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All hail the maple family

M.G. Gallagher

EAGLE COUNTY – Every year, Amur maple gets a well-deserved plug here. This tough little deciduous tree from northeastern Asia is a top choice for anything you would want a small tree for. Among maples, and trees in general, it has one of the nicest green colors around. The red twigs and stems catch your eye when you get close. The samaras (maple wing seeds) are also red-tinged. The kicker is the fall color. Amur (ginnala) maples generally have bright red, orange and sometime yellow tones in the fall, depending on individual or variety.

However, some individuals have more subtle autumn tones. A good idea when buying them is to shop when they have started changing color later in the season. Each can differ some in fall color, as the species varies. Some are more muted, and others approach scarlet when they hit their fall turn. “Flame” is a hybrid that is reliably colorful in autumn, and there are some other named varieties on the market. The species Acer ginnala can provide fantastic examples, too.Ginnala maples have a tendency to be multi-trunked, and are more toward a shrub in form, yet still growing to small tree size. They are often pruned to a single trunk when young. Either way, they grow into a nice, shapely form.There is also a dwarf Amur maple. It is available in more than one variety, and is a fine choice for a shrub. Common varieties are usually from 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, but there are smaller ones out there, though they are harder to find. There are some dwarf Amurs growing in Vail, and they seem to be quite hardy here.In the maple family, the other maples that perform here turn yellow in the fall. They’re also larger trees. The group of red maples we associate with other parts of the country don’t make it in most of this county. This smaller gem is an exception. It is hardy through Vail, and tolerates some soil alkalinity.

I suppose the reason you hardly see Amur maple’s fraternal twin, Tatarian maple, around here is simply that it tends to turn yellow in the fall instead of Amur reds. It does vary into some reds and oranges, too, but this is not frequent. It also interbreeds with Amur, hence some interesting hybrids. It also makes a good small tree for this area, but given the beauty of Amur maple in the fall, I’d go Ginnala instead of Tataricum.Once established, Amurs do fine with a little supplemental water. There is a lone planting in Avon where the irrigation to the tree was shut off, and it has survived on what Ma Mature has provided. The drought stress and damage is obvious, but is alive, not dead, and it is in full sun adjacent to gravel. Back when it was watered (lightly), it thrived.Along with its visual features, it can be used for more than one function. A multi-trunk can grow into a large screen, and a trained single-trunk specimen can be grown to a nice overhead canopy in time. Pretty much everywhere I have researched this tree, I read that it grows to 20 feet. Up here, this is probably close for a trunked tree form, and shrub-trees around here seem to range from 10 to about 15 feet. I have seen a mature specimen in Fort Collins that exceeded 26 feet in height, and close to that in spread.



In talking to property owners and landscapers, all seem quite happy with this most refreshing of maples. Me too.M.G. Gallagher writes a column on gardening and landscaping for the Daily. Vail colorado


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