Answer: I think the soft maple you are worried about is probably the Norway maple or Acer platanoides, a fast growing tree that tends to be soft wooded and also seed itself about. Acer rubrum (red maple) and its cultivars, along with the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) would be considered hard maples. Red Sunset is a cultivar or named variety of red maple, while Autumn Blaze is an award winning hybrid. Here is some information about maple trees you may find helpful.
There are many shade trees with good fall color; it is important to consider the growing conditions where the tree will be planted as well as its mature size as part of the selection process. Your son may want to consult with his local county extension as well as professionally trained nursery staff for help making a selection based on trees that would thrive in the planting site as well as meet his design goals. Good luck with the new tree!
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