Maple trees, with their distinctive leaf shape, are some of the most easily recognizable trees in the world. Desirable for their showy fall color, these deciduous trees are often planted by home gardeners who want a tree to shade their yard. There are thousands of species of maple trees worldwide, according to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. Some, like the sugar maple, are an important part of the American landscape.
Chalk Maple (Acer leucoderme)
Chalk maples are small trees that often grow on multiple trunks, giving them the appearance of a round bush or shrub rather than a tall tree. These maples, which are native to North America, can reach a height of around 25 feet. Chalk maples are named for the light gray color of their bark and have excellent fall color, with the leaves turning bright yellow, red and orange.
Chalk maples are hardy plants that can grow in acidic or slightly alkaline soil. They are able to grow in full sun or shade and will thrive even if the ground is hard and dry. In fact, chalk maples are frequently found growing in rocky areas in mountain forests. These slow-growing trees can also be grown in containers if trained to grow on one trunk. Chalk maples grow best in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) growing zones 5b through 8.
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
Sugar maples are the most commonly found maple tree in the northeastern part of the United States, according to Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson, horticulturists with the University of Florida. These slow-growing, hardwood trees have spectacular fall color and sap that has a high sugar content, which can be boiled down to make maple syrup. Sugar maples can grow to 80 feet tall in home landscapes, and larger in the wild.
Sugar maples grow best in part shade with cool, moist soil. The trees do not tolerate extended periods of hot, dry conditions and can suffer from leaf scorch. They are also susceptible to verticillium wilt and air pollution. Sugar maples are cold-hardy, however, and grow well in USDA zones 3 through 8a.
Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)
Norway maples are medium-sized trees that grow to between 40 and 50 feet tall. These trees are not as showy in the fall as some other varieties of maple bushes and trees, but they are extremely hardy and can be planted in just about any location. Norway maples have leaves that turn yellow in the fall and are known for their very dense foliage, making them excellent shade trees--although not much will grow underneath them.
Norway maple trees will grow in a wide range of soils, including clay. They can tolerate air pollution, hot, dry conditions and even a salty environment. Norway maples prefer a location that receives at least a half day of sun and are best planting in USDA growing zones 3 to 7.
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
Japanese maples are small, ornamental trees. They have graceful, delicate leaves and thin branches. The leaves can be red, green or purple, depending on the cultivar. Japanese maples are often planted by water to better reflect the beauty of the tree.
Japanese maple trees are not as hardy as their larger cousins. They should only be grown in USDA zones 5 though 8. These trees need a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day, and soil that is loamy or sandy and moist without being overly wet or boggy. Aphids can be a problem on these plants.