Crack in Maple branch

Asked June 14, 2015, 5:13 PM EDT

Hello! I have a 10-15 year old maple tree that we recently discovered has a crack on one of its bigger branches. It does face the south/southwest side so I'm thinking this is a frost crack, but my husband said the bark that is split is a bit soft, but the wood was solid underneath. Is there anything we should do to treat this? Attached is a close up of the crack, and then a larger view of the whole branch itself.

Also what would cause a branch to be part dead at the end, but have some leaves leaf out then die? Have noticed this on an older maple that has some decline. A branch that seems mostly dead still had leaves in full size bloom this year but have now shriveled and are brown, just after a month or so of seeming fine. only noticed it on the two branches that already looked practically dead.

Stark County Ohio

7 Responses

Such problems are pretty common. These cracks can be caused by multiple issues ranging from frost-cracking to excess bending / strain (wind and ice loading) to entry by a disease or insect.

Sadly, there is little you can do for the problem but see to the general health of the tree. Tree systems are not geared to 'healing' as we think of it. Instead they compartmentalize and overgrow their problems. Be sure that the tree doesn't suffer from drought and that any pruning cuts made are done correctly via Natural Target Pruning. Also, if you choose to have a professional look at the issue personally, be certain the arborist is an ISA Certified Arborist. You can search for local ISA Certified Arborists at and use the Find an Arborist tool.

The dieback on the older tree sounds like decline symptoms that can be caused by many things. Mostly decline is related to a loss of the tree's ability to successfully move resources around its systems. This can be caused by disease organisms plugging the xylem (water conductive vessels within the tree), by past injuries or compartmentalized damage that the tree has lost control of and now decay is spreading within the tree, by girdling roots caused by improper planting or by bad nursery care in the past, and by loss of root systems. Loss of root system is the most common cause of tree decline. Trees are living water pumps that use a steady flow of water for nearly everything they do. Trenching for lines and pipes, regarding for drainage, new structures, etc., and even soil compaction caused by vehicles parking/driving over the soil are the most common reasons for loss of tree root system.

If a tree is in decline and is capable of damaging people or structures if it fails, do get a professional opinion on it sooner rather than later.

Thanks for the response. Should I be concerned with the limb with the crack breaking? As you can see it's a pretty large limb, losing it would definitely affect the aesthetics of the tree but more importantly I do not want it to affect it's health of the tree, nor do I want to trim it if it's not necessary . In regards to the older tree and its decline, I have only noticed about 6 branch tips throughout the tree all in various areas where there is dead tips or the two I asked about that had some leaves this year and now have none. I think beyond that it definitely looks healthy.

Good Morning,

I re-examined the pictures and the tree is definitely awkwardly branched. You can clearly see the buttressing and suspension growth (how the branch is structured in a sort of oval instead of circular shape from its base to the steeper portion of its upward bend.

The crack is being enclosed by the tree, but, what the branch might impact if it fails should decide your course of action. Will it injure or damage people, pets, structures, property of some kind, if it fails? Does the crack actually go all the way through the branch? If so, remove the branch, as such structural flaws are not safe.

Without being there I can't make a great diagnosis. If you feel the situation is risky, do call an arborist.

Thank you for such a prompt reply! I would hate to lose the branch as its a bigger branch and this tree on the other side of the trunk was damaged by lightning 5 years ago and is finally bouncing back. If I cut some of the smaller branches to help alleviate any extra weight would that help? And if so can I do that now or wait til it's dormant? The only thing it risks damaging would be a fence thankfully.

Yes, you can give the branch what is called 'reduction pruning' In fact, given the oversized nature of the branch, that might be best. Remember that when conducting a reduction, always prune back to a branch that is at least 1/3 the diameter of the main branch and that is pointing the direction you want the branch to grow.

Dr. Ed Gillman is one of the best for reading about pruning:

I am a bit concerned about the news the tree was lightning struck. That kind of damage is extremely difficult for the tree. Do keep a close eye on it going into the future.

Thank you so much for the link. Should we do this now? Also yes the tree was heavily damaged and part of the leader trunk was destroyed but it seems to be thriving and regrowing where the existing branches were and a new leader has grown it its place. The tree defintely needs thinned but we wanted to leave it alone for a few years to regain its shape and health. There are limbs all over that need thinned, we'd like to do it properly and don't want to do it in summer if we shouldn't. I know I see most trimming in fall or a spring before the leaves.

Actually, Summer isn't a bad timing to prune. There is some argument about when is a good vs. bad time to prune and really, it's best to be pragmatic and base your timing on need rather than on guesses.

Overall thinning and pruning for good form and future structural stability is extremely important pruning. Do look through Dr. Gillman's work and consider looking at OSU's extension documents.

And, as before, if it looks to be a signification or risky thing, get in contact with those ISA Certified Arborists.