The good thing about Norway maples

Sarah and I do gripe and moan and complain about the Norway maples (Acer platanoides) we’re each forced to share our gardens with.

In the city’s urban forest, Norway maples represent 26% of Toronto’s street tree population; likely higher in the old city of Toronto (as it was before amalgamation). That’s not counting the volunteer “fence trees” – where the prolific Norway maple seedlings have set up residence. It’s the Norway’s darned fecundity that makes it such a nuisance, not only in our gardens, but in our ravines and other naturalized areas. In short, they take over.

They’re big, hongry critters, too. Bullies, really. As soon as the leaves come out, they drink and feast (and drink and drink) on the same sparse few inches of topsoil as our garden perennials and shrubs – or our wild native plants – are trying to dine on. And they cast a deep shade.

But, for now at least, we have to live with them. While the shade they create may be lousy for Sarah’s and my ridiculous fantasies of English gardens, they keep our street and homes cool. They contribute to the stately feel of our street. They withstand city pollution, and contribute to the daily rehabilitation of city air.

And when they bloom, as the fence tree in my neighbour’s back yard has just begun to do, they are frothily beautiful.

Most of the Norways in our neighbourhood (and they are mostly Norways) are octogenarians; many are starting to show their age. I’m hoping we can start a campaign now to underplant with more suitable trees, so that someone eighty years from now will have some shade to complain about… or thank me for.

UPDATE: If you are gardening under Norway Maples, you might like to see this post, about the tough plants that succeed fairly well in these dry shade conditions.


  1. Those trees look amazing. I agree they can be rather annoying at times, but people usually like the idea of having them for all the reasons you wrote in your blog. What I have to say though is, many of my clients have another problem – their kids are allergic to pollen and some other material in the trees. It’s horrible how many houses lost their value and attractivness just because of generation diseases…

    Regards, Elli

  2. I agree. We have a stately old Norway in our front plot and I cannot begin to count the number of people who tell me to cut it down. But it’s one of the few big old trees on our block and, root competition and endless offspring aside, it is really beautiful. I’m putting in a garden under it this spring and I’m just going to try to go with what works, or what I’ve read won’t die immediately. I’m luckier than you all – I have clay soil, not sand, and the front yard is elevated off the street (you know, one of those yards with a retaining wall at the end) so the shade is actually not so dense. But the roots! I think that vinca might have to become my new best friend. And plants in sunken pots.


  3. I definitely love the look of the tree, especially out my second storey window, it’s quite magnificent and I would miss it heartily if it were gone.

    Rose, the clay soil will certainly help hold more moisture and nutrients, so you are better off than us.

    You might try these plants that succeed fairly well in our gardens (sandy soil) under the dry shade of the maples: Hostas, Japanese anemone, (Yes, vinca), “Clara Curtis” chrysanthemum, Euphorbia, Rudbeckia triloba, ornamental catnip, lamium, the wild sweet pea, dame’s rocket.

  4. Sarah,

    Thanks for the list – I’m keeping it! I’m also going to try some dry shade tolerant ferns, epimedium (I love epimedium anyway) and gallium. I’ve also read -somewhere – of success with gray dogwoods and annabelle hydrageas! We’ll have to see….


  5. Yes, Annabelles are also very good. Helen has 2 in her garden, but I am currently on death-watch for mine, which had 3 years of good growth, but got smunched last year by roofing material. Hoping it will come up again from the roots, but have not seen hide nor hair of it yet this spring!

  6. hello helen and sarah too. thanks for popping by my blog. how great to meet some more toronto gardeners. I’ll be adding you my blog roll.

    I’m starting a new garden in the shade of an old norway maple. I’m doing my best to amend the soil with lots of organic matter while carefully researching shade lovers. last year i installed a border that’s affected by the same maple. while it gets good spring time sun, summers are very shady. i decided to go with almost all natives and so far so good. the foam flowers, canada anemone, wild geranium, wild ginger, bugbane, false solomon’s seal and running strawberry bush are coming on strong.

    and good for you for thinking about future shade. last year’s border includes two serviceberries and an eastern redbud. they seem to work well under the maple. I really want a flowering dogwood for the new bed.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.



  7. The annabelle will be fine, I’m sure. In a previous garden, I decided to move a badly placed annabelle in late October, something happened mid-move, and it sat out of the ground for a week, drying out. I then planted it during a freeze and in the process managed to fall on top of it. This plant suffered! The next year, it was a bit undersized perhaps, but the following year it bounced back vigorously. There’s a moral to that story somewhere….


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