Bloodgood maple in crisis...help!!!

Discussion in 'Maples' started by DennisC, Jul 11, 2013.

  1. DennisC

    DennisC New Member

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    Last spring we planted an 8 ft Bloodgood maple and a Crimson Queen maple about 15 ft apart in a raised bed that gets filtered sun. Both were in 15 gallon containers. The Bloodgood, after a good start began drying out at the ends of branches when 100F temps hit a few weeks back, and though now temps are lower, the dessication has progressively gotten worse regardless how much water it gets. About 2/3 of the leaves are now shriveled and crunchy. The leaves did not turn brown when they dried out. The branches are still flexible, though some tips are beginning to turn dry and brittle.

    What can I do to stop this? Is it doomed? I could move it to a shadier location but I'm afraid the shock would be too much for it.

    The Crimson Queen in the same environment is doing very well and looks great; not so much as a brown leaf tip (though it has gone mostly green).
     
  2. emery

    emery Renowned Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Be careful you are not over watering. The signs of too much or too little water can be very similar.

    It would be enough that the CQ has slightly better drainage for it to be doing much better.

    Try and get a probe or a finger 6 inches or so into the soil, to see if it's wet or dry. As Ron pointed out in a recent thread, maples really don't like wet feet.

    Not sure if that's the problem, but worth checking anyway.
     
  3. DennisC

    DennisC New Member

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    I monitor soil moisture with a garden store moisture meter. Routinely I water when it gets down to low in "moist" range and afterward its reads at the high end of "moist". Its never indicated in "wet" except after rain. I planted with a 2 inch deep "basin" around the tree about 48" dia. I flood this about 3 times x 2/week . It's very fast draining soil; in 5 minutes the basin clears.

    When the dessication problem began, the meter indicated that the water may be draining around the root ball and not penetrating it because the reading got drier closer to the trunk. I moved the berm closer to the trunk and made it a little higher to "force" the water into the root ball but I've seen no change...no new buds at the leaf nodes.

    The grower who sold me the trees told me to fill the watering basin twice a day and see if it improves.
     
  4. maplesandpaws

    maplesandpaws Active Member

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    I am almost wondering if the rootball on the Bloodgood is too compacted, and that's why - no matter how much/little you water - it's not actually getting 'watered'. When you got, and planted, both trees, did you take a look at the rootball at all, or loosen it to any degree (ie, slightly comb/tease out the roots, etc)? Being that the tree is 8ft tall/15g container-grown, as with many, many trees bought at both box-stores and nurseries, when the tree outgrew the pot it was currently in, it was moved to the next size up and more soil added, without the roots being touched (too time-consuming for the commercial business); over time, this often results in very twisted, compacted root systems that, no matter how much you water, never actually get soil to the roots that need it - the small feeder roots. If you take a fairly sturdy stick (one that won't bend easily), test the rootball by seeing how far you can push the stick into it; if you can't push it in at all, then the rootball is quite likely compacted.

    I would hope others might chime in on this possibility, but since it seems to be going downhill the way things are now, I don't think you have anything to lose by pulling it up and checking on the roots. If they are compacted, try and work them loose as best you can - even if you can only do a little bit around the edges right now, that will probably be better than nothing, and then pull it up again come fall and really work the rootball loose. Do this on a cooler, overcast day, or in the evening so the shock isn't quite as bad. Another possible option, and I don't know how advisable this would be, is to do what one of the members of the local bonsai club does when he has a compacted rootball in a plant that isn't 'in season' for re-potting - he drills into the rootball in multiple places (from the soil-line down, in your case probably at least 6-8") so that water can actually penetrate and be used by the roots. Again, I hope others more knowledgeable chime in on these two options.

    By the way, was there any warranty/guarantee on the trees when you bought them? If so, you *may* want to consider taking the Bloodgood back and getting another one later in fall to try again...
     
  5. JT1

    JT1 Contributor 10 Years

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    With a B&B tree, it's very common that the soil of the ball gets too dry and compacted. Especially when the ball is very loam and compacted light brown soil. This is very common when the tree comes from a grower in the NW. But also common from growers east of my location where the soil is very loam and very fine that compacts and dries out easily.

    Here is what I do with trees that have a dry compacted root ball:

    -Get a pointed screwdriver with a long shaft (usually when you buy a screwdriver set it comes with one that has a dull point, more of a hole punch than a screw driver. Not sure of the technical name of this tool)
    Slowly and easy is key, so that you don't damage the roots, push down and rock the driver into the root ball. If you hit something, stop and move the driver over to start a new hole. Work your way around the root ball surface. Start on the outside and work your way in towards the trunk. This needs to be done with great care and patience. We are not carelessly stabbing the root ball rather carefully penetrating the root ball with the idea that we don't want to carelessly damage the roots.

    -Next get a 5 gallon bucket (that you don't care about ruining) or an empty milk jug that is rinsed out well. Get a drill and a 3/32 or slightly larger bit. Sometimes you may need experiment and go with a larger bit if you have fine particulates in your soil and mulch. Drill several holes in an equal pattern on the bottom.

    Pre-moisten the surface of the soil using your regular watering method. Set your new watering bucket or jug at the base of the trunk (but not on the trunk where it could damage the bark). Fill the bucket or jug. If you are using a jug, the cap can be loosened or tightened to control the flow rate (pretty cool use for something that might have been just tossed away in the recycle bin) Start in the 12:00 position and let it very slowly drain. The key is a slow penetrating water, not something that is just going to wash around the root ball. Go inside and enjoy a drink or something, because this should be a slow draining process. Once drained, if necessary move it outward from the trunk and fill the jug again (for larger root balls). Repeat these steps for the 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 positions.

    Once complete, it would not be a bad idea to work the root ball again with a pointed screwdriver. This allows you to see how well you saturated the root ball and it will help reduce soil compaction and improve water penetration into the root ball. Repeat watering if necessary.

    Then use this watering method, once a week; in place of one, of your regular watering(s) during the week. Depending on your personal schedule, you may only have time to do it on the weekend; that's why I encourage you to continue your regular method of watering for the rest of the week.

    Hope you find the above useful. You may have to continue this method next year, because sometimes it can take a couple years for the root ball to break down and settle into the surrounding soil. At the same time the root ball is breaking down and marrying the surrounding soil, the roots are growing out into the surrounding soil. Again, this could take a couple of seasons (or more) to happen depending on your local climate.

    This watering method can be used with any tree that you are trying to establish (even trees that were originally container grown). It ensures a good deep watering, rather than a cosmetic surface watering. It's also great for those who want to monitor the amount of water given in a week, for example some nurseries will give a watering schedule with a variable amount that is determined by original pot size or root ball size.

    Short on time, use 2, 3, or 4 jugs at a time (in the 12,3,6, and 9 o'clock positions) Keep in the garage or shed and these jugs will last you many seasons.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2013
  6. DennisC

    DennisC New Member

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    Thank you for the suggestions. It didn't look root-bound when I removed it from the plastic container, but it may have just been the outer layer that looked OK. It's from a reputable grower, but they told me they guarantee their stock for only 30 days.

    I've cut back on water and worked a long screwdriver into the soil around the base. All I can do now is wait and see. Leaves are all brown now...it looks terrible.
     
  7. JT1

    JT1 Contributor 10 Years

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    I am not sure how I got it into my mind that this was a balled an burlaped tree...Go figure? Anyway the home made milk jug watering device with holes drilled into the bottom is still a good way to give a newly planted tree a slow deep watering.

    A few other ideas would be to make sure the surface roots have a nice layer of mulch. In the past, I have had a few trees look like they were getting stressed from lack of water and heat, but the soil below was plenty moist. As it turns out, the surface roots were getting too hot. A fresh layer of mulch fixed the problem. Now the trees are standing up to the mid-summer heat with no problems. This is also a problem with container grown trees too. In some climates they too benefit from a fresh coat of mulch. This can also become a problem when a tree looses it's root base shade from pruning or changes in surrounding plantings that use to help keep the root base shaded and cool.

    You can remove the dried leaves using sharp scissors to cut the leaf stalk. The remaining stalk will protect the developing bud underneath and drop off as the bud matures (the new bud is located where the leaf stalk base attaches to the stem). Sometimes when the wind (or the tree's owner) pulls the damage leaf off of the stem, it damages the new bud below. That's why I recommend cutting the stalk to remove the leaf.

    Monitor the moisture needs. Once a tree looses it's leaves, it uses less water, so be sure that it does not stay too wet.

    Don't fertilize this stressed tree.

