It’s hard to beat the fall color show put on by red maples, or the season-long color of many Japanese maples. But growing maples in our hot and humid Houston climate can be a bit of a challenge. There are a number of factors that can challenge the success of a maple in our area, such as soil composition, pH and drainage. However, if you choose the right maple variety you can successfully grow them in your landscape.
When it comes to the red maple family (Acer rubrum), there are a handful of species and varieties that will perform the best in the Houston area.
One of the best is the ‘Drummond’ red maple (Acer rubrum var. drummondii), which is a vigorous, fast-growing native maple. This variety makes an excellent shade tree and puts on vibrant fall color. Some years fall foliage color is golden yellow, while other years it may provide some orange and red. Drummond maples can be grown in a full sun exposure or tolerate some shade from adjacent buildings or larger trees. They do prefer more acidic soils, but it is one of the maples tolerant of different soil conditions and lackluster drainage.
An excellent red maple cultivar called ‘Autumn Blaze’ is also fast growing and quicker to establish than some of the other maples. This maple is also an excellent urban shade tree. Once established, they are fairly drought tolerant. If you’re looking for a shock of red fall color, which is sometimes hard to achieve in the Houston climate, ‘Autumn Blaze’ fits the bill. ‘Autumn Fantasy’ and ‘Autumn Flame’ are also excellent choices.
If you’ve got your heart set on a Japanese maple then you definitely need to consider growing conditions. You can successfully grow Japanese maples if you can provide them with some shade from the afternoon west sun and make sure they have consistent moisture. Japanese maples can tolerate a variety of soil conditions as long as they aren’t exposed to long periods of either standing water or extended drought. Too much afternoon sun will also put too much pressure on the plants.The ideal location for a Japanese maple is under the high shade of larger trees on a north or northeast exposure. Red leafed varieties are actually more sensitive to too much sun, while the smaller green-leafed varieties tolerate a bit more sun. Because these maples are not large and have fairly shallow root systems, they can be inter-planted in existing landscapes or co-mingled with other shrubs and trees.
Leaf color in Japanese maples is impacted by the amount of direct sun, moisture and nutrients provided. Too much shade or fertilizer can turn red-leafed varieties green, as can a dry winter. Plants need at least a few hours of morning sun in order to keep their leaf color. New trees should be provided with supplemental hand watering at least once per week until they are established. During times of high heat and drought, always provide Japanese maples with supplemental watering.
Some of our favorite Japanese maple cultivars and varieties include ‘Bloodgood’, which has a round shape and a height and width of about 20-ft. The foliage is a dark burgundy color that persists for most of the summer depending on sun exposure. Coral Bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’) is a beautiful small tree with brilliant coral colored bark on the new growth and green foliage. Coral Bark maple provides beautiful golden fall color. If you need something a bit more compact, ‘Crimson Queen’ is a dwarf maple with delicate weeping branches. Foliage is a deep crimson color throughout the season and through fall. Emperor maple (Acer palmatum ‘Wolff’) provides dark red foliage that turns a bright scarlet in fall. The bark is also an interesting dark black/red color.
Come visit us at the garden center and we’ll help you choose the best maple for your landscape! Remember, selection at the garden center changes daily so feel free to give us a call if you’d like to check on specific availability.