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I just bought a house that has a Sycamore maple in the backyard. My questions are:

  1. What is the life span for this particular type of tree?
  2. when is a good time of year to trim the branches and a good rule of thumb as to how much to trim?
  3. Is this tree known to invade water pipe and destroy plumbing?
  4. Is there a certain fertilizer I can use to strengthen my tree?
  5. The roots of the tree are coming up above ground. Is it alright to cover them with a rich soil and possibly plant some type of vegetation around it? (my sister says it's not good for the tree)
  • Welcome to the site Ellen! You're question is interesting and will help people learn, which is why we're here. You've gotten some very thorough answers, which are based on sycamores found in different parts of the world. Would you kindly tell us where you live so we can know which type you're most likely to have? We hope you'll stay and share more of your gardening needs! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Apr 22 '15 at 15:59
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Because I'm in the UK, and I know there's a difference between sycamore here and sycamore in the States, the tree I'm talking about here is Acer pseudoplatanus. Assuming you don't have a named cultivar of it (Acer pseudoplatanus 'Brilliantissimum' for instance), the life span is 2-300 years in optimum conditions, the roots will only cause a problem if the tree is planted too close to pipes/house foundations, etc., This tree should reach 60 feet, up to 150, sometimes 200 feet high. As for the exposed roots, no, you should not cover those with soil - if you have large roots on top of the soil, I assume the tree is already quite mature.

As for pruning, it should never be pruned in spring, or it will bleed excessively. Lower branches can be removed after June, without getting too close to the main trunk and wounding it, and any hard or heavy pruning is best carried out October-December, when the tree is dormant.

There is no need to fertilize this tree, it's obviously doing very well without any special treatment. I don't know if this is true in the USA, but in Britain, the presence of Acer pseudoplatanus is a cause for loud groaning and general dismay - it produces thousands of winged seeds yearly, and these seeds readily root and grow wherever they land. Perhaps, though, this is not such an issue in the States.

  • And what happens after the tree is 2-300 years old that kills it? I thought they could get older... – J. Musser Apr 22 '15 at 18:08
  • @J. Musser - it's old! all things must pass, and everything has its natural life span, whether that's a week or 500 years. Some of these trees may live longer, not unlike human beings, who are obviously 'three score years and ten', but some, again obviously, live to over 100. This tree is listed as 'moderate' life span. – Bamboo Apr 23 '15 at 10:07
  • You didn't say how big your tree was, but in the UK they are quite pretty little trees for the first two or three years, and they they grow like crazy. In good conditions they can shoot up from 5 feet to 20 feet tall in a couple of years. Smaller ornamental species are a lot more manageable and have better leaf coloring. IMO the best way to prune one is with a chain saw through the trunk at ground level, at any time of the year. But unless you also kill the stump, you will have a small forest of suckers growing from the roots within a few months – alephzero Apr 25 '15 at 21:38
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Grower's catalogues are always interesting to compare heights and spreads as they are based on likely growth in urban areas. Trees do not live as long in urban areas.

  • your tree should live at least 100 years in good conditions in urban areas
  • in urban areas the mature height is more likely to be forty feet (13 M) and a spread of thirty feet (10 M)
  • known for tolerance of salt
  • tolerant of any soil type and exposed conditions
  • fertilizer is not necessary if you topdress with compost around the tree yearly to a depth of one inch
  • not noted for water seeking roots but plant at least one hundred feet from your house
  • trees do better if they do not have to compete with grass or other plants. A mulch that extends out at least three or four feet from the trunk is preferable and avoids lawn mower damage
  • prune in summer when you do not want to promote growth, prune in winter to promote growth in spring
  • do the seeds all germinate readily in the States? Just curious... – Bamboo Apr 22 '15 at 11:22
  • @Bamboo Similar to Norway Maples, they shade out and out compete under the tree which is then a great area for seedlings to start. In turf one pass with the mower usually solves the problem. – kevinsky Apr 22 '15 at 13:49

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