How to Grow a Sugar Maple Tree

Sugar Maple Tree

Ray Sandusky Brentwood/TN/Moment Open/Getty Images

Sugar maple trees are well-known for the liquid gold that resides inside them: sap. Theirs is especially high in sugar content, which means not as much of it is needed in order to create maple syrup. On top of that, sugar maple trees add a dose of stunning beauty to any landscape, enlivening it even further once they change to a vibrant orange-red come fall.

Native to North America, sugar maple trees are best planted in early fall. They'll grow slowly but steadily, adding around 24 inches a year and reaching maturity after 30 to 40 years.

Botanical Name  Acer saccharum
Common Name  Sugar maple, hard maple, rock maple
Plant Type  Tree
Mature Size  40–80 ft. tall, 30–60 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type  Moisture but well-drained
Soil pH  Acidic
Bloom Time  Spring
Flower Color  Yellow-green
Hardiness Zones  3–8 (USDA)
Native Area  North America
Toxicity Non-toxic

Sugar Maple Tree Care

Anyone who has ever taken a ride through New England in the fall has probably caught a glimpse of the spectacular orange and red shades of the sugar maple tree. The towering titan provides excellent shade year-round and is beloved not only for its sprawling canopy (which is a vibrant green throughout the rest of the year), but also its namesake crop, maple syrup.

If you've hoping to grow a sugar maple tree from infancy, you will need lots of patience—the varietal takes decades to reach maturity and likely won't be tapped for syrup until it reaches 30 or 40 years of age. Still, there is plenty to enjoy between now and then—care for your maple tree properly, and you'll have an heirloom specimen that will lend beauty to your landscape for centuries to come.

Light

Sugar maple trees are best planted in a spot that receives full sun. Because they are often the largest specimen in the landscape (or will eventually be), it's unlikely that they will remain in partial shade for long unless they're in a forest environment. Still, they can survive in partial shade as well, as long as they get at least four to six hours of direct sunlight a day.

Soil

While sugar maple trees can thrive in a variety of different soil conditions, they'll do best in a mixture that is rich in organic matter, well-drained, and very deep. Because the tree will eventually get very large, it's important to plant it in a spot that will allow its roots to grow uninhibited—you should be wary of nearby sidewalks, home foundations, and driveways. Additionally, sugar maple trees will grow best in soil that is slightly acidic, with a pH level between 5.5 to 6.8

Water

As you may suspect, the exact water needs of the sugar maple tree depends on how big it is at that stage of its life. Consistent watering is especially important as the tree is getting established in your landscape—about one to two times a week generally works best. Beyond that, you can expect your sugar maple tree to need around five gallons or more of water a week. While it may be hard to tell if such a large specimen is getting enough water, you can look to clues like browning or wilting leaves as an indication that the plant needs more water.

Temperature and Humidity

As long as it's grown in the proper hardiness zone, you should have no problem maintaining the right temperature requirements for your sugar maple tree. However, there are a few instances where temperature plays an important role in the sugar maple trees' success. The trees are best planted during the cool weather of the fall or winter, and the successful harvesting of sap relies on an oscillating climate of cold nights (around 20 degrees Fahrenheit) and warmer days (around 40 degrees Fahrenheit) in late winter/early spring. This rise and fall in temperature creates internal pressure within the tree that causes the sap to flow.

Fertilizer

Generally, fertilizer is not a must-have when it comes to growing a successful sugar maple tree. That being said, if the soil in your landscape lacks nutrients, younger trees can benefit from a bit of added nutrition. Feed your tree with a slow-release fertilizer blend that is specially formulated for shrubs and trees.

Pruning Sugar Maple Trees

Only prune your sugar maple tree if necessary (like if the branches are hitting a roof or are damaged), and do so only at the end of summer or in the fall to avoid problems with bleeding sap. Additionally, you should never tap a tree for sap once the buds appear. In general, you can expect an average of 10 gallons per tap, and a tree can have up to three taps depending on the trunk diameter. It usually takes up to 50 gallons of sugar maple sap (depending on sugar content) to make one gallon of syrup.

Common Pests and Diseases

Sugar maple trees can come in contact with many pests and diseases throughout their long lives. Most common are cosmetic diseases, which impact only the leaves of the tree, and not the actual health of the tree itself. These can include diseases like root rot, sapstreak, tar spot, powdery mildew, verticillium wilt, and lichen.

Additionally, there should not be too many noticeable pest problems besides the possibility of bud damage. Some potential pests include aphids, maple leaf-cutter, and sapsuckers, most of which can be removed from the tree using strong jets of water or treated using a horticultural oil like neem oil.