Maple tree seems under stress

Asked July 24, 2020, 2:20 PM EDT

Hi, Attaching the photo of curbside maple tree. During mid summer of 2020 leaves started turning red/brown and were looking dull. I started watering enough during night and sometimes day time to reduce the stress. But there are still signs of plant under stress or disease. Also found lichens growing on the bark. I used Vigoro Tree, Shrub plant food 2 months ago. Questions, What might be the reason for this ? How can I prevent or address the issue ? Is there any fungal disease ?

Wayne County Michigan

1 Response


Early fall color is a sign of stress, as is dieback, slow growth, smaller than average leaves. Lichen do not hurt the tree at all, and if you wetted the trunk while watering grass or the tree itself, it can encourage lichen to grow. I don’t see any evidence of fungal disease.

The tree was planted too deeply in the soil. Trees should flare out at the base of the trunk where it meets the soil; this is called the root collar or the root flare.( see picture attached) This tree may have a girdling root( another problem common in maples and commonly found when planted too deeply). Girdling roots cause limbs to die, and over some years can kill the whole tree. You are correct to have removed the grass in a circle around the tree and applied mulch..

In order to excavate the root collar I would consult a certified arborist. These professionals are trained in pests, diseases and plant care for all trees and shrubs, and have passed certification tests. The arborist will come on site, examine the whole tree, can determine if is growth rate is under average, examine the soil and the roots. He/she has special tools to excavate the root collar and aerate the root zone if the soil is compacted, and can correct girdling root problems in a tree this young. Find certified arborists, searching by ZIP Code, at this website-

You are correct to give the tree extra water, and if possible, you could widen the circle of mulch removing the grass in a larger area. Tree roots zones are typically 2 to 3 times wider than the crown.

I am including the tree owners manual for you that shows the proper planting technique, and has a chart for young tree care for the first several years.