Wilting maple

Asked July 11, 2017, 8:35 PM EDT

I planted a maple tree about 3-4 years ago and it doesn't seemed to have grown much if any. The leaves always look wilted and it turns colors before all the other trees do. It is planted in a clay soil and receives full sun. The girth has not changed much since planting either. I don't want to lose this tree, help! I did clean around the root flare last year because someone mentioned it might be too deep. But it still doesn't seemed to have helped.

Ottawa County Michigan

4 Responses

I agree with the assessment that the tree may have been planted too deep. The change in color of the trunk near the base is likely the graft union, which should have been a few inches above ground-line when the tree was planted. Aside from the disappointing growth rate, the tree doesn't look too bad - there is no sign of die-back and color looks reasonably good in the photos. Transplanting is stressful and it's not unusual for trees to take a couple years to get going. "Sleep, creep, and leap" is a common phrase used to describe the first three years after planting. I suggest increasing the size of the mulch ring to reduce competition from from the grass. Be sure to water the tree if we get into any dry spells. A cupful of controlled release fertilizer such as Osmocote around the base, applied in the fall or spring, may also help to stimulate some new growth.

I trust your opinion. Any reason you would see that the leaves are so droopy? They just seems to be limp and change color sooner than other trees. They even come out later after the other trees in the spring. I think it grew maybe 6 inches since 2013. Thanks

I should have mentioned that spot on the third picture where it shows the graft union I can pull the bark off easily almost like it was rotten and dried out. That's what that small hole is.


Dr. Cregg isn't available so, I will help you.

It isn't unusual for a tree stressed by transplanting to show early fall color. If the tree continues to color early after normal growth is seen, then this is likely going to be this individual tree's nature- there is individual variation in plants.

The wilting look to the leaves can be from too little water, too much water, or heat- near 90 degree temps. Truly wilted leaves that never recover should eventually discolor, dry and turn brown or fall from the tree. If this isn't happening in any great quantity your leaves are OK.

As Dr Cregg noted, enlarge the mulch circle out to the drip line--the point straight down from where the farthest branches reach around the tree-- as the tree grows this means the mulch circle will need to be made larger. Remove grass and mulch 3-4 inches deep. Add additional mulch each summer to maintain 3 inch depth. Do not let mulch touch the trunk. Keep the tree watered during times of drought, spring through fall - at least through October. This can be 'tricky' in clay soils- you don't want to drown the tree. Too wet as well as too dry can show as wilting leaves. If in doubt dig a narrow pilot hole down about 8-10 inches and check the soil moisture. Slow, drip irrigation is important so water doesn't run off. Never let th soil get soaking wet as this forces all air out of the soil, and roots need air.

The injury at the base of the trunk is not a good thing. However, now that it is there the only thing to be done is let the tree close the wound. This will take some years. Be sure to not nick, bump, or otherwise injure the bark. Keep mowers and trimmers away, and hand pull any weeds when needed.

Here are some other things you can do: Do not allow herbicide sprays to wet or drift onto the trunk or leaves. Keep the trunk and leaves dry by redirecting lawn sprinklers, or only watering early enough in the day so that sun dries the tree as fast as possible.

Where you cleared is showing the start of the flare. You will need to check this every season and move any soil/ mulch/debris back out of this shallow area until the tree is well established, 4-5 more years or so.

The small roots visible may be encircling the trunk and eventually could become girdling roots. You could have a certified arborist out to examine these and decide whether they need to be removed. He/she can give you a plant health plan at the same time that includes fertilizing schedule and whether 'vertical mulching' would be beneficial. Vertical mulching is done by professionals and helps air, water and nutrients move into the root zone. Vertical mulching may help the root zone enough to encourage a return to normal growth. Find certified arborists by zip code here--- www.treesaregood.org

Red, Norway and silver maples tolerate clay soils. This looks like a Norway or red maple to me. Large trees take longer to return to normal growth after transplanting than small trees. So, with good care I think your tree will return to normal growth. Thanks for using our service.