Silver maple (botanical name: Acer saccharinum) is also known as soft maple, silver leaf maple, water maple, white maple, swamp maple, or silver maple. It belongs to the Soapberry or Maple family of trees. It is native to the eastern part of North America.
The silver maple is a tall, broad, upright, and fast-growing deciduous tree. Most trees reach their mature height between 50 and 70 feet although some may grow to twice this height. Mature width is usually between 30 and 50 feet.
The tree is propagated as an ornamental or a shade tree. You can find the tree growing along waterways, creeks, and areas where there is open sunlight. It thrives on wet and well-drained soil and in areas where there is the full or partial sun.
Silver maple grows really fast. It can grow to as tall as 100 feet. It also lives long – about 130 years or so. The tree is hardy, as long as you grow it in areas where the temperature stays above minus 30 degree Fahrenheit. Given the right environment, the tree can flourish without much care.
Silver maple Tree Care
The silver maple tree prefers to grow in areas where the sun is full or just partly shaded. It thrives in the fertile and well-drained soil. It does badly on tight clay soil. If you want the tree to flourish, make sure that the soil has a pH that lies somewhere between 4.5 and 7. Alkaline soil tends to promote chlorosis, which can kill the silver maple.
Choose an area far from septic systems or power lines. The tree’s crown may get in the way of telephone and power lines; its roots may damage clay sewer pipes.
Plant the silver maple in an area relatively free from other trees that may compete with the silver maple for resources. The silver maple thrives better when it has a lot of space.
Plant the tree by digging a hole that is thrice the root ball’s diameter. Do not go too deep. Use the trunk’s natural soil line as a guide. Use garden soil to fill up the extra space. Make sure to pat the soil to firm it down.
After planting, water the plant diligently. The soil needs to be kept moist so that the tree can establish itself and grow on its own.
Use a complete fertilizer to enrich the soil. It is best to do this during early spring. If the soil shows high alkalinity, you can lower the pH by using a fertilizer that has ammonium sulfate.
Pruning the tree is best done during the winter season or in early spring. Make sure to get rid of all the broken, diseased, and dead branches. Shape the tree to remove branches that may obstruct air flow. Cutting off heavy branches helps the tree to survive heavy storms. When you do not prune the tree frequently enough, ice and high winds can result in broken limbs.
After you prune the tree, check the tree to ensure that it forms a hard and dry protective callus. It may take several weeks for the tree to do this. If you see signs of fungus, rot, or mold, confer with a tree nursery expert right away before the problem becomes serious.
The tree tends to have fast-growing limbs that become so thick that they are likely to easily break or split. Pruning helps the tree to establish a strong structure to help it resist the damage that strong winds and ice may bring.
Remove limbs that grow to more than half of the trunk’s diameter. You can use a tape measure if you have any misgivings. Cut off the limbs with a long-handled saw. Make sure to stand well away so the falling branches do not fall on you. If you can’t do the task, you can always call for tree service to safely do the job for you.
Remove superfluous branches. Nip back the branches that reach way past the crown.
Trim back the growing tips to promote branching. Raising the crown will let in more air. It will also raise the leaves above the reach of bacteria pathogens and soil-borne fungi. Make sure that you fertilize the soil after you prune the tree.
A silver maple “bleeds” or releases sap when it is cut. This may make the tree prone to other problems. Schedule pruning in late winter when the tree becomes fully dormant. The sap stops running during this time.
If your tree needs to be trimmed further after this period, you can prune at the start of summer when the leaves are out. The timing works to avoid attracting bugs and insects.
Do not prune during a drought or a heat wave. Avoid pruning in late summer. The new growth will be tender and will not have enough time to mature before the early winter.
Care and Maintenance
Do not mow too frequently under the silver maple’s canopy. Frequent mowing is likely to damage the tree’s surface roots.
During winter, make sure to knock off snow and ice that may settle on the silver maple’s branches. This will reduce the weight load and prevent the branches from breaking and splitting. Make sure to do this, especially if the branches hang over your driveway or part of your house.
Regularly inspect the tree for borers, aphids, ants and other similar insect pests. These pests are not likely to do critical damage. The infestation, however, if left unaddressed for a long time, will considerably weaken the tree. Prune and fertilize the tree to keep the tree strong and healthy.
The silver maple has a dense root system. Do not plant small bushes or shrubs near the tree’s base. The silver maple’s roots are likely to crush their roots. It is more prudent to put pots of shade-loving annuals near the silver maple instead.
A young silver maple is sensitive to drought. Make sure that the tree receives supplemental water during dry periods.
You can cut off dead branches and suckers anytime during the year.
If you decide to chop down a full-grown silver maple, make sure to preserve the trunk and the mature branches. Furniture makers and woodworkers are known to vie for the tree’s “bird’s eye maple” – the beautifully twisted and gnarled patterns of the silver maple’s grain.
Whether you are planting the silver maple tree as an ornamental tree or for shade, it can be a real positive feature in your garden or courtyard. Simply make sure that you look for an appropriate location for it. Take the tree’s features and limitations into consideration when you plant, fertilize, prune, and care for it so you will enjoy this lovely, sturdy tree for a long time.