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The native area of any plant always plays a vital role in how well it does in its introduced area. So, what’s the deal with the red maple?
This tree originates from the Eastern American deciduous forest and can thus do well in hardiness zones 3 to 9.
It prefers cooler climates with full to partial sun exposure in which it can grow up to 70 feet (21 meters) tall.
The red maple grows strong and healthy in ideal conditions, producing bright red leaves in the fall, hence its name. Sometimes, its leaves can be yellow or orange.
However, the 70-foot (21 meters) height with a spread of 50 feet (15 meters) is only achievable if the plant is in the right soil.
Luckily, the red maple is highly adaptable and can thrive in various soils, including clay and sandy soils.
The red maple prefers loamy soil. It will not tolerate alkaline soil conditions. The soil for a red maple should be slightly acidic with the range being between 4.5 to 6.5.
In this guide, I will detail what this plant needs to thrive and how you can ensure it grows tall and healthy.
What Soil Nutrients Does a Red Maple Need?
Trees are like humans, and they need nutrition to be healthy and grow bigger. If you want your red maple to be as tall as 70 feet (21 meters) or higher, you have no option but to pay attention to the kind of nutrition you give it.
When the tree has inadequate nutrition, it cannot make enough food and thus lacks the energy to grow taller and broader. Such a red maple thus appears weak and is susceptible to pests and diseases.
On the other hand, a red maple with too much access to nutrients can suffer fertilizer burn and die due to the root damage. It’s always best to practice moderation when feeding your plant.
Your red maple should have access to:
This nutrient is denoted by the letter N in the formula NPK. It serves as a macronutrient that helps the tree convert moisture and sunlight into food.
When a red maple has access to this nutrient, it develops healthy foliage, making it easier for it to photosynthesize.
If a red maple has access to water and light and still has poor leaf production, you can amend the soil using a slow-release fertilizer with a high nitrogen component to fix this.
The P in the NPK formula stands for this nutrient which aids in the healthy development of roots. These roots anchor the red maple and enable it to reach lower water tables.
As the plant establishes, it stops relying on you as much for water as it can do with what it can get in the soil. Moreover, phosphorus also strengthens the red maple, making it harder for pests and diseases to attack it.
You may have already guessed that this is the K in the NPK formula. Is it important? Sure! Not only does it play a vital role in blooming, but it also shields the tree from diseases and is essential in helping it heal.
Thus, an increase in pest attacks can signal that your plant needs more potassium.
How about other macronutrients? These are secondary nutrients that are readily available in the soil.
They include calcium, sulfur, and magnesium – these work to build the plant cells, promote the tree’s growth, generate chlorophyll, and other essential functions.
In most cases, the plant should reach these by extending its root coverage, and you won’t need to include them in the potting mix.
The same goes for micronutrients such as copper, manganese, chloride, and zinc. While the red maple needs these nutrients, you should only add them when the soil runs low on these nutrients.
You can tell by running a soil test to see which nutrients are not readily available to the tree.
I should add that when you use more NPK than you should, these nutrients inhibit the uptake of other macro and micronutrients, thus hampering the tree’s growth.
As a rule, your tree will rarely need fertilization. But if you want to increase its growth rate, you should add a general-purpose fertilizer to the soil in the spring. Alternatively, you can use organic matter to serve a similar role.
Remember that these nutrients are but a percentage of what your red maple needs to thrive. You must also ensure that it has access to sunlight and moisture. Below, I cover more about the soil you should use for your tree.
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What Type of Soil Should You Use for Your Red Maple?
The red maple is native to a forest, and thus the kind of soil you use should be highly similar to what it would get in its habitat. Below are the general guidelines when choosing a planting mix:
1) The Soil Type
The red maple is one of the few plants that can survive in clay and sandy types. When growing the plant, ensure that the soil texture is loose to allow the excess water to drain.
The soil should have compactness, allowing it to provide the tree with sturdy support. Thus, you should avoid wet areas like swamps or areas with thin soil which cannot offer this anchorage.
If you can plant the tree in loamy soil, that would be even better as it would have better support.
2) The Drainage
How much water does the red maple need to thrive? This tree likes moist soil, especially when young. But as it grows, its need for water reduces such that it can do well in dry soils.
However, you should occasionally give the plant deep watering to allow the roots to absorb adequate water to promote food production.
Loamy and clay soils retain more moisture compared to sandy soils. If you use the latter in your potting mix, add a layer of mulch around the plant base to allow the soil to hold on to more water. The soil should never be completely dry.
