drainage issue?

Asked July 17, 2017, 1:16 PM EDT

I bought four 3' silver maple trees and planted three in the backyard and one in the front yard. The trees in the back yard are now over six feet tall but the one in the front is barely four feet. On top of that, in the spring when there is lots of rain, the tree in front produces leaves, but within a week of no rain, the leaves turn brown and drop off. I never have watered the trees in the back. If I water the maple in the front frequently, it comes back some. I also planted a small dogwood in front and it behaves very similar to the maple, requiring frequent watering to produce new leaves and keep them from falling off. What could be going on here?

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6 Responses

Silver Maples are fast growing (up to 24" annually), shallow rooted trees that require considerable amounts of water to become established and flourish. As you have experienced, the tree in the front yard is not getting sufficient water from the ground to get it through drought. Dogwoods also require consistent watering to become established. Are the trees in the backyard in a moist area where water collects and then drains? This is an ideal environment for Silver Maples. You have already discovered the solution to helping your front yard trees progress. Water, water, water!

Thanks for the response.

The maples in the backyard are also planted on the high ground next to a drop off (similar to the tree in the front yard) and I have not watered them, hence my concern about the trees in the front yard. They are also planted about the same distance from the house. I use a watering bag on the maple in the front yard, but the tree just barely hangs on during the summer. Spring with lots of rain appears to be the best time of the year for the maple in the front yard. As soon as the rain stops, the leaves drop off until I start using the watering bag.

This is a puzzle. The next thing to consider is that the maple and dogwood were not planted property on in locations where the roots are not able to take up water properly. Did you plant the trees yourself or did someone else? Was all material removed from the root ball before planting. Were circling roots straightened. Is the root flare of the tree at ground level? Was planting hole backfilled properly to avoid air pockets? Were any of the roots severely compromised (crushed, broken, etc.)? Can you send me some pictures of the tree trunks at ground level and the ground around the trees? Perhaps something will stand out as a cause.

Here a pictures of the general area around the trees. I can take closer pictures of the trunks if you think that would help. The tree in the front yard has a trunk about an inch or slight more. The dogwood is the tree with leaves to the right. I didn't start soon enough this year. The trees in the back are 2-3 inches thick. I have never watered the trees in the backyard.

Dogwoods are understory trees that do best in partial shade. Yours is not likely to thrive in this location. The young trees are also competing for water with the grass. I think that the maple is a goner. When you dig it up, I think you will find that the roots are either girdling the tree or have not found their way into the surrounding soil. You could try moving the dogwood to a location where it is shielded from the afternoon sun.

All the trees were purchased the same time and were planted at the same time and using the same method. It seems that although the grading was almost the same for the front and back yard, the maple in front seemed to always have insufficient water. It is hard to understand how the trees in the back would never need any watering and now be so much taller.