Red Maple Losing Foliage

Asked July 10, 2020, 11:16 AM EDT

My mature red maple tree was lush and beautiful last year. This year there are bare twigs throughout the tree, the trunk shows from bottom to near the top, and I can see through it in multiple spots. Help!

Ingham County Michigan

7 Responses

I believe this is a 'Crimson King' Norway Maple, so when trying to diagnose what is going on that is a good place to start to understand what may be causing these symptoms. I would first check the root system. Sometimes trees can suffer from a girdling root, or a root that is growing around the tree versus out from the tree. This often happens when the tree is planted too deep.

Look at the base of the trunk for the root flare, or where the trunk starts to flare out near the bottom. If it is not apparent, there may be a girdling root. If you feel or carefully inspect around the base of the trunk the girdling root may be just near the surface of the soil.

Was there any other damage to the root system? Any mowing or physical damage over the past few years? This tree's roots tend to be shallow and compete with turf as well as exposure to damage from a mower. Was there increase compaction due to bringing in heavy equipment and driving it over the root system? All of these things can affect the roots, which in turn affects the above ground growth.

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We moved here 4 years ago and there has been no heavy equipment used or lawnmowers bigger than a push one. The only roots we see on top of the ground are 5’ away from the trunk and we can’t tell if they are from the tree or the Bush next to it. I did bring in dirt and plant hostas around it 4 years ago as shown in the pictures. I appreciate all of your help. I’m so sad the tree is taking such a turn for the worse. what do you think we can do to help?

We moved here 4 years ago and there has been no heavy equipment used or lawnmowers bigger than a push one. The only roots we see on top of the ground are 5’ away from the trunk and we can’t tell if they are from the tree or the Bush next to it. I did bring in dirt and plant hostas around it 4 years ago as shown in the pictures. I appreciate all of your help. I’m so sad the tree is taking such a turn for the worse. what do you think we can do to help?

Thank you for the photos. In the last image of the base of the trunk, I do not see a clear root flare. (See pictures and read more about them here: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-FAQ-18-W.pdf)

When you added dirt 4 years ago, did you pile it over the root flare? Or at that time was there also not a visible root flare? Either way, I think the tree has been planted too deep. When a tree is planted too deep, or if you add dirt above the root flare point, it can “suffocate” the tree because the living tissue struggles to exchange oxygen and CO2 with the air. Also roots need to exchange oxygen, which can be less available deeper underground. This can affect above ground growth, and I think is the reason you are seeing this general decline of the tree.

If you want to help the tree, try to remove the dirt up to the point of the root flare. You may have to do this at the cost of your hostas (you can always transplant elsewhere!). If you make it to the point of that root flare and suspect there is also a girdling root (https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/girdling-roots) I would call a certified arborist to come out and try to remove it. You can find a local aborist using the ISA Michigan site: https://www.asm-isa.org/

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I very much appreciate your comments and will follow thru on all of them. I fear I am to late. Above my head on the tree trunk is discolored as you can see in the attached picture.

I very much appreciate your comments and will follow thru on all of them. I fear I am to late. Above my head on the tree trunk is discolored as you can see in the attached picture.

Only time will tell, but I do not think you are too late to try and help the tree.

I believe what you are seeing in those photos are mostly lichens. They don't hurt the tree: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/lichens_a_partnership_in_nature_that_survives_in_diverse_environments

However, that branching angle where it is the darkest green looks a bit odd -- I may just be seeing that incorrectly. I would also try and look a bit closer to make sure there is not some kind of exudate coming from a wound or kind of fungus forming.

I will also say on the previous pictures there seems to be a wound on the main trunk (where they bark is missing?) I am not sure if you know the tree's history, but I would also look around for any signs of wounding (splits in the trunk or branches, etc.) that may be signs of previous damage that is now affecting the tree's growth.

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