Red maple trees are used in the landscape for their beautiful foliage that turns brilliant orange-red or red in the fall. They can be grown in neutral to acidic soils with a pH of 6.8 and under in most parts of the United States. The amount of red in the fall foliage is directly related to the level of acidity in the soil. In the far South or Gulf Coast region, where the weather is hot and humid, red maples are prone to insect and disease problems. Because red maples are a fast-growing tree, the wood is weak and the limbs break easily in high winds, but most people look over that drawback because of their beauty in the fall. The lifespan of a red maple is about 70 years.
Locate a place in the garden for your red maple tree that has some protection from the hottest afternoon sun. Ideal locations are the north side of a building, where the roots remain cool during the summer, or on the east side of a tree line. In their native range, red maples lives in damp, lowland areas with acidic soil. In areas where the ground freezes, plant the red maple tree in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. In the Southern U.S., plant in the fall or early winter.
Dig a hole with the shovel that is three times bigger than the root ball of the red maple tree you are going to plant. This is so the soil can be loose enough for the roots to spread easily. Dig the hole deep enough that the tree is planted at the same level it is planted in the container. If planting a bare-root tree without a container, look for a soil line at the base of the tree on the trunk to see how deep the tree was previously planted.
Place the tree into the hole, spreading out any roots encircling the root ball, and slowly add the soil back into the hole. Add water to the hole while you are back filling the hole with native soil until the soil is slushy. This ensures that there are no air pockets left around the roots. Do not add any amendments or fertilizers to the soil. You want the tree to become accustomed to your native soil as it grows.
Add a 2-inch layer of mulch around the bottom of the tree. Leave a 1-inch space between the mulch and the trunk of the tree so mildew cannot spread from the mulch to the tree. For the first year, during weeks without at least an inch of rain, you need to water the tree. To water properly, set the hose at the base of the tree and let a stream of water the width of a pencil run for one hour over the root base once a week. Because fertilizer increases tender green growth that is susceptible to insect damage and disease, do not use fertilizer on your tree. Red maple trees are adaptable to most areas where the soil pH and moisture level are correct, so you should have a nice specimen in about eight years.