KENNEWICK -- The Mid-Columbia Community Forestry Council has named the red maple, Acer rubrum, the "Mid-Columbia Tree of the Month" for October.
Red maple is the perfect choice to recognize because it has outstanding fall color and performs well in local landscapes.
Growing up in the northeast part of the country, I'm a sucker for trees with magnificent fall color. That's why you will find an October Glory, a cultivated variety of red maple, in my yard. The leaves on my tree are just beginning to show tinges of red, so I'm anxiously anticipating glorious color by the end of the month.
Red maple is an excellent shade tree for use in home landscapes. This native North American species grows to from 40 to 60 feet tall and 25 to 35 feet wide, although many of the cultivated species are smaller in stature.
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In the spring, it's one of the first trees to flower with small clusters of red flowers. While this tree prefers slightly moist and slightly acid soils, it will tolerate wetter or somewhat dryer conditions. It can exhibit chlorosis in highly alkaline soils, but seems to tolerates most local alkaline soils without any problem.
The red maple is a favorite of many gardeners because of its outstanding fall color ranging from bright reds to oranges and yellows. It is one tree that can be relied upon for a beautiful autumn display. Some cultivated varieties develop color early in the fall, others a little later. If you live in an area with early fall frost, select one that colors up early.
The other things I like about red maples is that they have few pest problems and have a relatively fast rate of growth, without causing as many problems as some fast growing trees, such as silver maple. This is because their root system is less vigorous and aggressive, but the red maple does have shallow roots that develop into surface roots as it grows older.
The smooth, silvery bark of young red maples contrasts well with the green leaves of summer or the bright fall colors. However, some owners have found that cats find the bark a great scratching post, causing significant damage to the tree. Red maple leaves tend to be a little tougher than those of other maples and less prone to tearing and tattering from windy conditions.
October Glory is one of the favorite cultivated varieties of red maple because of its long-lasting intense red fall color. It's very popular and readily found at local nurseries. It grows from 40 to 50 feet tall, averaging about a foot of growth a year.
Another popular variety is Red Sunset which colors earlier than October Glory with outstanding oranges to reds. Autumn Flame is another highly touted variety that colors up with red leaves about a month earlier than October Glory. If you don't like raking, you might want to know Autumn flame also has smaller leaves .
There also are some hybrids (Acer x freemanii) of red maple and silver maple that often are sold as red maples. One of these is Autumn Blaze with long lasting orange-red fall color. It's a very hardy, fast grower, but tends to be weak-wooded.
Visit your favorite local nursery and check out their red maples now. Even if you don't intend to buy and plant until next spring, you can check out the fall color of the red maple varieties and decide which one you like best. That's what I did.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.