Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Blog

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is my Japanese Maple tree dead?

Buds formed during the Fall, but never broke
this Spring. This is a common problem with Japanese
Maples this year.
"Is my Japanese Maple dead?" has been the question of the week from my clients. I've gotten at least 4 calls about Japanese Maples that either didn't produce leaves at all this season or only have partially developed canopies. And I got a few calls about this last week as well.

Unfortunately, the trees I've seen are definitely dead. Those with at least partial canopies can be helped in some cases, but those without any leaves are not going to come back.

What happened?
These Japanese Maples all have buds that formed last fall, but they failed to break in the spring. All of the ones I've seen that failed were already withstanding less than ideal environmental conditions. For instance, soil is raised higher than it should be around the base of trees; girdling roots are strangling the root collar; limbs are suffering from improper pruning wounds; or the trees are facing new exposure to sun due to the removal of larger trees that were providing shade to these thin barked trees.

In Pelham, a client has two japanese maples of
similar age and size situated on her front lawn.
The one to the far right (no more than 25ft away)
is still alive and this one is stone dead.
That explains which trees were most susceptible to failure, but the real cause of their immediate or partial death was due to extreme fluctuations in temperature. This species in particular is prone to desiccation and leaf loss when this happens with the weather. Last year was a record hot summer followed by one of the coldest winters we have seen in some time. When tree failure occurs suddenly without signs of decline in previous seasons, it is typically due to environmental stresses (as opposed to insect or disease problems, which tend to take longer to cause this serious of a decline).

--Ken Almstead, Arborist in Riverdale and Westchester NY