“Silver maple” falls out of the mouths of experienced homeowners like a objuration. “They’re dirty,” says one. “A limb fell on our last house!” complains another. “It’s a weed.” Recites the next.
To the contrary, and perhaps some surprise, I’ve always enjoyed this cursed tree, whatever its faults. It boasts fast growth, quick establishment and regeneration, and good shading. But there are appropriate and inappropriate sites for a silver maple, as there are for any other plant.
I returned home yesterday evening after the first line of storms swept through with heavy rain and hail. As I drove up my street, I realized the full intensity of the storm cell that just passed. Two large limbs lay in my front yard…from none other than my 14″ sliver maple. Thankfully, its limbs are all out of reach of my roof and windows, something I evaluated before purchasing the house.
When I surveyed my neighborhood this morning, I primarily noticed two types of tree damage. The first was that roughly 80% of damage appeared to be fallen silver-maple limbs.
Silver maple, Acer saccharinum, is best suited to open spaces. Strong wood is forfeit to the tree’s rapid growth rate, which we frequently notice when silver maple looses branches and limbs during a just moderate storm. As you might imagine, such un-controlled natural-pruning events are undesirable to homeowners concerned about potential damages to their property and family.
Plant this lovely, rapid-growing shade provider in open parks where it is unlikely to cause catastrophe. When the time comes, replace the silver maple near your home with a sturdy tree that develops strong wood and branching angles, such as a Kentucky coffeetee (Gymnocladus dioicus) or Osage orange (Maclura pomifera).
The second type of damage I noticed was due to weak branching angles on un-maintained trees.
I frequently walk by trees like this: Planted and left alone to sprout far-too-many vertical shoots. These shoots produce many weak branching angles in the young tree. As the tree ages, these “crotches” develop bark inclusions in their wood, which weakens the angle and creates terrific breaking points. The mature tree, now increased in size, is due to break along these week crotches with any given storm. The wind comes, a weak limb falls taking half of the trunk with it. Another, otherwise beautiful tree, dead before its time, leaving an expensive gap to fill in the homeowner’s landscape.
Young trees need our care just like young tomato or bean plants. Once we plant them, it is important to proactively correct canopy problems like poor branching angles, prune out extra shoots, and maintain strong trees. We welcome you to learn more about tree care at the arboretum. Look for opportunities on our classes page.
After you finish reading, I urge you to evaluate that newly-planted sapling in your yard. Make sure that it is a tree you will feel safe living under in 20 or 30 years — one that will pay you back for decades to come.