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GardenSMART :: Maple Tree Troubleshooting

Maple Tree Troubleshooting

By The Davey Tree Expert Company
Photograph courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company

If your maple tree branches are breaking and dying, its leaves are smaller or fewer than usual or the tree is showing signs of early fall color, your tree could be suffering from maple decline, says Sales Arborist Dan Schwartz, of The Davey Tree Expert Company out of S. Detroit.

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What is maple decline?

When growing in your yard, trees often lack essential resources, like food and water, so they end up struggling.

"Maple decline is simply a gradual weakening due to a shortage of resources or the cumulative effect of multiple stress factors," says Schwartz. "In urban sites, principal stress factors in maple decline include drought, de-icing salts, and soil compaction or construction disturbance."

Unless you provide your tree with the essentials, trees enter a cycle of decline. When that happens, they continue to suffer, and without intervention, trees likely won't recover.

What are the symptoms?

  • Reduced twig growth, annual increase in twig length averages less than 5 cm.
  • Reduced foliage growth, sparse, light-green or scorched foliage.
  • Early fall coloration, late July or early August.
  • Dead branches in upper canopy in late spring or early summer.
  • Dead, brittle roots and decaying roots.
  • Girdling roots that "choke" the trunk at or slightly below grade.

How can maples recover?

  • Develop a plant health care plan for your tree. Ensure your tree has enough water, nutrients and sunlight to survive.
  • Water trees slowly every week or two during dry weather to a depth of 12 inches or more.
  • Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer to minimize soil salts and safeguard the sensitive, absorbent roots.
  • Prune dead branches to stimulate renewed vigorous shoot growth.
  • Place a barrier (curb, berm, ditch, etc.) to catch or divert the spring runoff water, which often contains salt. If soil and foliar test analyses have been processed and high sodium or chloride concentrations were found, then leaching the soil with fresh water or applying gypsum to improve soil structure may be useful.
  • Invest in proactive care. A tree expert regularly looks for signs of problems like these earlier. Often, these are subtle changes that only a trained expert can spot.

Always talk to a certified arborist, especially if you're seeing symptoms of decline – you may have an issue. Contact Dan Schwartz, S. Detroit (Davey) at or (734) 459-8690 with any tree service concerns as you enjoy your landscape this fall. Find your local Davey professional at

With nearly 9,500 employees throughout North America, The Davey Tree Expert Company provides solutions for residential, utility, commercial and government clients. Rooted in research, the company's vision is to achieve balance among people, progress and the environment. Tree experts since 1880, Davey provides diversified tree services, grounds maintenance, and environmental services. Celebrating 40 years of employee ownership, Davey is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the U.S. and is headquartered in Kent, Ohio. Want to join us? Discover your Davey career, and apply today.


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