(This is the first of a series of articles on plants native to our area. But why natives? Because each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.)
Red maples are easy to grow, provide great shade, have beautiful flowers in the spring and gorgeous fall color.
Have you seen a tree with branches that look like they are tinged red or pink recently? It’s probably a red maple — Acer rubrum, if you want the Latin name — one of our most common native trees. It is found in almost all of our forests here in coastal southern Delaware, in wet, swampy areas, and drier ones.
From this, it’s easy to see that it will grow nicely in your yard — and it is blooming now! It is one of the earlier blooming plants. The tree can be taller, up to 70 feet, so the flowers are hard to see but they’re up there and very pretty. Early pollinating insects, including bumblebees, love them.
The tree gets to 70 feet tall and 30 feet wide, with a rounded shape. It’s easy to grow, tolerant of many soil types; it prefers full sun, but will grow in part shade. It’s deciduous, meaning it loses its leaves in winter, but before they come off, it turns the most beautiful shades or red/orange, lighting up the fall landscape.
It has no serious disease or insect problems. It will make a great specimen tree for your yard, providing shade and beauty for years to come.
Q. Should I prune my crepe myrtle? How should I do it? And when?
A. You don’t have to! It will bloom just fine if you leave the old flower stalks on there. The only pruning you should do is any branches that are obviously dead, are rubbing against each other, or are crossing over the middle. But if those old flower stalks look messy to you, by all means, snip them off. You can “limb it up,” too, meaning cut off the lowest branches to let some sun in under the tree so whatever you plant there will grow better. Now is a great time to prune, since you can see the branching structure because the leaves haven’t come in yet.
But — don’t commit “crepe murder”! This is the absolutely awful practice of topping a tree — very bad for a tree’s health, and which will encourage more, and ugly, growth. When you top a tree, or whack back at your crepe, it will grow back in unnaturally, spindly and weak. You will probably have fewer flowers, too.
Crepes have a beautiful natural form — when you prune them correctly, it should look like nothing was done, the tree is just prettier. If your tree is too large for its spot, then consider getting a smaller one — there are crepes that get up to 6 feet maximum, or 12 feet, or 15 feet, or 30 feet. There’s a size for everyone, with colors to match.
Stop! Don’t chop! Don’t commit crepe murder!