Trees in distress

Asked August 12, 2019, 7:54 AM EDT

I live in the city of Jackson, I don’t have air conditioning so the trees in my front yard are my natural air conditioning! They have lots of dead branches and are loosing some leaves already. Naturally I want to save them but I don’t know what’s wrong or what to do. Would it be possible to have someone come and diagnose the problem and advise me what I should do? Please advise. Thank you very much. Diane Tracy 517.392.8149

Jackson County Michigan

3 Responses

The tree with the maroon leaves is a Crimson King Maple a type of Norway Maple. It is a good hardy tree but has two issues that are common. One is a girdling root problem common to this maple. At the base of the tree a root will wrap around part of the tree and cause damage as it presses on the trunk. Check the base of the tree to see if this exists, though I cannot see this in the picture. A small one 1 inch in diameter is easy to cut and root move but bigger ones already tight up against the bark likely cannot be removed. Hopefully this is not the case. The other problem is this type of maple cannot handle soils that stay too wet. This past spring was constant wet soil and is more of a problem in clay soils. Also a sprinkler on too frequently can damage roots of a Norway maple. Rain or sprinkler should not keep soil too wet and should dry out between watering periods. The other tree appears to be a sweetgum, which we have seen damage on across lower Michigan. The cause may have been injured during the cold period this spring when temperatures were not warm but mild even in mid March. Many sweetgum trees had trouble leafing out in the spring. All you can do for this tree is to make sure no other stress such as drought causes added problems. Early next spring you can fertilize these trees to boost their vigor. Though you are seeing damage at this time it is likely due to unusual spring conditions.

Thank you.
I have attached a couple of pictures around the base of the maple tree, it doesn’t appear to me that the roots have wrapped around, hopefully you can tell for sure from the pictures. I also attached a picture of the tree, as you can see it’s part of a flower garden which I water a lot, so it’s probably water logged as you suggested. Should I separate it from the flowers somehow?
What type of fertilizer should I get for the other tree and should I use it on the maple as well?
Thank you again.
Diane Tracy

I can see no root flare at the base of this tree, which can be a sign of girdling roots just under the soil or a site where soil was brought in to raise the area around the tree. Trees should flare out just as they go into the ground and I cannot see that it is doing this. There is also an indentation in the stem at ground level with a crack spreading up the tree at this point. The crack is an internal injury below the bark and this will disrupt the flow of moisture up the tree. It will be most evident during dry and hot conditions and often leads to the death of some branches. There is nothing that can be done to change this but preventing further stress by providing water during dry conditions can allow this tree to have a longer life. This is a Norway maple and the only caution I would point out it that it does not do well in sites where the soil is kept to wet. Let soils dry between periods when you water a lawn and do not exceed the lawns need for up to 1 inch of water per week (including rainfall). We actually saw damage to Norway maples in June after long periods of continuous rainfall in May and June.

The crack in the tree may have been there for years and often occurs when the tree is very young and is caused by very low temperatures. I have the same crack on a Norway maple in my yard. If you planning to fertilize the tree the best time would be early spring.