In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2004
Regional Report

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How can you resist the beautiful bark of the paperbark maple?

The Glory of Small Maples

I have just fallen in love with my paperbark maple all over again. This lovely tree is in full fall red right now, and as the leaves scatter, the glory of the peeling bark is beginning to draw my attention anew.

There is a whole group of small maples that add wonderful ornament to a yard yet are often overlooked because they have no spectacular blossoms. However, the maples have other attributes that make them desirable for four seasons rather than just one or two as with an ornamental crab apple or redbud.

All the small maples perform best in full sun, but most will tolerate a small bit of shade if necessary. Most have attractive fall color, lovely bark, and crisply shaped leaves. Most of the maples in the category of "small" grow only to about 20 feet tall. Here is a sampling of those that thrive in the Midwest, given adequate drainage and decently fertile soil.

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Hedge maple (Acer campestre) is branched to the ground, resembling a large shrub. The small, tidy, dark green leaves change to yellow in the fall, and it is one of the best maples for dry, alkaline soil.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is best known for its lovely cinnamon-colored bark that peels off in shimmering curls. The three-parted leaf is a rich green in summer and turns bright red to maroon in fall.

Three-flowered maple (Acer triflorum) also has exfoliating bark that's not quite as dramatic as paperbark maple. The three-parted leaves are deep green, turning to yellows and rosy reds in fall. This excellent small tree has endless uses in the landscape -- from focal point to foundation planting to street tree.

Fullmoon maple (Acer japonicum) is an excellent substitute for those of us who cannot grow Japanese maples. This tree has many-lobed leaves, similar to the true Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), but it's much hardier and less risky. One particularly nice feature of this maple is the presence of attractive flowers in spring. The red flowers hang down 3 or 4 inches, like jeweled earrings on a grand lady. The lobed leaves turn from deepest green in summer to all shades of yellow, red, and orange in fall.

Trident maple (Acer buergeranum) has leaves with only three lobes that open bronze to purple and then turn lustrous green for summer. The fall color ranges from yellow to orange to red, and the bark exfoliates in plates to reveal orange underbark.

Whichever small maple catches your eye, it is sure to please.


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