Silver Maple growing from the bottom of the tree


I recently bought a new silver maple that was kept in a fridge (buds started). I dug a huge hole, filled it with top soil and planted the tree with a couple of handfuls of bone meal. I water it pretty much everyday since I got it. There had been no action at the top of the tree. Top branches still feel healthy however it has developed 2 small branches with leaves just above the soil level. I am just wondering if this is normal or should I get a return on my tree. Thank you


Dear Gardener,

I am missing a bit of important information: how big (how old) is the silver maple tree that you bought; how big is the diameter of the trunk; and how long was it kept in the refrigerator. I am presuming that the refrigerator was an industrial size to fit in the tree, unless you bought it when it was a very little sapling.

The silver maple, Acer saccharinum, is native to Ontario and provides good habitat for all kinds of wildlife, birds, and butterflies and moths. It is fast growing, can grow 50-100 feet high, and has lovely leaves that shimmer silver in the wind. It grows best in full sun and partial shade, meaning that it needs at least four hours of unfiltered sunlight each day.

Because its native habitat is floodplains, silver maples perform better in wet areas. I have noted that you are watering it every day, but the guideline is to water it weekly for the first two seasons until you can be sure it is established. Follow the rule of 2 to 3 gallons (about 10 litres) of water per caliper inch (2.5 cm) of trunk diameter. Once it has established itself, your tree will be more drought-tolerant.

However, it is considered a difficult tree to grow in the city. It has an extensive, shallow, water-seeking root system. The recommendations say that it should not be grown in a lawn since it has high roots that can interfere with a lawnmower, and avoid growing the tree near driveways, sidewalks, septic systems, and water lines. Ideally, it should be grown in a woodlot. Its bark is rather weak, so there will be cleanup of broken limbs after a storm. I hope you have placed it in a good spot.

Landscape Ontario has a really excellent guide on how to plant trees. On Page 43, there is an excellent diagram of how a tree should be planted. Did you follow these guidelines reasonably closely? You say you dug a “huge hole”, and that is a very good thing, although the guideline says that “In well-drained soils, the planting hole width should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball for all stock types”. I am presuming that how you planted the tree is not the problem.

So, now to your issue of the tree growing limbs just above the soil. It is quite normal for a silver maple to grow sprouts (potential extra trunks), but you need to trim those sprouts off. Your silver maple will require regular (annual) pruning in order to create an attractive shape. It is really important that the tree only has one trunk, since more than one trunk will make the bark even weaker and more prone to breaking off (and be aesthetically unattractive). The ideal time to do pruning is winter or late winter when the tree is dormant, but since it is so young, I would take these shoots off now. By the time you need a ladder to do the pruning, you may want to hire a professional arborist to help you shape your tree.

I found this guide about the best way to cut off these extra branches from Garden Guides that has quite a lot of information on pruning a silver maple: “Cut the extra trunks close to the main shoot just beyond the thick branch bark ridge that runs parallel to the branch and thick “collar” that surrounds the branch. Make first cuts on the underside of large branches a few inches out from the collar, then make a second cut all the way through the branch adjacent to the collar. Making a “starter” cut keeps the branch from falling, shredding the bark—and collar that will form the “wound-wood”—as it goes.”

I do hope this information is helpful, and will allow you the pleasure of watching this lovely tree grow for many years.