Three reasons to start growing red maples

I’ve only recently started caring for a red maple, Acer rubrum, but I’ve already been impressed by its charms. If you’re looking for a U.S. native deciduous species to experiment with, the red maple is a good place to start.

1. Fall color

Red maples – aka swamp maples – can produce spectacular fall color. Even in the Bay Area, a location not known for its fall color, red maples can produce bright pinks, reds, oranges, and yellows.

I didn’t get a photo of the maple below when it first changed from green to pink-red, but even the waning fall colors proved attractive.

Fall colorFall color

Fall color on red maple

Red maple leavesRed maple leaves

Red, orange, and yellow leaves

2. Fine twigs

Like many species in the maple genus, red maples are naturally vigorous growers. Despite this, a combination of pruning and defoliation can produce small leaves and fine twigs.

The tree below grew freely since a mid-summer pruning and produced a surprising number of fine twigs. I’m looking forward to learning how dense and twiggy red maple specimens can get.

Red maple bonsaiRed maple bonsai

Winter silhouette – 23″

3. Adaptable and widely available

Red maples are native to the eastern U.S. and range from Texas to Florida to Canada. They grow well in warm climates and cold climates and can thrive in a variety of soils and light conditions.

They can also offer opportunities for creating deadwood features. Older or collected specimens may feature dead trunks and new shoots that sprout from the lower trunk or roots.


Deadwood with new shoots sprouting from the base of the trunk


Like most species, red maples may have qualities that don’t make them a good candidate for your bonsai collection.

While many cultivated varieties feature brilliant fall color, some are more allergenic than others. Red maples are also toxic to horses if that’s a concern.

If you’re curious to learn more, The wikipedia entry for Acer rubrum provides a good overview of the species’ good and bad points, including the tidbit that suggests the species can be used for syrup production!

Do you have red maples in your bonsai garden? If so, feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

New YouTube Video for Bonsai Empire’s 20th Anniversary

Bonsai Empire is celebrating their 20th Anniversary with videos from bonsai professionals around the world. Topics range from Bjorn Bjorholm discussing which branches to keep or cut to Peter Warren discussing soil and water pH.

I contributed a video answering the question of how to grow a bonsai from seed.

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You can find a complete list of videos on the Bonsai Empire blog, or follow their YouTube channel here.

Congratulations Bonsai Empire – we’re looking forward to the next twenty years!

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