Concern about leaves turning mulberry color on maple tree

Asked August 16, 2019, 8:21 AM EDT

We have a large maple tree in front of our house that has leaves on it turning a mulberry color. This has been going on for about 3-4 weeks. We have lived here three years and never seen this before. The color change is spreading, but we are not losing leaves. We are wondering what is going on. What causes this? What can we do to stop it? We are concerned that if this indicates a big problem we may lose the tree. Thank you for your help. (We have noticed this kind of change on only one other tree on our block and it is only a couple of leaves.) I have sent photos of our tree, however did not know how to upload, so sent the pictures separately. I hope this works. Thank you for your help.

Wayne County Michigan

1 Response

I did not receive your pictures; however, this has been a common issue this summer on many maple trees. It is likely due to the very unusual weather we've experienced in Michigan this spring and summer. Such shifts in temperatures and rainfall can create a lot of stress on trees, causing early leaf color change and drop.

Though beautiful in October, early fall color in landscape plants can be an indicator of a stressed plant. Your plants could be letting you know they are having problems and may need help.

Damage to the base of a trunk or stem from animal feeding, weed whips, mowers and disease will reduce the flow of water and nutrients up a tree, leaving the plant weak and susceptible to other problems. This type of damage stresses the tree much like drought stress. Trees and shrubs weakened from these injuries may turn color early. Plants with damaged stems may need watering during dry conditions to prevent further damage.

Drought-injured plants may not fully recover for a few years and, if weak to begin with, they may not recover. Often this type of stress is evident in reduced growth of the branches, small leaves and early fall color.

Pay attention to changes in plants, such as leaves turning color during the last couple months of the summer. These types of indicators are a red flag that needs attention. Not all injuries can be corrected, but the impact of the stress can often be reduced by watering heat or drought-stressed plants. It can be minimized through the proper use of mulches to help reduce the loss of water from the soil and also to protect roots from quick changes in soil temperatures. Careful inspection of the plant may show insect damage that if caught early may prevent needless injuries.