Identification: Struggling (Unidentified) Maple...

Discussion in 'Maples' started by the gagnon family, May 27, 2020.

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  1. the gagnon family

    the gagnon family New Member

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    we have a beautiful maple in our front yard that seems to be struggling compared to this time last year. leaves are curling, small white spots. images attached, any input or suggestions would be greatly appreciated! we want to do everything we can to save it.
     

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  2. emery

    emery Renowned Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Hello,

    It certainly is a magnificent tree. The basic lower trunk structure looks OK to me, and the white spots on the leaves are not unusual, that could come from wind or hail. The last picture, the leaf looks distorted, which indicates either something mechanical during development or something chemical.

    So perhaps we can get some more information to go on.

    Have you observed the tree over many years, or just last year? That is, aside from just last year, is this a very sudden decline? Sometimes over long declines, one year may be better than others.

    It's easy to imagine that an early freeze could cause all of these symptoms. There was some freezing and if I remember even snow more towards the coast in N. Jersey this year, did you experience this in your area? Above all, had the tree begun to leaf out or the buds to swell? Serial freezing about 4 weeks apart, after but break, can really set a tree back.

    I see the area under the tree is clear of weeds, was this done mechanically or chemically (e.g. Roundup)?

    Was there any digging done nearby, like sewer maintenance or drainage work?

    Any other changes to the environment of the tree over the fall/winter/spring?

    All in all I'm guessing that mechanical leaf damage due to frost is the most likely culprit, with what I know now. If this is the case, the good news is the damage to the tree will not be long lasting, it will recover by late summer or at worst next spring. It's a well established tree and it will take a lot to do permanent damage.

    Hope that helps, -Emery
     
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  3. the gagnon family

    the gagnon family New Member

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    Emery,

    Wow, incredibly kind of you to leave such a thorough response, thank you! We moved here about three years ago and we noticed a slight difference compared to the average spring. We both vividly remember it being its peak dark red in the late fall (October especially) but we can't seem to remember the condition or the appearance of the leaves in the springs prior. We've had a fairly mild winter compared but LOTS of wind and even freeze in the early mornings for the last several months.

    I'm so relieved to hear your feedback, we are new to the process of tending to our green children so we weren't sure if the growths on the trunk were normal or one of the pesky fungi culprits we have read a lot about. The base being cleared of weeds and the circle of stones... all done by hand, no chemicals at all, and only done about a week ago, so the change in the leaves was already taking place... we plan to buy high-grade soil to give the base ample cushion.

    Do you recommend more water? The leaves certainly seem scorched, the way they are curling. Is "pruning" or trimming back in order? Forgive my naivete, as I mentioned we are brand new to this! But so thankful for your help, truly.
     
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  4. emery

    emery Renowned Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Hi,

    It's my pleasure, especially for such a gorgeous tree. I expect it will be here for a long time.

    Firstly, the "fungus" is lichen. Lichen is a strange but harmless organism where algae (or sometimes bacteria) live together with fungi to form a single organism. There are thousands of forms, some quite beautiful. It lives on the outer surface of the trunk, and most think it adds a distinguished look. It's very sensitive to pollution, so a good lichen population is mostly a sign of clean air. Trying to remove it will likely do more harm than good.

    The rocks aren't a wonderful idea for the tree, but I don't think they will do much harm to one this size either. Maples (unlike, say oaks) are surface rooting. Basically the whole idea is that the roots need oxygen, and when they don't get it there can be problems. Soil compaction is a big issue for mature trees, but again unless something has changed there's no reason to think this is the trouble. Still for this reason adding more soil to the area around the tree is not a great idea, and above all don't build anything up the sides of the trunk, which might cause real damage. I would put down a top dressing of decent compost, like well rotted horse manure, and mulch on top of it with wood/bark chips, chopped straw or hemp, whatever is easy and you like the looks of. Just make sure to leave a 4-5 inches around the trunk with no dressing or mulch.

    Last chemical remark. Don't use "weed n' feed" on the lawn. And don't fertilize the tree in any way beyond the top dressing; use of nitrogen fertilizers on the lawn near the tree won't do it any favors.

    On watering, the only time to water it would be in case of a serious drought. On maples like this, too much water looks pretty much like too little. It's a mature tree that shouldn't need any help with water. IIRC folks there are complaining about too much rain, not the reverse, and the lawn looks nice and green.

    Perhaps too early to think about cutting, unless you see signs of canker or blackening in the growth near the tips, that is from the last 2 years or so. Similarly if you see bark peeling. Your pictures of the crown don't let me see the situation there. If it's still suffering in mid-July, we can talk about cutting, and the necessity of getting someone qualified to look at it in person.

    I'm going to stick with the initial diagnosis for now: warm winter, early leaves, late freeze. Maybe some wind to make things worse, both freezing and wind desicate the leaves. The good news is, maples are built to recover from losing their leaves in spring. They have a set of "emergency buds" that will form and push out new growth. That takes 4-6 weeks, and there may be some die back in the process, and lack of growth during the season, but next year it should be back as good as before (spring frosts not withstanding: they're a scourge everywhere now.)

    Good luck! -E
     
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  5. emery

    emery Renowned Contributor Maple Society 10 Years

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    Oh, one other thing, I noticed the "unidentified". Your tree is called Acer palmatum f. atropurpureum. It is not the cultivar of the same name 'Atropurpureum', nor is it I think the cultivar 'Bloodgood', though someone is likely to tell you that's what it is! Cheers.-E
     
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  6. the gagnon family

    the gagnon family New Member

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    Such useful information all around, my husband and I are so thrilled to hear your input. I can't thank you enough! We will certainly take your advice and put your recommendations to good use, hopefully after doing so I can post some progress pictures in the days/weeks to follow. Thank you, Emery!
     

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