Alaska is known to be the coldest state, and consequently many people assume there is little in the way of trees that can be planted there.
What many people don’t realize is the wide range of different climate zones you can find in the state; from icy lands to tundra, semi-arid to warm summer, and humid continental, to name but a few.
There are parts of Alaska, that have cold and harsh winters, as well as parts in the southeast where the average winter temperature remains above freezing and it’s much wetter and warmer.
Milder areas also include Anchorage and southern central parts of the state.
Growing zones in Alaska range from the icy 1b to relatively balmy 7b. Maples tend to favor USDA zones 5-9, but some varieties can tolerate the sub-zero winters of zone 3.
The Norway Maple is suitable for zone 3 and is, according to Landscape Plants for Alaska, the best maple for Kodiak. This is because of its hardiness, tolerance to heat, drought, and ability to grow in either full sun or partial shade.
Grown for its seasonal interest, this hardy maple has a wide, rounded crown, and large, dark green leaves.
The striking fall colors are another draw of this maple. There are countless varieties available with different fall foliage. The Norway Maple also forms substantial shade underneath, which can either be a benefit or hindrance depending on your preferences and needs.
Other Common Names: Norway Maple
Growing Zones: 3-7
Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 20-45 wide
Varieties Suitable for Alaska: Royal Red, Schwedleri, Crimson Sentry, Crimson Sentry, Crimson Sentry, Columnare, Drummondii
Flowering Season: Small yellow/green flowers in spring
The Japanese Maple is a classical garden statement in the northern states. It’s best known for its flowing habit, graceful and varied colors. The Japanese maple can be either a small tree or shrub, with foliage colors as varied as purple to red in weeping varieties and green or red in upright arching trees.
Japanese maples can either be single-stemmed or multi-branched trees with various leaf forms depending on the variety. They can vary from maroon to green and usually have between 5-9 lobes. Variegated varieties don’t usually survive in Alaska.
Weeping varieties can be damaged by snow and need support. Fortunately, there are plenty of varieties that will tolerate the harsh climate of Alaska.
Other Common Names: Palmate Maple, Smooth Japanese Maple
Growing Zones: 3-8
Average Size at Maturity: 15-25 ft tall and 10-30 ft wide
Varieties Suitable for Alaska: Bloodgood, Moonfire, Emperor I (hardier than Bloodgood)
Flowering Season: Inconspicuous monoecious flowers in the spring
3. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
The sugar maple provides shows of spectacular fall colors, ranging from deep red to a golden/bright yellow hue. It’s hardy down to zone 3 so suitable for areas in Alaska. The sugar maple has an upright, oval/ rounded crown.
The dark green leaf has a pale tone on the underside. The fall colors range from yellow to orange to red.
The sugar maple is tolerant of a wide variety of soil types and environments, which is a bonus for Alaska’s harsh climate. It’ll grow best in moist, well-drained slightly acidic soils and won’t tolerate salt.
The sap is boiled to make maple syrup, which is useful if you’re looking to get a yield from your trees, but don’t want to plant any fruit trees.
Other Common Names: Hard Maple, Rock Maple
Growing Zones: 3-8
Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide
Varieties Suitable for Alaska: Green Mountain
Flowering Season: April – May
The Douglas Maple is a deciduous tree native to southeastern Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, California, Nevada, and Northwestern Wyoming. It’s typically a small tree or shrub with reddish stems and buds that provide interest throughout the long winter months of AK.
The leaves have 3-5 lobes and are a shiny green above with a paler tone on the undersides. It’s similar to, and often found near to the Vine Maple and offers vivid fall colors in isolation or in a group.
The Douglas maple will either adapt a compact and shrubby appearance, or a taller and more open canopy, depending on it’s particular growing conditions.
Fall sees shows of bright yellows, reds and oranges. Douglas Maples provide habit for many forms of wildlife, so is a good choice if you’re looking to provide a safe haven for animals in your AK landscape.
Other Common Names: Rocky Mountain Maple
Growing Zones: 4-7
Average Size at Maturity: 10-30 ft tall, and 10-15 ft wide
Flowering Season: Small clusters of fragrant green/yellow flowers in the early spring
The Boxelder is a deciduous maple with a rounded canopy of compound leaves and is usually a small to medium sized tree. It usually has a short trunk and wide spreading branches, with light green foliage.
Its irregular growth, compound leaves and sprouting trunk means it’s appearance is dissimilar to many othe common maples.
The boxleder is hardy and fast growing, although it does have a tendency to break in harsh storms. It’s often planted for shade and shelter. It’s common names refers to the semblance its foliage has to that of Elders (Sambucus) and to the white tone of its wood which is reminiscent of Box (Buxus sempervirens)
The boxelder tolerates drought and occasional flooding, and is a good urban tree for southeastern areas of AK. According to Landscape Plants For Alaska there are several large trees in Anchorage.
Other Common Names: Box Elder, Box Elder Maple, Ash-Leaved Maple, Red River Maple, Fresno De Guajuco
Growing Zones: 3-8
Average Size at Maturity: 30-50 ft tall and 30-50 ft wide
Varieties Suitable for Alaska: Sensation
Flowering Season: March to April
6. Hedge Maple (Acer campestre)
The hedge maple can serve as a specimen tree, or, as the name implies, can be trained into a hedge. It has a broad, and rounded aspect, and prefers moist, well drained soil, and can tolerate partial shade when young. It’s relatively salt tolerant, so can be planted near sidewalks or driveways.
The leaves are dark green, and become a shade of yellow, green/yellow in the fall. It’s suitable for the Southeast of AK, so if you’re not quite sure what tree to plant in your yard then consider the hedge maple as it’s extremely adaptable, easily transplanted and tolerates air pollution and dry soils.
It is slow-growing and not susceptible to any major pests or diseases.
Other Common Names: Hedge Maple
Growing Zones: 4-7
Average Size at Maturity: 25-35 ft tall and 25-35 ft wide
Varieties Suitable for Alaska: Evelyn
Flowering Season: Spring
The state of Alaska holds more horticultural potential than you may think. To the uninitiated, Alaska conjures up ideas of cold and barren iciness, but this is far from the whole story. There is such a wide range of climates in AK, that the growing zones stretch from 1b to 7b.
With various types of maple trees hardy down to zone 3, this gives the homeowner or gardener in AK a lot of scope to experiment with.
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- Can You Grow Maple Trees in Alaska? Which Types?
Thomas worked for a number of years as the head of plant propagation for a horticultural contractor taking care of many different species of ornamental trees & shrubs. He learned how to propagate certain endangered endemic species and has a love of permaculture, sustainability and conscious living. When Thomas isn’t hiking in nature he can be found playing music, reading a book, or eating fruit under a tree.