The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Underused Maples in the Landscape

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Choices, choices, choices. It's like going down the breakfast cereal aisle at the grocery store. What plants to use? With so many plant choices, it's hard to know what to pick for your landscape. Want to know which plants are recommended as the best for Illinois? There is a very useful website through the Chicago Botanic Gardens called Illinois' best plants. Many experts were consulted in the compilation of the list including our very own Gary Kling and Dianne Noland from the U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

Once you get to the website, you can enter the criteria for the plants you want and receive a list of your Illinois best plant matches. You can find out about each plant -- its characteristics, care and recommended cultivars. There are even some great photographs. The site address is

For example, I'll bet you thought there were just a few maples for use in Illinois. As the Illinois best plants list states here are a few noteworthy maples:

Paperbark maple, Acer griseum, is a small ornamental maple prized for its lovely cinnamon-brown peeling bark. It grows 20–30 feet in height with an upright oval habit. It does need moist well-drained soil. Its fall color varies from orange to bronze, russet-red or red. Put this one in a high profile spot. You will want to see it all year.

Fullmoon maple, Acer japonicum, is a relative of the Japanese maple, and its cultivar 'Aconitifolium' has performed well in the harsh climate of northern Illinois. Growing 20 or 30 feet tall, fullmoon maple has a spherical growth habit. Its beautiful leaves look like a Japanese maple on steroids. They are rounded with up to 11 sharply pointed lobes. Its tiny flowers appear in April. It even has a lovely fall color varying from yellow to red. Like Japanese maple a protected area of light shade and protection from winds is the best site. It also makes a magnificent specimen plant.

Threeflower maple, Acer triflorum, is another small tree at a height of 20–25 feet with a rounded habit. Like the paperbark maple its best attribute is the peeling ash-brown bark. Its leaves look quite different from most maples. The beautiful leaves are compound with three leaflets. It also has attractive fall colors that range from yellow to orange to red. Threeflower maple is a beautiful small tree with four-season appeal. It does best in moist well-drained soil in sun to partial shade.

Freeman maple, Acer freemanii, is a hybrid of red and silver maple that will grow over 50 feet tall. The idea was to combine the sturdy branches of the red maple with the attractive leaves of the silver maple. You will only find this one as cultivars such as 'Autumn Blaze' and 'Indian Summer'. Like other tall maples, freeman maple is good as a shade tree in a yard or park.

If you would like to find out about how to select shrubs and maintain them, come to the Idea Garden workshop on Saturday June 10 at 10:00 am. No registration or fee required. The Idea Garden is located on south Lincoln in Urbana, just south of the corner of Florida and Lincoln.

University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners Garden Walk is Sunday June 18 from 10am-5pm. Stroll through eight lovely gardens. Tickets are available at the extension office on 801 North Country Fair Drive and area garden centers for $8 or $10 on walk day. Remember the Champaign County Master Gardener office is open until 8:00 pm on Mondays and Thursdays through June.

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