Red Maple Tree - Early leaves falling

Asked August 11, 2018, 7:13 PM EDT

Hello Expert,

My Red maple tree is losing leaves now. it started to turn it red and falling.
Some leaves on the branch are turning brown as well.
I saw the some part of trunk look dry and bottom of the trunk got brown looks like a burned out.
It's been a 3 and half years since we planted. it was okay and well grown. we saw same early falling last summer as well. and it looks okay this spring. so we thought it's not an issue. but not sure this is a serious disease, since we are seeing this summer as well. some of main branches leaves are all gone. Please give your expertise.
Thanks in advance.

Oakland County Michigan

1 Response


I can see a couple issues with the tree. First, the tree was planted too deeply. This is shown by the trunk going straight into the soil, with no flare out at the base. This flare is somewhere below ground, but should be at ground level—- it is called the root collar or root flare.

Second, the grass is being allowed to grow right up to the trunk. Grass competes for water keeping the root zone too dry, especially during droughty times like we have had many times in the last 3 years. It is better to strip the grass away out to the furthest reaching branch of the tree and put down 3 inches deep of shredded bark or wood chips. Do not let mulch pile up against the trunk. Keep the mulch pulled back about 4-6 inches from the trunk, and hand weed his area somas not to scrape, cut or nick the bark. Water the tree until the soil is moist at least 6-8 inches don when we haven’t had rain for 2-3weeks. Make sure the tree gets watered so that soil is moist up to when the ground freezes in November. Early fall color is often from a lack of moisture but can be from other stresses, too such as girdling root or compacted soil in the root zone.

Soil in the root zone will be compacted by repeated foot traffic and mowing across it. Another reason to remove grass and mulch in a circle around the root zone. Compacted soil starves the roots of oxygen and can contribute to the branch dieback.

Maples often develop girdling roots; that is one or more roos below ground or at the surface that circles the trunk and , as the root and trunk expand, they meet. The root continues to expand and strangles -aka girdles- the trunk cutting off nutrients. Branch dieback is one sign of this condition. There are other reasons for branch dieback.

I’m not sure what happened at the base of the trunk, unless this is a sign of rot. This may have happened due to weed whip damage or mower damage. Any cut, crack or scrape can open a tree’s bark to disease or insects. It may be a good idea to use a tree guard the next 3-4 years around the trunk from November through early April to protect the bark from sunscald and any rodent damage. Remove the guard during the growing season.

Since the tree has been transplanted only 3 years it probably isn’t too late to correct these issues. A Certified arborist visit is not expensive compared to the value of the tree, and can come on site and examine the whole tree, top to bottom. He/she can help you find the root collar, check for and correct girdling roots, check pests and disease, and establish the correct level of soil and mulch around the tree.

To find a certified arborist by zip code ( one who has training in all woody plants, diseases and pests, and has past a certification test) see

I am including the Tree Owner’s Manual which shows how to correctly plant and care for trees and shrubs. Should you have more questions, please write again. Thank you.