Paperbark Maple Growing Tips

Wake up your garden with this showstopping ornamental tree.
Acer griseum  (01) Bark/Stem/Trunk

Acer griseum (01) Bark/Stem/Trunk

Paperbark maples are prized for their beautiful exfoliating bark, creating a showpiece in the winter garden.

Paperbark maples are prized for their beautiful exfoliating bark, creating a showpiece in the winter garden.

Sometimes, the crowning touch needed for a garden isn't a spectacular bed of annuals or a soothing water feature, but one ornamental tree that simply wows you. When that’s the case, one prime example that comes to mind is the paperbark maple.

This small- to medium-sized tree is ideal for tight spaces, easy to grow and maintain, and—best of all—offers year-round interest, from a graceful form to amazing fall color to gorgeous peeling bark. For those reasons, paperbark maple (Acer griseum) should be planted near a patio or deck where it can be enjoyed up close and personal.

A native of China, this ornamental specimen is a slow-growing but long-living deciduous tree that’s hardy to zone 4. Its stately, upright form can reach 25 to 30 feet tall with a spread of about 20 feet. Because its crown is not dense, it creates filtered shade, allowing plants to grow underneath the tree. 

This maple’s show begins in early spring when leaves with three lobes emerge that are green on top and silver underneath, providing a nice though small shade tree throughout the summer. In late autumn, the foliage transforms into a kaleidoscope of fall color, from bright yellow and orange to vibrant reds and crimson.

But the real show comes in winter when the tree struts its phenomenal bark color and texture. Its cinnamon to reddish-brown exfoliating bark turns darker and more purple with age, peeling away in curly papery strips. Once the tree sheds this layer of skin it reveals a smooth salmon-colored bark underneath. 

Plant paperbark maples in full sun to part shade and in moist, well-drained soil. They do not tolerate drought, so keep them watered and mulched, and in warm climates avoid planting in full sun, which may cause leaf burn. These trees experience few if any problems with insects or disease.

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