Because of their unusual foliage, maples have long been in the gardening hall of fame. Their usage is so widespread that there is probably no park that does not have a maple tree. Of course, the color of the leaves is not the least of these. Blood-red foliage will always be on-trend.
Today I want to introduce you to Red Sunset Maple. This tree has a lot of pros and a few cons that you will find out about in this article.
Another name for this variety is Acer rubrum ‘Red Sunset’. It was obtained in the middle of the last century in a nursery in Oregon. Since then, it has spread from the east coast to the west coast and more.
|Amazing winter appearance||Roots|
|Size and shape||Poor tolerance of alkaline soil|
|Good tolerance of different soil types||Insufficient heat tolerance|
Pro: Fascinating foliage
The foliage is the main advantage of Red Sunset Maple. Firstly, because the leaves are quite large, up to 6 inches long and about the same width.
Secondly, the leaves are divided into five lobes. The leaf looks like a big star. Besides, their surface is glossy, which gives the plant a unique sheen.
In the spring the leaves are bright green which looks very beautiful. As it matures, the color becomes a little pale.
In early fall, the color of the leaves changes first to red and then a short time later to orange-red. This is the time when you know exactly why you planted this particular cultivar. To say that it is a beautiful sight is to say nothing.
The contrast to the bright red color of the leaves is the silvery-gray bark. This is another small advantage of this beautiful maple.
Pro: Amazing winter appearance
The next thing to note is the flowers. This maple has very beautiful red flowers that bloom from winter to spring.
First, the bright red buds appear, which are very beautiful against the gray branches. Then from them grow small flowers grouped in clusters. The color changes slightly and the tree looks very ornate.
This is one of the best things you can see in winter when all the plants are still asleep. Few plants can offer something like this at this time of year.
Then the leaves emerge and the flowers wither and fall off. Seeds begin to mature, which we will definitely talk about.
Pro: Size and shape
Size is a definite advantage for the Red Sunset. It can reach 50 feet in height and 40 feet in width. In hotter climates, its size will be more modest. So it’s a relatively compact tree. Of course, it is not suitable for small gardens. But if you have a medium-sized yard this is the variety for you.
Even though its shape is a bit elongated (slightly pyramidal) it still creates a wide canopy over which you will have plenty of shade. This is often the reason why homeowners choose this particular maple. And if you’re one of them you’re on the right track.
The growth rate is quite fast, over 1 foot per year. Under ideal conditions, it can grow almost two feet. That means you quickly get a beautiful tree with lots of advantages.
Pro: Good tolerance of different soil types
Red Sunset grows well in almost any type of soil. This is especially true for heavy soils (clay or clayey soil). Such soils hold water for a long time and it is not a problem at all. It is a strong tree whose roots spread easily in heavy soil and will not rot away from excessive moisture.
The same applies to sandy soil, loam, and even rocky soil. This maple feels fine also in well-drained soils, which they are. But here it is worth noting that it will then need a little more water.
As for acidity, everything is not so smooth. Red Sunset prefers slightly acidic or neutral soil. It also tolerates a relatively high pH (5.5). But it does not grow well in alkaline soils and we will talk about that below.
Pro: Sun tolerance
Sun tolerance is another benefit of Red Sunset. It grows well in full sun and does not require shade even in the hottest summers. But if you live in USDA zone 8, extra watering may be needed during droughts.
Semi-shade is also well tolerated by this tree. Often it is not possible to plant a plant in full sun and it remains partially shaded. If you have a similar situation then Red Sunset will not react in any way.
The only thing you should avoid is full shade. You have to give it at least four to six hours of direct sunlight. Otherwise, it will have fewer branches and leaves. Besides, it will be more elongated if there is not enough light.
Pro: Strong branches
Neither wind nor snow can damage this tree. Its branches are very strong and can withstand quite a heavy load. This distinguishes Red Sunset from other trees with weak wood (like Chilean mesquite).
Also, the structure of the branches is another ornamental feature that this maple can boast. The branches grow in different directions and create a unique pattern that can also be admired.
