Shade Tree of the Week — ‘October Glory’ Red Maple

November 7, 2011 | By | Comments (45)

Fall is the best time for appreciating the beauty of shade trees. It’s also the best time to plant them. Cool temperatures mean minimal transplanting shock. And after the leaves drop, you can let nature take care of watering until spring. Plus, even though the above-ground part of the tree is dormant, the roots can keep growing all winter in the South. This results in faster growth the following spring.

Now, there are lots of shade trees for sale out there. Some are great; some are garbage. How can you tell which is which? Ask me, the Grumpy Gardener. For the next few weeks, I’ll be profiling some truly superior shade trees for the average yard. Being generous to a fault, I’ll also tell you which trees to avoid.

IMG_4655 copy
‘October Glory’ red maple is hot, hot, hot!

Glorious, Simply Glorious

If someone asked Grumpy to name one tree that absolutely guaranteed glorious fall foliage in the South, it would have to be ‘October Glory’ red maple (Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’). Although its name says “October,” it turns color later than that in Birmingham — usually the first week of November. I shot the tree above this morning. Can you believe the sizzling, electric scarlet of the leaves?

‘October Glory’ is one of two very popular selections of our native red maple chosen for outstanding fall color. The other is ‘Red Sunset.’ Both grow rather quickly, reaching 50-60 feet tall with an oval to pyramidal shape. They make excellent lawn and street trees, due to their ascending branches and lack of problematic surface roots. Both feature handsome, silvery bark.

So what’s the difference between them? Well, ‘October Glory’ is more heat-tolerant, while ‘Red Sunset’ is more cold-tolerant. Plus, ‘Red Sunset’ grows a little faster (more than 2 feet a year) and colors up two weeks earlier in fall.

Grumpy’s recommendation — if you live in the South, plant ‘October Glory.’ If you live in the Midwest or North, go with ‘Red Sunset.’ If you live on the West Coast, do whatever the heck you want.

Growing Tips

For the best fall color, plant in full sun. Red maple tolerates most soils, even wet ones, but does not like drought and will be among the first trees to scorch, defoliate, and die back if it doesn’t get enough water in summer. Don’t plant it where its roots will be restricted (like those little islands in parking lots) or near hot pavement. Prune it in summer, not winter or spring, or the cuts will bleed sap.

Both of these red maples are widely available at garden centers and nurseries.

Don’t Plant This

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum) is one of the best retorts I know to the specious argument that just because a plant is native, it’s necessarily better. Silver maple is native. It’s also a horrible tree.

Why do so many people plant it? One reason. It’s among the fastest growing shade trees around (3 to 5 feet a year), so if your treeless yard is broiling you alive, you may not think far enough ahead. You should, because like many skyrocketing trees, silver maple is beset with a host of problems.

It’s weak-wooded and breaks up in storms. It develops a hungry net of surface roots that cracks sidewalks and invades water and sewer lines. Its fall color is poor. It’s also incredible weedy.

Silver maple 004 copy

Anybody need about a million silver maples? My neighbors have plenty to share!

Just look at this pair of silver maples up the street from me. In late spring, each drops about one billion seeds. That’s enough to cover the entire lawn! And all of them will germinate somewhere.

Now — aren’t you glad you have Grumpy around to save you from such disaster? You’re welcome. It’s what I do.

COMMENTS

  1. Deborah Bray

    I agree Grump, although apparently the soil has something to do with the color of October Glory, mine both turn beautiful shades of mottled orange and firey scarlet, still by far the most beautiful of the fall trees. And I agree also about the Silver Maple, mine did grow very quickly but has many broken branches and roots that are lifting up my stone path. And the leaves, ugy, they do not turn a pretty color but simply litter the ground and have to be dug out of my beds so they don’t suffocate my smaller plants. Not a good tree at all. I agree absolutely.

    November 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm
  2. Ann Reynolds

    I am curious about Sassafras. Ours in the piney woods of east Texas are brilliant this year. How do I get more of these?

    November 8, 2011 at 3:57 pm
  3. Ruth Busch

    I have two Acer rubras. They are sometimes red in the fall, and they were not named varieties. Your reds are much prettier. I’m down near Auburn in AL
    I have two silver maples which grew rapidly and have been no trouble, although they are rather dull. The reds have babies all over the place, not the silvers.

    November 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm
  4. Jim Long

    It’s a really excellent tree. Mine’s not that red yet. I have both ‘Autumn Glory’ and ‘October Glory’ side by side. ‘Autumn’ turned red first, ‘October’ is a little later here, but both are spectacular trees.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:47 pm
  5. sherri jones

    Grumpy Gardner, how do you feel about weeping cherry trees? Was thinking about planting one as an accent tree in backyard…

    November 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm
  6. Henry H.

    They look beautiful here(coastal Georgia)for about a month before dropping their leaves. Bummer. I can’t remember if its Autumn Blaze or October Glory but one drops earlier but is the first to re-leaf.
    I will say the only good thing about the silvers is the seed pods look kinda cool on the tree before they drop…..

