suspected maple decline?

Asked June 14, 2019, 11:09 AM EDT

What is wrong with my 4 year old Acer Rubrum? Asyou can see from the photo, the leaves are sparse on the top and some of them are turning red when it is spring time instead of fall. This was a problem last summer also but I didn’t realize that the tree was probably sick. What do you think is the problem and what can I do about it?

Baltimore County Maryland

3 Responses

The top of your maple is dying back. We do not see any insect or disease issues, which suggest an environmental/cultural problem.

Dying at the top points to a root problem. The tree may be planted too deeply, but we cannot see because of the mulch. Keep in mind that the flare at the base of the tree should not be buried in soil. The trunk should not go straight into the ground but widen out above ground.

Meanwhile, there is mulch piled on the base of the trunk, and that's a problem in itself.. Mulch should never touch the bark at the base of tree or shrub. It should be pulled back a few inches. Also, it should not be more than 2-3" deep. If you think about trees in a forest, they never have anything piled on their trunks.

After you pull away the mulch, you'll be able to see whether the tree is planted too deeply (which will slowly kill it.) We'd recommend that you also pull back mulch on the trees in the background of the photo.

This fact sheet has some other issues which can harm trees but are not insect or disease related:


Hi Ellen, I removed the mulch at the base of this tree and it looks like there is root girdling. Please see attached photos. Is there anything I can do to save this tree?

You are correct that there are girdling roots involved.
Here is our page about this:

You can disrupt/cut small ones and there is an approach noted for larger ones. Unfortunately it looks like it is right where the root flare or widening should be above ground. It doesn't look like they are huge roots but we can't really tell from a photo.
Your best bet may be to have a certified arborist come out and do an evaluation and recommendation.
Most larger tree companies have arborists (they are tree health experts credentialed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).
You can also search for one at