To get a perfect tree you need to cut off the side branches when the tree is young. That way you don’t end up with a multi-stemmed tree. It will also be good if you shorten it in height once a year. Just shorten the top branches that grow vertically by 25-50%. The result will be a mushroom-shaped tree with a wide canopy.
Pro: Pest resistance
In general, Red Sunset is much more resistant to pests than other maples. This is especially true of aphids since aphids are one of the most common insect pests.
Aphids rarely attack this maple. Sometimes it can happen, but the maple will not suffer much. Some leaves may fall off, but this is not critical for the tree as a whole.
The second pest is the scale. These insects create colonies on the lower parts of the branches. They can be recognized as white spots (flakes) on the branches. Sometimes they will settle on Red Sunset but this is rare and the tree can easily handle them.
Here I must say that there are no pest-free plants at all. So rarely but the insect problem can get out of control. This is especially dangerous for young maples. So you should always keep a sprayer with a solution of horticultural oil at the ready.
Con: Medium drought tolerance
As I mentioned above, Red Sunset grows well in soils that hold water. It can withstand even brief waterlogging during heavy rains. Some people even plant this variety near a pond and it is fine.
But Red Sunset has a little problem with drought tolerance. If you live in a 7-8 USDA zone, in very hot weather the leaves can burn if there is not enough water. Also, this variety is usually smaller in hot climates.
If you have sandy soil in your yard, this variety can suffer from thirst during the summer heat. In this case, you will definitely need to install automatic irrigation.
The worst thing that can happen is burnt leaves. Drought is most dangerous for newly planted and not yet rooted maples.
The next disadvantage is trashiness. Unfortunately, this maple leaves behind a considerable amount of litter. It first happens in the spring when the flowers wilt and fall off. As a result, the surface is covered with a thin layer of small petals.
The second stage begins when the seeds are ripe and begin to fall. They are winged and, as a result, fly a considerable distance. Also, their size is quite large, which is also not good. Another nuisance is that the seeds will germinate and you will have to remove the young plants.
The worst thing happens in the fall when the leaves start to fall off. Red Sunset has quite large leaves and a lot of them. So once a year you will have to clean up a lot of fallen leaves. Although the same is true for all deciduous trees that are used in horticulture.
The roots of this maple can also be a problem. No, they cannot be called invasive, but if the tree grows to its maximum size then there can be some trouble.
First of all, this applies to sidewalks. Most maples have a shallow root system and if the tree is planted close to the sidewalk, the roots can damage it. Serious damage is not to be expected, but still. For this very reason, don’t plant Red Sunset close to the house. The minimal distance from the tree to the building should be 20 feet.
Another problem will be growing shade-loving plants under Red Sunset. Although it does not have as aggressive roots as the Silver Maple, for example, you will still have to work hard to be successful at it.
To grow under Red Sunset, for example, hostas you will have to prune the maple’s roots. You also have to water and fertilize more often than usual.
Con: Poor tolerance of alkaline soil
Alkaline soil is also a weakness of this tree. It does not tolerate soil pH above 7.0 very well. If you plant it in alkaline soil, it can develop chlorosis on its leaves. The leaves will turn yellow and not look healthy.
To be fair, most U.S. soils are neutral pH. But if you have alkaline soil you can acidify it a little. Garden centers sell soil acidifiers for this purpose.
You can also go the other way and mulch the maples. The mulch will decompose over time and as a result, the acidity around the tree will increase. The best mulch materials are compost or pine bark.
Con: Insufficient heat tolerance
The last disadvantage is a lack of tolerance to the heat.
Red Sunset is recommended for cultivation in USDA zones 4-8. Some growers say it can be grown in zone 9. In any case, parts of the U.S. are not suitable for this maple.
In zones 8 and even more so in zone 9, it will be too hot. To improve the situation, you have to keep it watered during heat and drought. Or plant it in partial shade. If this is not done, the leaves may burn.
This disadvantage is inherent in most maples. So you can’t say that Red Sunset is the only one that doesn’t tolerate hot climates.