Maple tree poor condition

Asked May 22, 2017, 2:21 PM EDT

I have a sugar maple that has been dropping leaves in midsummer for the past three years. Leaf production has become sparse. It is noticeably visible. There are some white spots on the bark on many branches. Is there a way for me to bring it back to health? There are many other maples on the property, some with the white spots on the bark but no indication that leaf production is inhibited.

Emmet County Michigan

7 Responses

The white spots on the bark on not causing the decline of this tree. They are a type of lichen that is common on tree bark and is not damaging the bark. Looking over your pictures I see only one thing that jumps out as a problem. The rock planter at the base of the tree. Burying the trunk deeper in soil can cause problems with oxygen levels that roots require, can lead to decay getting in under bark (especially if there was a wound to begin with), leads to a mass of fibrous roots in the raised area. It is common to see decline of trees over time when soil is massed around the trunk. It can take years for this to occur. It would have been worse or damage would have happened quicker if a larger area had added soil over the roots. You may want to have a certified arborist take a closer look at this tree. I would pull back soil from the trunk to examine the bark to see if decay is the issue. At this point I do not know if it would help to pull back the soil. It is likely filled with roots if has been there for even a couple years. Even though this raised area is not being used as a planter it is still causing oxygen issues for roots and having moist soil up against bark often leads to decay. See the following Extension article from the University of Nebraska on this issue.

Thank you for the information. The raised bed has been there for over 30 years but the problem has occurred within the past 3-4 years. Should I dig down and inspect the bark for decay? The only addition to the bed in the past few years has been to add mulch. Could that adding of mulch be significant?

I would inspect the bark that is buried for decaying wood under loose bark. I do not think the added mulch would have added to the problem. It might be a good idea to also inspect the trunk for borer holes. Borers are insects that lay their eggs often into weak trees and their larvae feed under the bark and damage tissue that transports the water up the tree. Please see the following publication for more information and please respond to this message string to let me know what you have found.
Thank you!
Bob Bricault

Mr. Bricault,
I removed the landscaping around the tree and inspected for bark rot or boar holes or larvae. Fortunately, I found neither. I mixed shredded leaves and black dirt around the base and am hoping for the best. I included 2 pictures.
Thank you.

Good job! That was a lot of work but it was important to know that there was not decay at the base of the tree. It really looks good! It would be good to pay special attention to this tree this summer. If we get into a drought situation and hot weather it would lessen the stress to this tree if the area under the branches is watered. If a maple gets weakened by environmental issues it could get a fungal disease that is soil borne called verticillium wilt. Maples are susceptible to this especially when greatly stressed. It is a disease that the only steps to help the tree is to reduce outside stress by watering during drought and tree can also be fertilized to try and boost its vigor. If the lawn under the tree does get fertilized the tree will also take up some of the nutrients. A root feeder could also be used to around the drip line of the outer canopy of the tree. Please feel free to call me at 734 222-3826 to discuss this tree further.



I was hoping to see a change in leaf color with the adjustments that were made. The leaves are starting to dry up. I included a few pictures to demonstrate the current leaf condition. I'm hoping for improved tree health next spring.
Dave Gracy

If you are able to call me today, I can be reached at 734 222-3826. If I am on the phone please leave a contact number for me so we can discuss this further.