Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) trees, commonly found in the eastern United States, are very large trees often used as ornamental trees because of their fast growth rate and attractive green foliage. It hosts several butterfly and moth species, provides food and shelter to wildlife, and creates shade and wind blocks, lowering energy usage. It is a great tree to grow with many benefits to people and creatures alike, but it can be problematic if you don't consider its weaknesses, and there are quite a few to consider.
|Common Name||Silver maple|
|Botanical Name||Acer saccharinum|
|Plant Type||Deciduous tree|
|Mature Size||50- 80 ft. tall, 40-60 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, part shade|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil|
|Soil pH||4.5 to 7.5|
|Bloom Time||Early Spring|
|Hardiness Zones||USDA 3a-9a|
|Native Area||Eastern United States|
Silver Maple Care
The silver maple is a labor-intensive tree that requires a good bit of effort to care for it. You will want to plan before deciding if it is the right tree for your space, where to plant it if it is, and a plan of action on how to care for it going forward regarding your space.
The reason silver maples are desired as landscape trees is also what causes some of the biggest issues. The fast-growing branches result in weak limbs that are susceptible to breakage and highly prone to structural defects. This kind of weak wood is a liability to anything in the surrounding area, including the tree itself. The tree must be pruned regularly when first planted by a certified arborist to train for correct growth. Silver maples with multiple trunks are particularly hazardous, because one side is liable to break off. Mature silver maples with multiple dominant stems should be cabled and braced.
This same rapid growth needs a vigorous shallow root system to support the tree as it matures. The problem this causes is that the roots can sometimes damage sewers, septic systems, foundations, and sidewalks. You can avoid costly damage from roots by planting silver maples far from your infrastructure and planning future projects accordingly.
Another common issue with silver maples is how successful they are as a species. Not just as a single tree but as a species overall. Many people consider silver maples messy and weedy because they distribute samaras or maple seeds or what many people call helicopters everywhere. These eventually cause volunteer silver maples to pop up just about everywhere. The weediness combined with the damage-causing potential has led some municipalities to prohibit the planting of the species. Be sure to check local ordinances before planting to be safe. Even if you cannot grow a silver maple, there are a variety of other fast-growing tree shade trees you can grow.
In the end, as always, the best thing is, plan appropriately, do some research and see if this species is the right tree for your landscape project. It will save you a ton of work and money in the future.
Planting your silver maple in an area that gets plenty of sunlight will ensure you it has the best conditions to stay healthy and produce the lovely vibrant green foliage for which it's known. It can tolerate partial shade but will not thrive in full shade at all. Aim to give your tree at least 6 hours of light daily, either direct or indirect.
Though adaptable to multiple soil conditions, the one common element you should be looking for in soil when thinking about silver maples is moisture. Silver maples do not thrive in dry soil; this needs to be considered when planting your tree. Ideally, you want to plant your tree in moist to wet, well-draining soil that is somewhat rich in organics. Giving your tree this soil will make it grow happily.
If grown in the proper conditions and region, your silver maple should not require supplemental watering once it is established. Until that time, you will want to water your tree abundantly when you plant it and weekly for the first two seasons until you can be sure it's established. Follow the rule of 2 to 3 gallons of water per caliper inch of trunk diameter. After the second year, let mother nature do its thing and only lend a hand in times of drought and only if the tree looks like it's struggling.
Temperature and Humidity
Silver maples prefer the eastern seaboard and its cool falls and springs, cold winters, and wet warm summers. In short, it enjoys four seasons with a range of moderate temperatures that produce a good amount of moisture. Planting your tree anywhere outside of USDA 3a-9a will challenge your maple's hardiness, and it will struggle.
Being a tree that is typically a forest tree, the silver maple does not need supplemental fertilizer. It will thrive without any amendments and supplements as long as the soil is sufficiently moist.
Types of Silver Maples
Like most trees today, the silver maple has had cultivars developed by horticulturalists to accentuate certain traits. Sadly these cultivars do not solve any of the wildtype's failings and address form or color. These cultivars are still worth looking at as they are attractive and unique.
- Acer saccharinum 'Weiri' - smaller, cut-leaved form with pendulous branches.
- Acer saccharinum 'Silver Queen' - bright chartreuse leaves with almost white leaf undersides.
- Acer saccharinum 'Skinneri'- large weeping, pyramidal form.
- Acer x fremanii - a hybrid cross between Red, for color and Silver Maple for fast growth.
The major work of owning and caring for a silver maple comes from pruning. When first becoming established, the tree needs regular pruning by a certified arborist to train it to grow in the correct shape. Once established, yearly pruning is required to develop a strong tree. It will need to be pruned so that major limbs remain smaller than half the trunk's diameter. Structural pruning also is a priority on your yearly to-do list to eliminate weak branch crotches. Also, the trunk may develop sprouts; you should remove these suckers with hand clippers and apply a sprout suppressant.
Silver maples are particularly poor at recovering from wounds, so if yours has a defect, it is often not possible for an arborist to correct it without risking the tree succumbing to rot or disease. Any pruning cuts must be kept very small, which is why it is so critical to prune for desired growth structure early on.
Propagating Silver Maples
Though you could certainly try to grow a silver maple from a seed or through propagation, the easiest way to propagate silver maples is through the volunteer method. You will find that at least a dozen volunteer seedlings around your landscape from scattered samaras every year. Dig them up, place the seedlings in a pot large enough for a good root system to develop, filled with peat, sand, vermiculite, perlite, or any good soilless mix, and watch your volunteer silver maple grow.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Numerous insects bother the silver maple, but none are serious enough to cause a health tree big worries. Luckily you can treat most of the pests with a chemical management solution. The most obvious insect is often the gall mite due to the growths or galls on the leaves that they leave in their wake. These do no damage to the tree and are not long-lasting, so no treatment is necessary.
Several diseases also attack silver maples. Most of these are not very serious. Unfortunately, one, verticillium wilt, can cause some issues and can lead to tree death. The symptoms are wilting and dead branches and sapwood that has been discolored to dark green. You cannot save seriously infected trees. Treatment for lightly infected trees is pruning away dead and infected wood.