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

November 7, 2011 | By | Comments (62)

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.

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‘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.

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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.


  1. Steve Bender

    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
  2. 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
  3. Steve Bender


    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
  4. 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
  5. Steve Bender


    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
  6. Steve Bender


    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:

    September 7, 2015 at 11:19 am
  7. 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!


    August 11, 2015 at 3:38 pm

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