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

November 7, 2011 | By | Comments (72)

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. Grumpy Gardener

    Georgia,
    I can’t speak to what happened the previous years, but the culprit this year is the record drought. Fall color has been very poor on most trees, not just maples. We need rain!

    November 11, 2016 at 8:41 am
  2. Georgia

    I planted an October Glory Maple in my front yard eight years ago. It has yet to have pretty fall foliage. Right now it has mostly green leaves with a tiny bit of red near the top and will likely begin to loose it’s leaves soon without much fanfare. What do you think the problem is? Were in North Georgia if that matters.

    November 5, 2016 at 3:05 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    Jo-Louise,
    The trees will naturally grow wider on their own without pruning.

    November 4, 2016 at 8:43 am
  4. Jo-Louise Cashio

    Dear Grumpy, I look forward to your gardening expertise in my southern living every month. I just ordered 2 October glory maples for eack side of my driveway. I had Natchez white crepe myrtles but one was destroyed by an automobile accident so I had the other removed. They will be in full sun and reason for my choice is to provide shade for my house in the afternoon. I just ‘dig’ your column. Thanks Grumpy. Also I wil want to prune them so they will grow wider, what is the best way to prune them so that will happen

    October 27, 2016 at 3:36 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener

    Barbara,

    It’s the branching structure of Bradford pear (all the main limbs diverging from one point on the main trunk) that causes it to break in storms, not the number of leaves. I think your maple will be fine.

    June 6, 2016 at 2:05 pm
  6. Barbara Alalof

    My October Glory has very dense leaf growth. I’m concerned that excessive wind could cause damage, as it does to Bradford pear trees. Should some limbs be removed?

    June 6, 2016 at 11:15 am
  7. Grumpy Gardener

    Patosan,

    Unfortunately, that is much too small a space to plant such a big tree. A dwarf Japanese maple would be a much better choice.

    March 9, 2016 at 3:58 pm
  8. Patosan

    I’d love to plant one of these between our fence and deck here in wakayama, Japan. The stinger is that the root ball would be planted in a 45cm square 40 cm deep to open soil. Do the roots spread instantly wide or would they be happy to hunt down that 40cm ?

    March 8, 2016 at 10:38 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    Sharon,
    I think you’ll be OK.

    February 29, 2016 at 12:58 pm
  10. Sharon Martin

    Hi, In October 2015 I planted October Glory in zone 7 at our new home. At the time I was unaware the location was 50 foot from the very end of the 90 foot septic drain field. Since planting I’ve read that maples should be planted nowhere near any section at all of a drain field. Is the 50 foot from the field’s end a safe distance or should I cut my losses now and replace the tree with another variety?

    February 24, 2016 at 3:33 pm
  11. Steve Bender

    Corey,
    The trees you bought may be as good as ‘October Glory” or not. There just is no way to know. The advantage of buying a named selection is that you know exactly what you’re getting.

    November 20, 2015 at 1:17 pm
  12. Corey K.

    Thanks for the info. So if I just bought two trees at my local Lowes in Houston, TX tagged as “Red Maple – Acer Rubrum” and planted them the last week of Oct on my yard – do you think they will do okay? Or do you think the trees Lowes sold me for about $20 a piece are “garbage”? Thanks for the advice.

    November 12, 2015 at 11:37 pm
  13. Steve Bender

    Charley,

    This is possible, especially if the company used chemicals like atrazine or dicamba. These can harm trees and shrubs. See if you can find out what they used.

    September 8, 2015 at 7:33 am
  14. Charley

    We’ve had plenty of rain and my yard is watered. I’ve been told by an arborist that it was not drought. Most likely, the landscaping company that works for our HOA poisened it when they fertilized the yards…

    September 7, 2015 at 11:26 am
  15. Steve Bender

    Charley,

    My guess is the tree dried out at some point. ‘October Glory’ does not handle drought very well and needs watering in the summer.

    September 7, 2015 at 11:20 am
  16. Steve Bender

    Sue,

    It sounds like your tree has a condition caused by bacteria named slime flux. Once this occurs, there’s not much you can do stop it. Here’s a link for more info: http://extension.psu.edu/pests/plant-diseases/all-fact-sheets/wetwood-or-slime-flux

    September 7, 2015 at 11:19 am
  17. Charley

    My October Glory is not a new planting. It was planted over 5 years ago. The leaves look dead and are crispy. We had a supposed tree expert from a tree company come out to look at it and he said he didn’t see any bugs or sign of disease on the leaves. Other than crispy leaves (which he didn’t see because it was raining), you would think it was fine. His opinion was that it needs food that we can feed in late fall. Our landscape company dug down to see if the roots had a problem and none was detected. Our tree is very sad looking and I’m worried it is very unwell with no one to diagnose properly.

    August 11, 2015 at 4:07 pm
  18. David

    Steve, thanks for the reply! The trees would be 10-15′ from any sidewalk, and at a slightly lower elevation due to the sidewalk being elevated to help with drainage on the road side. You make a good point about holding the leaves longer. We are typically raking the back yard (3 very large groupings of some sort of Maple, around 90ft tall each group) every couple of weeks from Halloween until it snows really. We actually have a smaller Maple in the front yard (species also unknown) which is already getting a reddish color on the leaves which are pretty green throughout the year.

    Thanks for the points of consideration!

    -David

    August 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm
  19. Steve Bender

    David,

    I think October Glory would be fine for you, except that it holds its leaves later in fall that Red Sunset and may not develop great fall color where you live if there’s an early freeze. Also, I wouldn’t any kind of red maple between the sidewalk and curb if the strip is less than 5 feet wide.

    August 11, 2015 at 1:19 pm
  20. Steve Bender

    Charley,

    If the tree is newly planted, it’s normal for it to wilt during hot summer days. Even if you’ve had above normal rainfall, that doesn’t mean all that moisture has made it down to the tree’s roots. What I recommend is examining the tree in early morning. If the leaves look wilted, soak the roots thoroughly. Don’t use the sprinkler to do this. You tree may need to be soaked 2-3 times a week as long as it stays hot. FYI, October Glory is not very drought-resistant.

    August 11, 2015 at 1:13 pm
  21. David

    Hi there! I came across your blog here after my search went from Autumn Blaze to Red Sunset and then onto October Glory. I was searching for surface root problems with October Glory’s as I would like to plant 2 of these in my front yard (around 60-70ft of frontage) along a main road (45mph) to try blocking some noise of the passerbyers. We are really wanting some vibrant colors in the fall without too much of the hassles of the surface roots with sidewalks and a driveway nearby. I see you recommended the Red Sunset for the north. Would it be ill-advised to go with an October Glory due to our climate further north? I’m writing from Southeastern Michigan (Rochester Hills, for specifics), Zone 6 if I recall…Thanks for any hints and tips!!!

    -David

    August 3, 2015 at 2:49 pm
  22. Charley

    How often/how much should my October Glory get? Mine has started getting very wilty and we’ve normal to above rainfall this summer here in Nashville.

    August 3, 2015 at 2:25 pm

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