The maple tree is one of the most easily recognized deciduous trees in the Piedmont Triad area. It is known for its fall colors, its cool shade in summer, and its most famous product, maple syrup. But not all maples grow well in our area; some are weedy or invasive, others can’t tolerate our climate, and some simply don’t look attractive.
With all the varieties of maple trees available in garden centers and nurseries, how do you know which is best suited for your property in Winston-Salem or the surrounding area? In this article, that’s what we’ll help you decide.
Below, you’ll discover:
- the best North Carolina native maple trees for landscape use,
- common maple trees that grow well in our area,
- the specific needs for our most-recommended maple trees, and
- pointers for choosing the right maple tree for your yard.
Keep reading to find out more!
Maple Trees Native to North Carolina
Whenever possible (and appropriate), we recommend planting native trees. Not only are they more likely to do well, they also contribute to the local ecosystem by providing food and shelter for pollinators and other animals. When it comes to maple trees, there are three trees native to North Carolina that we recommend for local gardens.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
We mentioned the red maple in our blog post on the best trees for fall color, but it is a great tree for all seasons here in the Winston-Salem area. This native tree can grow 40-70 feet tall (sometimes even taller), enjoys wet to moist soils, and does best in sun to partial shade. While it prefers planting locations that are near swamps or standing water, it is also one of the most drought-tolerant maples in our area.
The “red” in red maple refers to the color of its spring flowers, which appear in January through March. It also has reddish to orange fall foliage, and red stalks on the leaves.
Red maples can sometimes be difficult to work around, thanks to their roots, which form a dense network and can prevent other trees and plants from growing. However, given its importance in supporting local wildlife, beauty, and adaptability, it deserves a space in larger yards where it can be given room to spread.
NOTE: This is the only maple whose native range includes the entire state of North Carolina, which may be why one of its alternate names is “Carolina maple.”
Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
Acer saccharinum is another native maple known for its color. Its common name, silver maple, refers to the underside of the leaves, which often look silvery-white.
The silver maple often grows taller than red maples, reaching heights of 75 to 100 feet, with a wide-open canopy of leaves and branches. If you want plenty of shade and have room for a larger tree, this may be a good option for you.
While the tree is strong, it does create a lot of litter (thanks to the winged samara seeds), and has a reputation for broken branches due to windstorms.
One simple way to recognize a silver maple any time of the year is to look at the bark. When the tree is young, it is gray and smooth. But as it ages it becomes more textured, with long strips of bark often peeling and curling away from the trunk.
The silver maple is native to the western half of both Carolinas.
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
Sugar maples are, of course, the primary maple tree from which maple sugar and maple syrup are derived. But they also work well as a shade tree in yards, parks, and along roadways. Growing 50 to 70 feet tall, they need room to grow, but not as much as the silver maple.
Also called Northern sugar maples, these maple trees prefer moist soil and full sun, and have orange to reddish fall colors. Any broken branches or open wounds can lead to some leaking sap from the tree in spring, which can attract all sorts of wildlife (including pests). On the other hand, sugar maple leaves are some of the fastest to disintegrate, adding nutrients back into your soil and acting as a natural fertilizer.
The sugar maple is native to the western quarter of North Carolina and is usually found in the higher elevations of the mountains. If you plan to plant a sugar maple, double-check if the cultivar you choose is suited for our climate before planting.
Note that there is also the Southern sugar maple (Acer saccharum subsp. Floridianum), which can grow 20 to 70 feet tall. It is found in North Carolina in the coastal regions, mountains, and here in the Piedmont triad. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/acer-saccharum-subsp-floridanum/
Less Common Native Maple Trees
The above maple trees are the kinds that we notice most often here in the Piedmont Triad area. However, there are other maple trees that you might spot in our area and throughout the state of North Carolina. We cover some of them below:
Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum)
This tree only grows 10 to 30 feet, so is often thought of as a shrub. It gets its name from the uniquely striped bark – green with white stripes when it is young, with the colors becoming darker as the tree ages. Some areas refer to it as the snake bark maple, moosewood, or goosefoot maple.
Another reason people confuse it with a shrub is that the striped maple often has multiple trunks, though it can be pruned into a single-trunk tree. These trunks can be crooked, and deer like to eat the leaves and twigs.
Unlike some of the larger varieties of maples, the striped maple prefers shade and often grows beneath taller trees. It has yellow foliage in the fall and bell-shaped yellow flowers in the spring. Thanks to the striped bark, it provides interest during the winter months, too.
The striped maple is native to the northeastern part of North America and so performs best in cooler summers. While it will do well in the Winston-Salem area, it can do poorly in the southern parts of North Carolina, especially if it’s exposed to too much sun.
Black Maple (Acer nigrum or Acer saccharum subsp. Nigrum)
Native to the western quarter of North Carolina, black maples are often confused with sugar maples. They grow 40 to 70 feet tall, with a rounded crown and light gray bark that gets scales as it grows and ages. They are most often found in mountainous areas and are sometimes planted as park or street trees.
The name “black” refers to the bark, which is not black but is darker than the bark of sugar maple. Unlike sugar maples, which have red fall leaves, the leaves of a black maple turn yellow in the fall.
Black maples prefer well-drained, moist soil, and full sun to partial shade.
Non-Native Maple Trees
These maple trees are found throughout the Carolinas, but they didn’t originate in North America. Instead, they were brought from other countries and planted. While some non-native species can become invasive, taking over our native trees, others are more well-behaved and make a good addition to local gardens.
Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)
A popular ornamental tree, there are seemingly endless varieties of Japanese maples to choose from. Native to Japan and southwest Korea, Japanese maples are known for their short stature, brilliant colors, and pointy-edged leaves. (In fact, palmatum means “shaped like a hand.”)
Young Japanese maples are not drought-tolerant and will need extra care. They can be prone to leaf scorch if exposed to too much sun, wind, or lack of moisture. They can also suffer from frost damage.
With proper care, your Japanese maple can become a beautiful accent to any yard or property. Growing to only 15 to 25 feet tall, it’s a good choice as a striking specimen tree for smaller properties or a mixed border.
Amur Maple (Acer ginnala)
Also called Siberian maple, Amur maples are originally from eastern Asia and were introduced here 25 to 50 years ago. The name “Amur” probably refers to the Amur River, which runs between China and Russia.
This is a small tree, growing to only 15 to 20 feet, with a multi-stemmed trunk and an irregularly shaped crown. It does well in windy, dry, and even drought-prone locations.
Fall leaf color ranges from bright orange to red, putting on a fiery show each autumn. The Amur maple prefers well-drained soil and shade and is often planted as an ornamental shrub or tree. One of its most distinguishing features is the seed pods, or samaras, which turn bright red.
You can successfully grow the Amur maple in a container, making it a good choice for patios. It is also used as privacy or windscreen, thanks to its dense canopy of foliage.
Looking for other tree options? Check out our list of recommended trees to plant in the Winston-Salem area.
Choosing a Maple Tree for Your Property
With so many maple varieties that grow well in our area, how do you know which would work best for your property?
First, keep in mind the space that you have for a tree. Look not only at the height to which the tree will grow, but also the width. Most tree roots are as wide as a tree is tall, so plan room for the root system as well.
Other things to look for include the type of soil needed, the amount of sunlight a location receives, how messy a tree is (most of these maples have samaras and some leak sap), and whether you want a shade tree or an ornamental tree.
Want some more guidance? See our article on how to choose the right tree for your yard.