How can I save my new maple trees?

Asked September 8, 2015, 9:56 AM EDT

A maple was planted in our yard (new development). The leaves turned yellow and fell off throughout the summer. I am thinking it was overwatered because we had new sod and had to water it a lot to keep it moist as it was laid in early July. At this point we are not watering as much. We also have a second maple that is new and turned an orange-ish red color and is now completely red. It just started losing its leaves this week. Where do I go from here to protect as much as possible?

Dakota County Minnesota

1 Response

It's hard to say what might be going on with these maples without a closer inspection of the planting methods, the soil, and a number of other things.

Although transplanting is stressful for trees, this young maple should not have colored up and lost leaves during the summer. Unless the soil it was planted in was very clayey, it's unlikely that it's received too much water. This sounds more like an inadequate planting job. Perhaps the tree was very pot bound and the roots have been unable to take up moisture and nutrients in the surrounding soil?

There may be roots that are girdling the trunk, or a number of other things may be at play here. Here is some information about girdling roots from the Morton Arboretum:
"Tree roots that wrap around the base of the trunk can restrict the flow of water and nutrients up and down the trunk, leading to decline and dieback of the crown. Norway maples are most susceptible to damage from girdling roots, but they can occur in most trees. When roots circling inside of a pot in the nursery cause the problem, the tree seldom survives more than a decade in the landscape. On “balled & burlapped” plants, girdling roots develop for different reasons and the decline may take 20 to 30 years to develop. To prevent girdling roots in nursery stock, make sure that all circling roots on the outside of the root ball are eliminated at time of planting. Research shows that moderate disruption of the container root system does not increase stress. For large girdling roots on established trees, correcting the problem can be difficult. Removal of the girdling roots may cause enough damage to the root system to hasten the decline. Several roots may be intertwined, making it even more difficult. It is difficult to predict if removing the roots will be more damaging than leaving them alone."

Take a look at these links from Extension sources to see if you can figure out if the trees were properly planted and whether they've received the proper aftercare:

If these trees die, it is usual for landscaping companies or nurseries to offer a one-year warranty. It might be worth it to have the folks who planted them to come out and make an assessment.