    November 11, 2011 at 1:43 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Deborah,
    Another factor in the color is sun exposure. The more sun the leaves get, the redder they’ll be.

    November 11, 2011 at 2:31 pm
  8. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Ann,
    Sassafras is one of Grumpy’s favorite native trees for outstanding fall color. Its stringy root system makes it hard to transplant from the wild, however, and it’s hard to find at garden centers. You can order through the mail, though. Woodlanders (http://www.woodlanders.net/index.cfm?fuseaction=plants.plantDetail&plant_id=231) is a good mail-order source.

    November 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Ruth,
    Red maples in the wild vary greatly in fall color from red to orange to yellow. The only way to be assured of getting with outstanding red color is to either buy it at the nursery when it’s showing color or buying a named selection chosen for great color, like ‘October Glory.’

    November 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Sherri,
    Grumpy loves weeping cherry trees. Look for my article about flowering cherries in the February 2012 issue of Southern Living.

    November 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Henry,
    ‘Autumn Blaze’ is one of the first to color up and ‘October Glory’ just about the last.

    November 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm
  12. Nancy Buley

    Hey Grumpy! Thanks for the shout-out about October Glory and Red Sunset Maples. The latter was introduced by J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. (my employer) back in 1966, and it has been a great performer over the years. Your are entirely correct about the heat/cold tolerance of both, and out west, where I can “do whatever the heck I want,” I have both in my landscape and they are equally brilliant performers that provide a succession of several weeks of bright fall color. Thanks for sharing your knowledge about shade trees with your legion of devoted fans!

    November 13, 2011 at 10:33 pm
  13. UrsulaV

    We’ve got the Carolina red maple growing wild down here, and when they go red (they don’t always, in drab years) they go spectacularly. Love ‘em!

    November 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm
  14. Tony

    I’m in Charleston, SC, Zone 8, and I planted two ‘October Glory’ in 2000 and have been very disappointed with them. Both of them have gloomy scale and usually drop their leaves before it gets late enough for any color. They also leaf out very late (late April), so do not make much growth before the heat of summer. (Someone told me this was because they were grafted onto a northern-type rootstock.) I would not plant them again.

    December 1, 2011 at 10:47 pm
  15. Susan Schlenger

    October Glory is one of my favorite shade trees to use in designs.
    What is also spectacular is to use them as an allee going up a driveway. When many of them are in full fall color, it is breathtaking!

    December 29, 2011 at 8:21 am
  16. Frank Melnyk

    Grumpy, I live in Windsor, Ontario Canada Zone 6. I need a shade tree to block the sun as my house faces west. Would you recommend the red sunset, october glory, or the regal petticoat? I am looking for the cleanest shade tree with fall colour. Thanks.

    June 11, 2012 at 12:45 am
  17. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Frank,
    Given your location, I would go with either ‘Red Sunset’ or ‘Regal Petticoat.’ They’re more cold-hardy than ‘October Glory.’

    June 12, 2012 at 10:15 am
  18. Mel

    I have 2 Red Sunset maples. I’m in Southeast WI. It has been very dry, and one of them seems to be scorched from the heat, wind and lack of rain. We didn’t have rain for about 10 days before I noticed the dryness of the tree. I’ve been watering it everyday since, for the past 5 days. Leaves are starting to drop. Will this tree recover? Is there anything else I should do?

    June 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm
  19. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Mel,
    Red maples like ‘Red Sunset’ do not like drought. They are one of the first shade trees to show stress when dry. So when you see leaves scorching or wilting, it’s time to water. Water deeply, making sure water gets to the roots. If you can water several times a week until you get a good rain, your trees should be OK.

    June 18, 2012 at 10:24 am
  20. jim isham

    You sold me. I was debating between autumn blaze and October Glory and I am going with October. I am in mid northern Calif so I am doing it.

    June 28, 2012 at 6:57 pm
  21. Elsa

    I Have a beautiful autumn glory about 30ft. tall and 15 yrs.old. It has a northeast exposure some of its roots extend under my deck. This year leaves are sparce but not diseased, I just put mulch down and am watering 2 hrs. weekly. Will my beautiful tree bounce back Grumpy? Please help!

    July 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm
  22. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Elsa,
    This maple is not especially drought tolerant and one of the first shade trees to suffer during dry weather. So I’m guessing hot, dry weather is the cause. The best treatment is exactly what you’re doing — watering regularly. Make sure you water long enough for the water to reach the roots and not just wet the surface.

    July 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm
  23. Bernie

    Had an October Glory planted here at our home in Northern Virginia just this morning, after we had to cut down our beautiful but dying pin oak. Our tree looks very similar in size to the one in your photo – about 18 feet high, 4″ caliper – and I’m wondering how much water to give it now that it’s in the ground, as well as how frequently. I have a 20-gallon gator bag wrapped around it right now. Thanks!

