premature red maple

Asked September 13, 2017, 6:07 PM EDT

When we bought the property there were no trees on 1 3/4 acres. We paid to have 7 red maple trees, 2 1/2 to 3 inch caliber, professionally planted. They are now 30 to 40 feet tall. Three of the trees, including the one in the picture have had their apical meristem killed. This I just noticed this year; however the oldest tree had probably lost its meristem 2 to 3 years earlier as its proportions are off. It is almost as broad as it is tall. My question pertains to the reddening of the leaves. This tree has had the same section turn red in the middle of June for the past 6 years. The tree is healthy and next years leaf out will be strong and produce plenty of the seeds. Any ideas as to the reddening or the meristem death?? I have also seen this (the reddening) on other local wild trees. Elevation is 560 ft. if it makes any difference Thank you very much...Joe

Frederick County Maryland tree early fall color thinning canopy on maple

1 Response

Premature fall coloration is often a sign of stress of some sort.
Here is a page that describes this further:
The dieback or failure of branches can also be from stressors such as drought girdling roots or problems with planting/mulching.
One problem we can see from your photos is that there is no visible trunk widening or 'flare' where the tree enters the ground. This could be because the tree is planted too deeply or because there is too much mulch. Mulch should only be 2-3 inches deep and should be kept away from contact with the trunk.
Red maples are also prone to narrow branch angles that can fail, or girdling roots that circle around the trunk.

Girdling roots grow around the base of the trunk
rather than growing away from it. As both root and
trunk increase in size, the root chokes the trunk.
Girdling roots are detected by examining the base of
the trunk. The lack of trunk flare at ground level is a
symptom. The portion of the trunk above a girdling
root does not grow as rapidly as the rest so may be
slightly depressed. The offending root may be on the
surface or may be just below the sod. The tree crown
shows premature fall coloration and death of parts of
the tree in more serious cases.
The best treatment for girdling roots is
prevention by removing or cutting circling roots at
planting or as soon as they are detected on young trees. Sometimes they can be removed, but there may be some death on that side of the tree due to root loss.
Try pulling back some of the mulch and see if you can find the flare.
You may want to have an ISA-certified arborist, who is a tree health expert, take a look. If the root collar is too deep, they have special tools to try and correct it.
You can search for an arborist credentialed by the International Society of Arboriculture at
The tree may continue in a decent, though less robust manner for many years, but it will likely always color early, and you may lose additional branches as the canopy thins.