Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is a big riparian tree, growing as tall as 120 feet in its native streamside habitat. Its deeply lobed, soft green leaves have a silver-gray backside that provides the tree its name. It might appear to be an ideal candidate for a front yard color tree, except for a few important features.
Silver maple’s native range contains the majority of the eastern United States. It grows best in rich bottom land along wooded streams, but will adapt to a wide variety of soils and exposures. Silver maple is also tolerant of drought, salt air and urban problems. Regrettably, its adaptability has limits; it is hardy only through U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3a into 9b, which makes it a short-lived, thirsty resident in a warm, dry Mediterranean climate. Another limiting factor is that silver maple seedlings need between three to five months of chilling — temperatures under 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit — to break dormancy and place buds in spring.
Silver maples sprout easily from seed or cutting. Their competitive increase, occasionally up to 2 to 3 feet within a calendar year, causes a sprawling, vase-shaped crown and long, softwood limbs that split easily in high winds. This doesn’t matter as well as a mountain stream in their normal range, but in a front lawn, their long branches tend to droop as the tree ages and break more readily. Trees need regular pruning to keep their divisions compact.
In a suburban yard, silver maple’s crown typically rises from 60 to 80 feet tall and as wide as 60 feet, which makes for a whole lot of beautiful yellow and brown leaves to rake in autumn. The tree is the first maple to bloom in very early spring and its own little red flowers are followed by samara, two-winged seeds that twirl like helicopter blades. Silver maple samara are some of the greatest produced by any maple and autumn for several months during early summer.
Designed for its fibrous, wide-ranging roots, silver maple can violation septic fields and sewer lines. The origins of mature trees stretch much beyond the drip line to support the massive crown. They are capable of lifting sidewalks and breaking macadam driveways. Roots also climb along the ground near the tree trunk, especially when the soil is compacted or clay-heavy, presenting a challenge to mowers and other lawn-grooming tools.
The choice of whether to plant a silver maple objective — a neighbor’s tree will most likely supply “volunteers” — depends on hardiness zone and homeowner dedication. Cleanup in spring, summer and autumn requires substantial effort to keep the front lawn presentable and a wayward branch on a windy night can threaten windows or parked automobiles. Homeowners, no matter how determined, should consider the fact that these trees have been non-native woodland dwellers and may just be too crazy to get a backyard.