To enrich the soil, it’s advisable to use organic matter in the planting mix. Use a mixture of dead leaves, compost, and other rotting materials around the base of the plant.
That creates an environment akin to the forest where trees thrive on decomposing matter.
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What Are the Signs You Are Using the Wrong Soil for Your Red Maple?
Your tree will always exhibit signs of distress when you grow it in the wrong soil. You should look out for signs such as:
1) Slowed or no growth
Does your tree seem stuck at a given level regardless of the sunlight and water you offer it?
Please note that this damper in its development can also owe to unfavorable growing conditions. Red maples should only be grown in the recommended USDA hardiness zones (3 to 9).
2) Yellowing of the leaves
This change can result from overwatering due to a soil mix with poor drainage, fertilizer burn because of too much NPK, or underfeeding due to a lack of nutrients. Which of these are feasible culprits?
The red maple should be in slightly moist soil. Leaving it in dry soil for too long dehydrates its roots and results in general wilting.
This issue can also arise when you use soil with too much drainage capability, thus depriving the plant of access to water.
Before amending the soil, you should consider if other issues could be to blame.
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What pH Should the Soil Be for A Red Maple?
pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline the soil is – and in the case of the red maple, you can always go for slightly acidic soils in the range of 4.5 to 6.5.
When the red maple grows in alkaline soils (with a pH over 7.3), the alkalinity hampers its roots’ ability to absorb nutrients. As such, the plant develops chlorosis, resulting in pale leaves coupled with slow growth.
- Can the red maple grow in neutral soil? The red maple can survive pH ranges up to 7.3 and can thus also grow in neutral soils. However, it will not do as well as it would in acidic soils.
- How acidic is too acidic? It’s best to cap the acidity at 3.7. Going any lower than this creates unfavorable conditions for the growth of the red maple.
If you are unsure of the pH range in your soil, you can always test it using a pH testing kit which you can get from the nearest gardening store.
Our 5 Recommended Soils for A Red Maple
The good news is that the red maple is highly adaptable and can do well in almost any soil type. Even so, the tree still prefers well-draining soil with a medium-sized texture.
You can create such a mix from materials in your garden. Or you can choose to guarantee it a healthy start using any of the following soil mixes:
1) Deciduous Bonsai Soil Blend Mix
This mix contains small and medium-sized particles, including river sand, Turface, and fine pine bark. It drains water quite easily, holding on to just enough for your red maple not to dry out.
2) Bonsai Soil Premium All-Purpose Blend
It comes premixed such that you can pour it into the red maple planting hole and plant your tree immediately.
The technology behind this soil mix ensures that the soil holds on to enough water to prevent it from drying out and harming the red maple.
3) Shake ‘N Feed Flowering Trees and Shrubs Plant Food
Besides, the microbes in the soil break down the organic matter into nutrients that support the growth of the tree’s roots, further stabilizing it.
4) Miracle-Gro Potting Mix
It feeds the red maple for at least six months, allowing you to take a rest from caring for the plant and instead focus on enjoying its foliage.
You will love how well it anchors the red maple and how easy it is to use this mix.
5) Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix
It comprises humus, perlite, and sphagnum peat moss, creating the perfect blend to give your red maple a healthy head start.
All these mixes would be suitable for your red maple. When using them, always test the pH before planting the red maple.
In most cases, manufacturers use a neutral or slightly acidic range, but it is always best to ensure that the figure aligns with what the tree needs.
How To Plant a Red Maple Tree
Red maples have thick roots that grow near or above the soil surface, which you should consider when placing them near the house or along a sidewalk.
These exposed roots are easily injured by objects such as cars, bicycles, lawnmowers, etc. Moreover, they are strong enough to cause structural damage to nearby structures. That said, here is how to grow a tree:
- Buy a plant grown via its roots rather than grafting to hedge the risk of breaking plant parts,
- Test the soil in a moist and well-draining spot that gets full sun or partial sun. It should be slightly acidic or neutral. If not, you should amend it or choose another site,
- Plant the tree in the spot and cover it with soil, leaving an inch between the soil and the ground level,
- Mulch the soil, and
- Water the soil slowly and deeply.
When should you plant the red maple? Ideally, you should buy the tree in the fall to check its foliage and decide if it’s a good fit for your garden.
Did you know that the red maple blooms in spring, producing red flowers? Well, now you do! To ensure you do not miss out on this picturesque event, give the tree a healthy soil mix coupled with regular watering.
You will see how easy it is to grow the red maple and why many people have successfully cultivated it. You, too, can do it!
Before you go, here are some more related articles I encourage you to read below to help solve more of your gardening issues: