Please help identify what goes wrong with my Japanese maple

Discussion in 'Maples' started by hznova, Aug 14, 2010.

  1. hznova

    hznova Member

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    Virginia, USA
    I start noticing this summer that the leaves of my maple tree look dehydrated. The barks on the main trunk is loosing. I saw a lot of ants on the tree. Please take a look at the pictures. I will greatly appreciated if someone could help me identify the source of the problem and save my tree.

    Attached Files:

  2. maf

    maf Generous Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Northamptonshire, England
    Hi, and welcome to the forum.

    The leaves look ok for mid-august, I wouldn't worry too much about those.

    The damage to the stems is more of a worry but it looks to be healing, the example in the first picture especially is healing well and looks as if the new bark will soon enclose the damaged area.

    Does the damaged bark area face south (or SW or SE)? I suspect sun damage, either from intense summer sun or winter freeze/thaw sun-related injury, not sure what is most likely in your climate. If the tree was limbed up in the last 2-3 years, or some nearby shade tree was removed, this would support that theory.

    The ants are unlikely to be a problem, unless they are carpenter ants which make their nests in decaying wood.

    I live in a very different climate to you so will leave more specific advice to others, but hopefully I have given you some ideas to work on. Maybe a picture of the whole tree in situ would be helpful too for more advice.
  3. hznova

    hznova Member

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    Virginia, USA
    Maf, thanks for your reply. Yes, the damaged areas face SW. There was a stretch of high-temp (>90 F) weather during the last few weeks, which might deterioate the condition. You said the bark is healing itself. Could you please advise where the new bark is? I want to make sure I wouldn't damage it by accident. Thanks.
  4. maf

    maf Generous Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Northamptonshire, England
    In the first picture the brown areas are where the tree is trying to heal itself with new bark and cambium. They have nearly closed the gap over the exposed old wood. The flaking areas are the old, dead bark.

    In years past the advice was to treat wounds on trees with special paints and sealants, but over the last 20 years or so people have realised that it is best not to seal the wound and just let nature take its course.

    If the trunk is getting scorched by the afternoon sun it might be a good idea to provide some extra shade from this direction such that the afternoon sun does not directly shine on the trunk of the maple. Usually, if it is allowed to grow naturally, a Japnese Maple will shade its own trunk with leaves, but changes in the local environment may catch it out.
  5. hznova

    hznova Member

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    Virginia, USA
    Do I need to fertilze the tree with vegetable food to speed its healing?
  6. maf

    maf Generous Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Northamptonshire, England
    Not normally needed unless your local soil is nutrient deficient. Mulching is always a good idea, looks like you already have that covered. Good luck.
  7. MarkVIIIMarc

    MarkVIIIMarc Active Member

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    St. Louis, MO
    Is it advised to spray the exposed structural wood with any type of preventative insecticide to keep wood eating out?_
  8. maf

    maf Generous Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Northamptonshire, England
    Mark, I am not sure. I have never needed to in my environment, but it might be needed in different parts of the world. Here the tree needs to be in very serious decline before it becomes attractive to the wood eaters, and thankfully none of my maples that have had exposed wood issues have been attacked.

    The arguement against using sealing paint on the wounds is that it would seal in "bad" fungi and bacteria, insects aren't really a consideration in this choice. I tend to think that if an insect can chew on exposed but healthy wood it could probably chew through the bark as well (rotten wood is a different story).
  9. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    San Joaquin Valley, California
    Seldom are the large vertical splits in the outer bark
    due solely to climatic or environmental caused
    reasons. Yes, some trees can have a bark split
    after a thaw when direct sun penetrates into the
    wood and a split develops. My feeling about this
    is that the wood had already been weakened
    by another factor generally pathogen caused
    which helps precipitate the splitting or actually
    causes the wood to split. More often it is the
    latter that a pre-existing condition or weakened
    state caused the wood to spilt.

    Unless we know we have an insect issue, it is not
    advisable to use a contact or a systemic insecticide.
    On the other hand if we are concerned there may be
    an insect problem after the wood has split, then it
    may be prudent to use an insecticide but which one
    and for which insect? In the olden, less environmentally
    conscious, days a organo-phosphate such as Lindane
    was used almost exclusively for wood borers in Conifers,
    Fruit & Nut trees and Ornamental trees either as a
    contact, fumigant or as a preventative spray to ward
    off the attack from borers. It is not so much that in these
    trees the pathogen causes the trees demise, it is the
    secondary invader, the borers that actually kill the trees.

    The problem with the exposed inner wood is that almost
    any wood boring insect will find the tree. As an example,
    in a blue weeper Atlantic Cedar, it is not the Pseudomonas
    that kills the tree, it is once the tree is weakened
    from the bacterium in the plants system, a wood boring
    insect finds the tree, drills into the outer bark into the
    tender inner wood and moves inward into the cambium
    from there. Once inside the tree the borer activity will
    lead to shoots that die, branches that later on die and
    eventually the tree succumbs to the onslaught of the

    So far no one has expressed any notion of what you
    can do for this tree right now in hopes of staving off
    its relative short term inevitable demise. People
    may be quick to tell what not to do and never
    once tell you what you can do other than watch
    the tree die right before your eyes. I have a
    problem with these people as it is my desire
    to see if I can help the tree live for another
    five years, ten years and even thirty years
    when the best case scenario from the don't
    do this or don't do that people is that you
    can pretty well expect your tree to perish
    in the next three to five years or even sooner.
    That is their proverbial remedy to sit idly by
    and do nothing and let you lose your tree.
    In other words give you a doctrine of the
    trees death sentence thinking that this
    tree will heal itself over time - wishful
    thinking in my "book", with damage
    this extensive the chance of this tree
    having a recovery on its own, let alone
    a full recovery over time is remote at
    best. Can happen however but the
    proverbial odds are very much against

    At this stage with the bark split such
    as your tree has, you do nothing and the
    tree dies before you want it to. So, it all
    comes down to if you want to try your
    hand at trying to prolong this trees life
    and if so, you may have to resort to
    using a tree sealer to help this tree
    along. Don't accept any opinion from
    people that have no hands on knowledge
    on this issue as they simply do not know
    first hand the benefits of using a tree
    sealant and have been bought off so
    to speak from the higher ups that
    also have no hands on knowledge
    of tree sealers along with their
    subjective so-called scientific
    reasoning. So, from an applied
    science side of the coin as opposed
    to a theoretical science side of the
    coin with no or limited practical
    application in their backgrounds,
    it is your choice of do you want
    to try to rescue this tree or not.
    That is your dilemma.

    If you choose not to use a tree
    sealant then you can help this
    tree by scraping away all of the
    loose bark and giving this tree
    two coats of white latex paint.
    Cover over from the ground to
    at least two feet above the
    current spilt in the wood,
    all the way around, let the
    first coat dry and then apply
    the second coat. What this
    will do is prevent insect invaders
    from entering into the exposed
    inner wood and will aid in the
    process of compartmentalization
    of the injured wood. Even if all
    you do is paint over the area
    where the split is, you will
    help this tree and through
    applied science in the past
    this has been an altruism
    for bacterial caused wood
    splits, prior to a secondary
    invader entering the scene.

    I can sum things up this way.
    How many palmatum type
    Maples that have had a bark
    split just under the graft or right
    above the graft, or in the trunk
    of the trees have ever recovered
    on their own? Not enough to
    give this notion any credence
    at all. In your case you may
    luck out since your tree is
    not a grafted plant, yours is
    either from a rooted cutting
    or is a seedling. If this tree
    had been a grafted tree with
    the grafted scion portion of
    the tree intact, certain demise
    is inevitable. With a rooted
    cutting or from a seedling your
    tree has a huge advantage over
    a grafted tree. Your tree can
    always send up a new sucker
    from the base of the tree which
    may not have the bacterial
    issue that the older portion
    of the tree has. This will
    not be the case from a
    rootstock sucker however.

    You have a water and soluble
    solute transport mechanism in
    peril right now. It is no wonder
    that the leaves are starting to
    show signs of desiccation with
    some leaf margin burn as the
    leaves themselves are now
    weakened and the burn areas
    will only increase in the leaves
    relatively soon. When the leaves
    burn too easily from any kind
    of sun or wind damage and
    those leaves do not drop off
    of the tree quickly and no new
    vegetative buds form, then you
    will start to lose wood and when
    you lose enough wood, the rest
    of the tree will shut down and
    the decline is complete when
    the tree perishes.

    Yes, you can use a vegetable
    food to help your tree along.
    The conundrum is do you risk
    giving your tree any Nitrogen
    now this close to Fall and
    burn the leaves even more
    which can lead to loss of
    twig and branch wood or
    do you wait until Spring to
    apply a granulated fertilizer,
    with not less than 10%
    Nitrogen in its formulation,
    then when the plant can
    better utilize this nutrient
    to aid in pushing out new
    growth and facilitate injured
    bark healing. A hard choice
    as if it were me, where you
    are located, I'd wait until Spring
    now but do the painting of the
    trunks as soon as possible if
    you want to forego the application
    of a tree sealant before you paint.

    I have had success just using a tree
    sealant without the paint in Maples
    and I've been doing it for over 40
    years. In bark injury cases on many
    ornamental trees I swear by its usage
    in the right applicators hands.

  10. hznova

    hznova Member

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    Virginia, USA
    Thank you very much, Jim. I am worried about the water transportation system of the tree as well. What kind of tree sealant do you recommend? You said I need to remove all lose barks. Will this cause more bark to loose? I am pretty new with trees. So any suggestion / recommendation, whether practical or not, is welcomed. You guys are very helpful.
  11. kaydye

    kaydye Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Live in Mapleton, Illinois, zone 5
    I have problems with some of my palmatum bark splitting in zone 5 here in Illinois. I have come to the conclusion that for me it is a combination of freeze/thaw. I'm thinking I should wrap the trunks in the winter. I kind of visualize it happening in early spring when the sap starts flowing. Maples hardy to our area are the first (other than willows) to show growth/bloom in the spring, plus that is the danger time when deer, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. will nibble on the newest growth of any in pots I sit our or any that aren't protected with a wrapping of some kind. Then while the maples' sap starts flowing on a warm, early spring day, warm sun shining on the trunk, we get zapped with a 10 degree F. night. The splits do seem to heal on their own. I am always amazed at how resistant they can be to some things. One in particular is my A. palm. 'Inabe shidare' one of my favorites. It has a split that has healed just fine and the tree looks really healthy and full, now the branches cover the affected area. I don't know if it will affect the longterm health or not. It's surely a weakened area.
  12. mr.shep

    mr.shep Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    San Joaquin Valley, California
    First off, thanks to all that did not post several of
    the online links that want to pretend that a major
    crack of this magnitude will cover over on its own.
    Isn't going to happen in warm and dry climates.
    Even my own state Cooperative Extension has
    people posting articles with references far removed
    from California stating that tree sealants and
    even painting of the trunks has no value at all.

    It makes me wonder have any of these people
    ever tried to care for a distressed tree of their
    own. Utopian let the tree care for itself banter
    will not work in certain situations. Weakened
    trees or poorly pruned trees do have a tendency
    to be attacked by a pathogen or insect that can
    and usually does require immediate attention,
    if we want to try to rescue and perhaps save the

    Years ago some of us in the field of Fruit and
    Nut trees were quick to recommend painting
    of the trucks to prevent sun burn, prevent cracks
    and fissures we might see from bacterial and
    fungal infection. Several pruning books used
    to prescribe painting of the trunks and limbs
    to suppress Bacterial gummosis, Ceratocystis
    canker, even Fireblight from damaging a tree
    in a weakened state. We have to remember
    that it is very unusual for a soil borne pathogen
    to infect an already healthy tree or for an
    insect to come in and infest a healthy tree.

    With fungal and bacterial agents already in
    the tree from propagation techniques, we
    already have an issue within the tree that
    does not take much from a secondary
    invading organism to wreak havoc on the

    We do have some Fruit and Nut trees, as
    well as some Maples, that do have a real
    propensity to be infested by a more virulent
    organism after the tree starts to show some
    effects from over pruning, decline due to lack
    of moisture and nutrient flow, but most of
    all we have some invaders such as Shallow
    bark canker and Deep bark canker that
    can enter the tree from a pruning cut.
    Sure we may see some covering over
    the cut remnant but we also can see
    fissures develop inside the center of
    the cut that do not get covered over.
    Those exposed fissures can become
    an entry point for a fungal and bacterial
    agent to enter the tree. Shallow bark
    canker in Walnuts or in Silver Maple
    does not happen all on its own. Even
    arborist pruned trees around here have
    led to shallow bark infection in Silver
    Maple. Even city arborist monitored
    Elms have been hit by insects carrying
    Dutch Elm disease soon after the trees
    were pruned. In this case it was better
    to not prune them at all but try to restore
    some vigor in those trees as was recommended
    by some others that felt the pruning of them
    would lead to other problem issues later.
    Those that felt that way prior to the pruning
    were in effect correct. Those trees that were
    subjected to a pruning spray on all of the
    pruning cuts did not experience any of
    the disease issues later that the pruned
    trees later on had. It is also true in areas
    that have some issues with Shallow bark
    canker in Walnuts and Silver Maple that
    usage of a pruning paint also warded off
    attack from a secondary and in the case
    of some Silver Maples a tertiary invader.

    Many people I've come across have been
    rather fascinated at what goes on with the
    wood after application of a tree sealant.
    All I have to do is show them in person,
    after a year to let them see for themselves
    how the wood has healed underneath the
    sealant. What many people would suspect
    because a “quack” told them so, did not
    readily happen that the sealant causes
    a drying in the wood. That is generally
    not the case as we prevent the wood
    from drying and other fissures from
    developing in most cases when the
    sealant is applied to injured wood.

    What happens in this case of this
    Maple with the wood exposed to
    the elements. We will see more
    fissures develop inside the large
    wound areas. With the advent of
    the new fissures, we see more
    inward wood deterioration that
    leads to an issue to water and
    solute transport flow inside the
    already in peril phloem. When
    we force the phloem to heal itself
    we also see more top growth die
    out as the phloem in repair has
    to slough off some of the top
    growth to expend more energy to
    heal itself. When we see this in
    the trunk, much more so than in
    the upper limbs of the tree, we can
    pretty well expect that much of the
    top growth to be sloughed off until
    the phloem is either repaired or feels
    that it is no longer impaired. Until
    then we have some issues within
    the tree. In olden day studies it
    was advised to fertilize these trees
    heavily in the Spring with a nitrate
    form of Nitrogen to help push out
    new growth. Still is used with trees
    that are suffering from Anthracnose
    fungus as well as Dogwood blight
    in areas with trees that are readily
    susceptible to infection. Even is
    used in areas for Elms that may
    or may not come into contact with
    Dutch Elm disease. We have
    precedence in other trees in the
    methodology of using nitrate Nitrogen
    to help ward off further infection by
    pushing out new growth and in so
    doing help restore vigor into the tree.
    I never wrote that we should not
    fertilize our palmatum type Maples
    What I did was caution how much
    Nitrogen we want to apply, what
    form of Nitrogen we think will help
    us and when are we better off to
    apply the form of Nitrogen we
    want to help push out new top
    growth. Let me give you an idea
    how this all works. We may see
    some sun damaged leaves after
    the Spring leaf out but how much
    of the successive flushes of new
    growth are affected by sun, wind
    and salt burn? Not nearly as
    much as the old Spring growth.

    Yes, some top growth limb
    damaged areas can heal on
    their own and be, for the most
    part, covered over enough to
    fool us into thinking the limb
    is okay when we see new
    undershoots develop from
    near the healed areas. I
    am not saying that this
    cannot happen and in
    cooler areas than ours
    we may see some new
    vigorous shoots emanate
    from those split areas. The
    whole game changes in the
    palmatum type Maples when
    we have trunk cracks, eroded
    areas along the base of the
    tree at or near the soil line.
    We can eventually prune
    out the limb splits and even
    the branch splits and cracks
    but when the trunks become
    damaged we are being silly
    thinking that these trees will
    eventually become healthy
    again once vigor has been
    restored in their systems.
    All we have is a weakened
    area that will in time prevent
    top growth vigor from sustaining
    the tree for the long term, all the
    while the root systems curtail
    their root shoot initiation due
    to the flow blockage down from
    the tree. The graft is the most
    tender area on the tree. Since
    we do not see nearly as much
    seamless grafting of the two
    woods any more, all we do see
    is an infection point where the
    two woods have not merged to
    become one. Yes, we may see
    a healing over for a while but
    when we crack that graft union
    open and look inside the wood we
    felt had healed we see something
    from those two woods we did not
    anticipate at all. We call this
    graft incompatibility and we
    may not see it in our palmatum
    type Maples for upwards of 20
    years but when the supposed
    healed areas do not merge
    internally to become one wood
    we will see our irreversible
    decline start in the tree and
    can kill a tree rather quickly
    and then blame Verticillium
    wilt for the causal effect of
    the trees demise.

    Send me a private message
    for recommendation of a tree
    sealant. If you can locate
    an outdoor oil-based white
    paint it will be a better choice
    than the white latex paint.
    Either way wear protective
    hand cover, gloves, when
    applying either paint and/or
    a tree sealant.

  13. MarkVIIIMarc

    MarkVIIIMarc Active Member

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    St. Louis, MO
    hznova, you have the whole range of advice here.

    Don't forget to let me/us know what you do and how it turns out.

    mr.shep, you seem to have done some study on this! Have you done any comparative tests on the sealant? Just something semi-scientific like "I went into the woods and wounded 50 maples, treated 25, they outperformed those not treated"?

    Forgive my skeptical/argumentative nature. It is difficult to ask questions politely in type. Someplace in the middle is where I fall on most things. I get my shots but I don't sign up for any new vaccine until I see it tested on the general public. Human medical science is full of plenty of missteps even over the modern era.

    You mentioned grafting. It is a very valid defense of the point of view that tree wounds can benefit from sealant. Splicing together two pieces of wood from different trees is ONE HECK of a wound to heal. Can't help but remember having all that grafting paste on my fingers. Obviously someone did a study that proves in that case sealant helps.
  14. mjh1676

    mjh1676 Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Southern Oregon
    I have followed Jim's advice with regard to sealants on wounds fo various sizes, up to a couple that hare probably a bit smaller than the one in question, and I have not been let down.

    I have used sealants on canker-type lesions low on trunks and smaller, possibly non-pathogenic type damage in other areas of the plant, with great success.

    For canker-type lesions applying a copper, sulfer, or antifungal spray as a single ingredient or multi-ingredient process and removing and even smoothing dead and damaged wood, has worked well for me. After the wound is as dry as possible I have used readily available black wound sealants without the white paint. I usually applied two coats of sealant, and left it until the sealant faded away 2-3 years later.

    On smaller wounds, the damage is typically no longer recognizable and on the larger wounds the completeness of the compartmentalization is much great and cleaner than if left untreated. In trees that I have not cared to treat or that had clear disease problems, where I decided to let them go, near all have perished, been invaded by wood-eating insects, or are still in decline.

    I my experience, only the smallest wounds (usually those not originally linked to a pathogenic cause) heal themselves. Sometimes we see "yearly regression" of wounds that fool us into thinking things have improved, but this is typically only a passing respite for a resurgence of the problem when conditions are again ripe or the plant can no longer keep it at bay.

    Honesty, in a pinch, if I spot a wound that I have missed, and it is worrisome, I will seal it without any preparation just to be done with it. No problems with that either. My point being, that I have never regretted using a sealer or been concerned that it made things worse, and in all the case that I can remember in Japanese maples, the plant has lived longer or is still living where it certainly would have perished without intervention.

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