Sugar maple problem

Asked July 10, 2018, 8:05 PM EDT

I don’t think my maple is long for this world. We have not hit with lawn mower. Any ideas? Anything I can do to help this area? Thanks

Livingston County Michigan

4 Responses


Thank you for your question, sorry for the slow response. And unfortunately, I have to agree with you; I do not think that the maple will survive long with that amount of bark damage.

A couple potential causes of trunk injury on maples are sun scald, some type of boring insect, such as the flatheaded appletree borer, or a combination. Maple trees are more prone to bark splitting than some other trees. As it says in an article from the University of Tennessee, "sunscald most often occurs on the southwest side of young trees with thin bark." Is the damage mainly on one side of the tree? (It looks like that might be the case from your picture.) Is the damaged side facing south or southwest?

There are of course, other things that could be going on with the tree as well. Look for evidence of what might have caused the damage, such as holes from boring insects or fungal growth. Also, think about the conditions where your tree is placed. Is the soil sandy or clayey? Could the tree have experienced drought stress? I'm also kind of curious about the sort of strange pattern of missing grass around the tree. Any idea what would cause that? Does it flood around the tree?

There are steps you can take to protect new trees before this damage happens. For example, wrapping young, newly-transplanted, thin-bark trees with light-colored tree wrap in the winter. And making sure newly transplanted trees have sufficient water. A two-inch layer of mulch around the tree, but not directly touching the trunk, could be helpful in moisture conservation and maintaining good soil temperature.

Please refer to the following articles for more information:

Insect Borers of Trees and Shrubs from the University of Kentucky

Frost cracks and winter damage to trees from Michigan State University (MSU) Extension

Bark Splitting on Trees: Various from Cornell University

Bark Splitting on Trees from University of Tennessee Extension

Transplanting Trees and Shrubs from Cornell University Cooperative Extension (Rockland County)

Please let me know if you have any further questions.



Thanks Irene for a most thorough answer.
The damage is to the south west. Some critter has bored into the trunk in at least one place.
I like sugar maples as they get beautiful fall foliage but I knew I was taking a chance in this location. We live lakeside and the water table is very high and I don’t think this location drains well euough for a sugar maple.

My print was off the page and I couldn’t see what I was typing!
The grass was stressed last summer during a real hot period while we were on vacation.
Suggestion for a tree?

Other possible causes of tree injury on Maple could be girdling roots or a disease, such as decay caused by Phytophthora spp.

I mention Phytophthora because it can attack a number of woody ornamental plants, and thus could potentially affect your replacement tree, if that was the cause of the original tree damage. This could be true of other disease pathogens as well. Perhaps before you put in another tree, you might want to consider sending samples of this tree to the MSU Plant and Pest Diagnostic Services to get a better idea of what really killed it. I would call them ahead of time to discuss how and if you should sample.

In terms of tree suggestions for a property on the lake, here is an article from MSU Extension:

Smart trees and shrubs for natural shoreline plantings