    July 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm
  24. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    In these temps, water is critical. Keep that gator filled! If you ever go out first thing in the morning and the tree looks wilted, water immediately. Once the leaves drop in fall, you can relax.

    July 17, 2012 at 10:29 am
  25. Bernie

    Thanks – I filled the gator up first thing this am, and plan to continue. But are you saying I should refill every time it empties? Takes about five hours or so, so if I keep refilling 20 gallons every five hours, I’ll be putting close to a hundred gallons of water down every day (and night) until the fall. Plus whatever rain we get. I’m not particularly worried about the water bill, but I don’t want to overwater the tree – I have all kinds of instruments of destruction available in the garage if I suddenly decided I wanted to kill it right after spending all that money to adopt it…

    July 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm
  26. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    How about this? For the first week, fill the gator every day. For the second week, fill it every other day. For the third week, fill it every third day. From then on, watch it closely to see when it looks dry.

    July 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm
  27. Bernie

    Thanks – that’s the first genuinely useful information I’ve gotten from anyone regarding how much to water it! I was leery about watering it any more today because several hours after today’s gator finished emptying, there’s still some water in the trench the garden center put around the base, even though we’re touching 100 degrees here.
    Thanks again!

    July 17, 2012 at 5:15 pm
  28. al bourland

    My wife wants to plant a maple tree. Which maple Autumn blaze or October Glory will be best for my location between Dallas and Fort Worth Texas. My wife also wants to know which trees is more redish pink not orange.

    .

    September 24, 2012 at 11:16 am
  29. Steve Bender

    I would go with ‘October Glory.’ Does great in Dallas. GG

    September 26, 2012 at 11:00 am
  30. Claude

    In reading your article, I noticed that you mentioned not to plant Silver Maple but what about Red Maple (Acer rubrum)? I’m in zone 8b, thank you.

    October 29, 2012 at 9:30 am
  31. Steve Bender

    Claude,
    Red maple is a good tree for the South. ‘October Glory’ is a form of that.

    October 31, 2012 at 1:58 pm
  32. Corey

    I am in Northern Florida west of Jacksonville. I just planted a Red Maple and have been watering daily. We have a heavy clay presence in our yard which tends to hold water.
    Should I cut back on the watering for now?

    November 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm
  33. Steve Bender

    Corey,
    As long as there are leaves on the tree, you’ll need to water regularly. Once they drop, let the rain water it.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:18 am
  34. Corey

    Thank you Steve

    November 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm
  35. Al P

    We live 35 miles NW of Dallas, I planted a 10 ft October Glory this past weekend. It has a large wooden(7ft) stake for support how long should I keep this next to the tree? Should I fertilize the roots next 2013 spring? Also how old is the October Glory tree pictured in this article thats the width I want to keep trees spread also.

    December 6, 2012 at 6:55 pm
  36. Steve Bender

    Al,
    I’d remove the stake now. It does nothing to help the tree. The tree in the photo is probably 15 feet wide, but it’s a young tree. It’ll get a lot bigger — no good way to keep it smaller. Only fertilize the tree next spring is the soil is poor. Then spread the fertilizer in a circular band around the tree.

    December 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm
  37. Cassie

    Just stumbled onto this site, would October Glory do well here in Colorado Springs? I am a California native but we recently moved here and I am looking to redo our backyard with trees that have more downward growing roots.

    January 23, 2013 at 12:44 am
  38. Steve Bender

    Cassie,
    I think ‘October Glory’ would do well for you, as long as you can water it during summer droughts. It and other red maples do not like dry, rocky soil. Perhaps a better choice would be something like Nuttall oak. Here’s a link to a blog post about it: http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2011/11/13/shade-tree-of-the-week-nuttall-oak-whats-that/

    January 23, 2013 at 1:42 pm
  39. Cassie

    Thank you! Read the article about nuttall oak, what a beautiful tree! We will definitely be looking into both come spring!

    January 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm
  40. Ben

    I live in Houston, TX. Will the “October Glory” maple do well here, or should I stick with a Drummond Maple, given how hot our summers are?

    March 21, 2013 at 9:38 am
  41. Steve Bender

    Ben,

    I think either one would grow fine for you, but the fall color won’t be as good as it is farther north. ‘October Glory’ grows well around Dallas and Dallas is hotter than Houston in summer.

    March 29, 2013 at 10:22 am
  42. joemas

    I live about 30 miles north of new york city , is the October Glory appropriate ?

    April 10, 2013 at 9:14 am
  43. Ciindy

    I’m trying to decide on a tree to plant in the back yard of my North Texas home. I’m thinking on a red maple of some type, maybe the October Glory, but I have a few concerns. I’m wondering what the roots are like, do they rob all the water from the rest of the yard? How long is a typical life span for this tree?

    April 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm
  44. Steve Bender

    Joemas,

    It should grow just fine for you.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm
  45. Steve Bender

    Cindy,

    This tree does fine in Dallas. The roots shouldn’t be a problem. You will have to water it during extended droughts, though. If healthy, it will live much longer than the average person.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm