trees partially leafing out

Asked June 25, 2019, 10:40 AM EDT

I have a Princeton American Elm, about 14 feet tall. It was very healthy last fall. This year it only has green sprouts about 4 feet up the trunk, and maybe one branch has a small leaf or two. The branches are somewhat flexible but I fear they are drying out. Do I cut the tree back to where it is sprouting ? I have had success with trees that "died" but came back from the root after removing the dead portion. Should I just wait and see what happens the rest of this year and next spring. I also have some red mulberry tree/bushes which have done the same thing but are doing better than the Elm. As I wait it seems that they get a few more leaves but the process is very slow. I hesitate to cut off "the dead" at this point, especially if the small branches are flexible. ?????????? Blessings, Jim Hanson Pine City, MN (65 miles north of Mpls. St. Paul

Pine County Minnesota

2 Responses

The extreme cold that Minnesota experienced in late January has taken a toll on many plants. Evidence of this is widespread and many species have been affected, including native plants that are considered reliably hardy here.

Sometimes extreme winter cold kills plants outright. Sometimes only branches or portions are lost. In yet other cases, buds and leaves that seem to be developing normally wilt and die.

University of Minnesota plant specialist Emily Hoover explains what happens in the latter case:

"Healthy new growth in spring suddenly shrivels and dies. The tree has enough stored carbohydrates in the wood to get the buds growing in the spring. But the underlying vascular tissue that conducts water has died or been significantly injured. When the first warmish days arrive, and water is needed, the buds or new leaves wilt and die due to a lack of water from the root system."

So long as the affected branches are supple and the inner bark remains green, recovery is possible. It's OK to remove branches that are clearly dead at any time. The trees' prospects should be apparent later this summer.

It might be possible to salvage the elm by training a sprout to restore the trunk.

excellent explanation---thank you !