to avoid growing silver maple as a lawn tree. Instead, grow it at the edge of your property, in a woodland garden.

Unwanted Seedlings

Your silver maple may produce unwanted seedlings that you end up having to remove. The solution here is to grow the 'Silver Queen' cultivar. Failing that, stay ahead of the problem. Do not wait until your yard becomes overgrown with such seedlings. At your earliest convenience, pull them whenever you see them.

FAQ
  • What good points do some people find in silver maple?

    Some people find the silvery underside of its foliage attractive, a feature especially prominent when the wind blows. Its fast-growing nature also gives it an advantage over other trees in cases where the homeowner simply doesn't have the time to wait for a slower-growing tree.

  • Are there any other practical disadvantages in growing silver maple?

    Yes. Silver maple, like most maples, has shallow, water-seeking roots. So avoid growing it near driveways, sidewalks, septic systems, and water lines.

  • Does silver maple have nice fall foliage?

    No. Silver maple develops a mediocre yellow color in autumn.