    Also, be sure that you are not watering the tree with water from a water softener. The salts will cause leaf damage and possibly death.

    Good luck and don't loose hope. As long as the branches remain a healthy color the tree should make it through this tough time. In the areas that first lost their leaves, you should start to see little buds forming. This is a good sign.
     
  8. DennisC

    DennisC New Member

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    What time frame should I use? The dried leaves easily crush to dust, leaving the stalk, but I haven't seen any budding since before the problem began a month ago. The twiggy branches are still red, but getting more brittle every day. I've stopped watering and the roots are in the "low moist" range on the meter. I'll add some mulch...though now we're in the Arizona "monsoon" season; temps are lower and we have a lot of cloud cover; though there's been little rain here.
     
  9. JT1

    JT1 Contributor 10 Years

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    Just be careful to not let the soil dry out, they will not tolerate dry soil. Keeping it in the moist range is good (low to mid), you just may find it requires a little less water with no leaves and cloud cover.

    You can cut the stalks anytime. If the leaves are breaking down and off on their own, then it may not be necessary. It's not anything that has to be done, I would just recommend cutting the stalk instead of pulling the leaf off by hand.

    Are there any healthy leaves left on the tree or have they all failed? Are there any black areas on the trunk? At the base of the trunk are there any roots growing around the trunk (or old twine or burlap)? Can you see the root flare or is it just the strait trunk at the base that meets the soil? Feel free to post some pictures if you have time, and maybe there is something we can see that hasn't already been addressed. (Ex: Picture of the bed around the tree and trunk base, so we can see how it's planted. Picture of the leaves and bare branches. A picture of the overall tree.)
     
  10. DennisC

    DennisC New Member

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    Our "Arizona Monsoon" has begun and daily showers have put moisture level beyond my control. I seen signs of budding, but I won't know if they're viable until I see growth. Pictures attached:
    1. The whole tree
    2. The base
    3. Overall garden section showing the healthy Crimson Queen nearby.
     

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  11. DennisC

    DennisC New Member

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    Latest on crisis Bloodgood Maple

    All leaves have failed. No other indicators. It had started new buds on a number of branches, but they're toasted. The bark looks the same as when it was planted; normal with no black or discolored areas. A fingernail scratch on the primary branches (1/2" dia and up) still exposes some green beneath the bark and feels alive. The minor branches are pretty much dead wood. Today I dug it out entirely to look at the roots. I don't think it's root bound; the root ball is thick, but there are no circling roots. No root mat at the bottom. It was uniformly moist; not saturated; no odor. No sign of new root growth at the interface, but its only been three months since planting.

    I planted it originally using the "new" method recommended now; hole as deep as the root ball and three times as wide, dish shaped, no soil amendment. I think the sudden rise in heat in June did it...we went from mid 70s to 100F+ and 5% humidity overnight, and stayed there for two weeks. Is it possible that it just couldn't push the moisture fast enough to keep up with the environment? Perhaps the Crimson Queen is OK because it need get moisture to about half the foliage at one third the height .

    What now? Cut off the dead wood and hope? Open up the root ball anyway? Put it back in container?
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2013
  12. Bobgerard

    Bobgerard New Member

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    Best of luck. Just had to say that you have a beautiful garden :)
     
  13. DennisC

    DennisC New Member

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    Well, the branches have died and become brittle. No budding. I've used the drip bottle technique to keep it barely moist. There may be some life left in the thicker limbs but I haven't done much cutting yet to find out where the dead wood begins. I'm going to pull it out and put it in a container until Fall. Then I may experiment with bonsai. Last question...will cutting it back to green wood now (mid-season) do any harm?
     
  14. maf

    maf Generous Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Cutting back to live wood won't cause any harm.

    As previously suggested, problems like this are usually related to problems in the rootzone. I don't want to be too pessimistic but it is entirely possible the rootstock has already departed and the top is slowly joining it, just hanging on like the plant equivalent of the walking dead. Did you see any new white roots when you dug up and examined the rootball? If not, I would be worried for the tree.

    When you transfer it to a container it will be helpful to remove as much of the old soil as possible to allow you to examine the roots in more detail. Replace with fresh potting mix that drains well.

    Worst case scenario: It is already dead.

    Best case scenario: The heat has stressed it and caused it to enter a dormant period and it will bud out again later when temps are more suitable.

    Good luck, and that really is a fantastic looking space for a garden.
     

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