Silver Maple – Prairie Silver

Authored by Sheldon Falk - Owner
June 24th, 2024
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This tree is almost native to Manitoba. I have found Silver Maples growing very close to home. Crossing the border at Sprague on the way to Ontario, the first Ontario town you come to is Rainy River. When you follow the River on the American side you will see Silver Maples growing naturally along the bank.

This tree has still left me with some puzzles. I suspect it all boils down to where the tree is from originally. It is native across most of the Eastern States and well into Central USA. Here in the Red River Valley though, it does not seem to tolerate soggy soil, yet in Ontario I have seen its roots fully submerged in the Rainy River. It could be that our clay does not allow it to breathe or it could also be that the trees we have are genetically different. They could be from the Central Northern States and be much more drought tolerant.

Another challenge for the Silver Maple in the Red River Valley is the high pH. Trees from Eastern America are, for the most part, used to acidic soil while ours is alkaline. You will see many Silver Maples in the Northwest end of Winnipeg that are quite yellow throughout the season. We could rename those “Golden Maples” not Silver Maples. The truth is: they are stressed out and anemic and that really does not sound golden to me. It is difficult to do a soil test to know exactly what you have because our soil changes so radically from place to place. I’ve even seen a tree with green healthy leaves on one side and yellow on the other because the soil the tree is on is different on each side. Wild right? This can happen when we trench and move deep heavy clay up to the surface as well.

If you really want to know if your area has high pH look at what is growing there already. If Poplar, Willows, Amur Maple, Mountain Ash, Plums or Apples have yellowish leaves with green veins that is a telltale sign of high pH.

But don’t throw in the towel! There are many successful Silver Maples growing in our province. It’s not that they need to be planted in highly acidic soil, it is just that their tolerance is lower than trees like Green Ash, Manitoba Maples, or Elms.

Some Silver Maples may have a susceptibility to leaf gaul. This is a mostly cosmetic concern as there are bumps that will form on the leaves where insects have burrowed. I have seen one tree with it and then the one beside it has nothing.

All this aside, Silver Maples do have several positive attributes. First of all, they are fast growing. Secondly, they have a nicely rounded crown creating lovely, filtered shade and they also have the pretty, traditional maple leaf-shaped foliage. The backside of the leaf has a silverish tone, thus giving it its name. Though it is not to be confused with Silver Poplars, which has a more broadly branched shade tree structure. Silver Maples also do not sucker but they do have a large root system so they should not be planted too close to sidewalks, driveways, or foundations. I would plant them 10-15 ft from a driveway or sidewalk and about 30 ft from a house foundation. I would treat Silver Maples as a backyard tree, possibly even a park tree. It is not sufficiently hardy or soil tolerant enough to be highly recommended as a shelter belt tree unless you have moist, well-drained, lighter soil. I would categorize it similarly to a Linden in its requirements for reasonable shelter and drainage yet subsidized moisture during droughts.

There are many good trees and Silver Maple is definitely one of them. Every tree has its own unique requirements. There are no perfect trees. If you can match up a tree that works for your particular interests and environment that’s the best scenario. My personal observation is that the Silver Maples are known to struggle in the Niverville, New Bothwell and Touround area – but there are always exceptions, even in these areas. They have done well around and south of La Broquerie, Steinbach, Kleefeld and Mitchell and also seem to be quite suited for the pH along the rivers in the vicinity.

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