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There’s a maple for every garden

Every Canadian garden should include at least one maple tree. After all, the maple leaf is our beloved national symbol. But more than that, it's our national symbol because maple trees (Acer species) grow so darned well in every part of the country. All they ask is sun to part shade, reasonably moist soil, and summer temperatures that are not blazing hot.

Maple tree.

Maple tree.

Just a few prominent native species associated with different regions include red maple (A. rubrum) in the Maritimes, sugar maple (A. saccharum) and silver maple (A. saccharinum) in Ontario and Quebec, Manitoba maple (A. negundo) in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Rocky Mountain maple (A. glabrum) in Alberta, and big leaf maple (A. macrophyllum) in British Columbia.

But native maples and gardens don't always mix well, due either to the tremendous size of some native species, their habit of self-seeding (which is why they're so abundant regionally), or the fact that their limbs are brittle and pose a winter hazard to nearby houses.

Luckily, a few beautiful native maples (or at least their cultivars) are actually well-suited to life in cultivated gardens. Better yet, the climate, soil, and weather patterns that make Canada so maple-friendly also apply to smaller, better-behaved maples that originate elsewhere in the world. So there's a cultivated maple—or two or three—perfectly suited for every garden. Some excellent choices:

Acer circinatum (vine maple)

Acer circinatum (vine maple)

Native to coastal British Columbia (but not to Vancouver Island, although it grows well there) and hardy to at least -29°C (-20°F), vine maple is an understorey forest plant that scrambles up and through other native trees. It's closely related to the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) but is sturdier and more adaptable, and its distinctive, almost round leaves aren't as subject to sunburn. In sun, it grows to 3-4.5 m (10-15 ft.) and has reliable fall colour of the brightest red/orange/yellow. In shade (of which it is remarkably tolerant) it will be somewhat taller, with mostly yellow leaves in fall.

Acer griseum (paperbark maple)

Acer griseum (paperbark maple)

This well-behaved small maple (to 6-7.5 m, or 20-25 ft.) is best known for its beautiful cinnamon-coloured bark that flakes and peels in a way that is very attractive, especially when backlit by the sun. Native to China, it's hardy to -35°C (-30°F), adaptable to sun or part shade, and will take woodland conditions. Its small three-lobed leaves turn orange and red in fall.

Acer negundo 'Flamingo' (Flamingo Manitoba maple)

Acer negundo 'Flamingo' (Flamingo Manitoba maple)

Also known as box elder, Manitoba maple is native or naturalized throughout North America and has developed a reputation as a "weed tree" for its suckering habit, brittle limbs, and overabundant self-seeding That said, it's also iron-clad hardy (to -45°C/-50°F), grows quickly, and can take just about any conditions nature can throw at it, including drought. Fortunately, its seedless, non-suckering cultivar 'Flamingo' has all the virtues of the. species and none of its faults. It's also smaller (to 6-7.5 m, or 20-25 ft.) and has gorgeous bright foliage of green/white/pink. Give it some afternoon shade in hot-summer regions.

Acer pensylvanicum (striped or snakebark maple)

Acer pensylvanicum (striped or snakebark maple)

Native to Eastern North America, striped maple (also known as moosewood) is an understorey forest plant that dislikes heat and drought but is a good fit for cool, moist, shady conditions. Hardy to -40°C/F and growing 4.5-6 m (15-20 ft.) high, it has bright green leaves of three to five lobes that turn clear soft yellow in fall. But its main attraction is its green-and-white striped bark, which makes an excellent winter feature, especially against snow.

Acer platanoides 'Globosum' (globe Norway maple)

Acer platanoides 'Globosum' (globe Norway maple)

Norway maple, native to Europe, is well-known throughout Canada for its numerous hardy (to as low as -40°) cultivars that thrive here. The species has thrived so well that it's naturalized to the point of being considered an alien invasive species, and most cultivars are far too large for today's gardens. But even the smallest garden can accommodate well-behaved 'Globosum', which grows into a perfect lollipop shape only 7.5 m (25 ft.) high and wide. Its dense foliage turns bright yellow in fall.

Acer pseudoplatanus 'Brilliantissimum' (Brilliantissimum sycamore maple)

Acer pseudoplatanus 'Brilliantissimum' (Brilliantissimum sycamore maple)

This much-smaller (to 6 m, or 20 ft.), slower-growing natural mutation of a European species features new leaves of bright shrimp pink that slowly turn to light green by summer. Although not overly hardy (to -29°C/-20°F) and needing protection from hot sun, it's adaptable to most soils, does well in seaside conditions, and even tolerates pollution.

Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' (golden full moon maple)

Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' (golden full moon maple)

One of the most beautiful of all small maples, this native of Japan grows very slowly to 3-4.5 m (10-15 ft.) and is hardy to at least -29°C (-20°F). Its nearly round leaves of clear yellow light up the landscape all summer but need shelter from hot sun to avoid scorching. In the fall, leaves turn red starting at the tips, briefly leaving a golden "full moon" in the centre of each.

Acer tataricum subsp. Ginnala (Amur maple)

Acer tataricum subsp. Ginnala (Amur maple)

For cold hardiness, reasonable size, and excellent fall colour, few trees can match Amur maple, a native of Eastern Siberia. Hardy to -40° and growing 4.5-6 m (15-20 ft.) tall, it has a multi-stemmed habit and distinctive, elongated three-lobed leaves that turn blazing red in fall. The cultivar 'Flame' has especially good form and colour.

Acer truncatum 'Keithsform' (Norwegian sunset maple)

Acer truncatum 'Keithsform' (Norwegian sunset maple)

A hybrid, Norwegian sunset combines the fast growth, hardiness (to -35°C/-30°F), and vigour of Norway maple (A. platanoides) with the glossy foliage, smaller upright form (9x7.5 m, or 35x25 ft.) and tolerance of heat, drought, and alkaline conditions of Shantung maple (A.truncatum). Fall colour is yellow-orange to red.

Acer 'Warrenred' (Pacific sunset maple)                   

Acer 'Warrenred' (Pacific sunset maple)

A hybrid of the same parentage as Norwegian sunset, Pacific sunset is shorter and relatively broader (7.5x6 m, or 25x20 ft.), but otherwise has the same vigour, adaptability, and tolerance of less-than-ideal conditions. Its dark-green glossy leaves turn even brighter red, yellow, and orange early in fall.

 

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