Emperor Japanese Maple Dying w/Photos

picaroon(z5b)August 27, 2008

Hi everyone,

On June 5th, 2008 I planted an Emperor Japanese Maple. All of these maples at the garden center had some brown leaves, maybe a small branch or 10% of the tree. They told me it was just sun scorch and not to worry about it. Since planting it (following the instructions to the letter), it has been getting worse. The leaves start to turn from red to brown and then curl up turning dry and crispy. We've had a good rainy summer so it shouldn't be lack of moisture, and I have other japanese red maples in my yard that are doing fine.

Please take a look at these photos (whole shrub/tree as well as the completely dead leaf and the starting to die leaf) and let me know what is wrong with this tree..

Tree: http://www.newdigslondon.com/maple1.jpg

Closeup: http://www.newdigslondon.com/maple2.jpg

Leaf: http://www.newdigslondon.com/maple3.jpg


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I figured out how to put the images in a message, so here are the 3 pics:

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 7:23PM
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Is this tree planted in a windy location? How often are you watering?

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 10:03PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Drought stress. Severe!

Needs water in the *original* rootball. Daily.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 1:04AM
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Hi, if I water it every day will it come back to life or is it too late? Should I pull all the dead leaves off or just leave it alone and water it?

Thanks for the replies!

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 7:36AM
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I definitely agree that it needs water, and a few things to consider:
1) I planted a bloodgood that got hit by high winds -- a random event, but all the leaves looked like yours. This was back in June. The tree has replaced almost all of these with new leaves, so your tree will come back if it gets some water.
2) If your tree is in a windy spot, and it was wind that caused this, you may have to plant / create some kind of windblock
3) I have read that Japanese Maples can struggle with heat reflection, so if your tree is in full sun, all of those rocks under it are reflecting heat. So, if it is in full sun, it may be "cooking" from both sides.
4) In my experience, the best thing to do is leave the leaves as they are. The tree will take care of itself likely next spring and put on fresh leaves.
5) If you scratch the branches lightly with your fingernail, you will probably find that they are green where you scratch. This means your tree is not dead. If you scratch a branch and it is brown, that branch is dead / dying.
6) Finally, you want the original root ball to be consistently moist, but not wet. Don't arbitrarily water it everyday. Stick your finger in the root ball and see if it is at all dry -- if it is at all dry, then water. Overwatering is not good either and while it can be difficult to tell sometimes, you'll get the hang of it.
Good luck

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 9:42AM
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I'm not sure if its windy there or not.. there is a fence surrounding the entire yard and its right next to a big birch tree and there are other trees around the yard to block the wind too. Interesting thought about the river rock reflecting the light, I hadn't thought of that.

I've been wondering how this plant could be drought stressed during the rainiest season in recent history, then I realized it might have something to do with the way I planted it. Since the soil in the yard is all clay with terrible drainage, I have been in the habit of planting trees so that the root ball is just about at ground level, and then building up the soil around the tree and rootball with 10 bags of triple mix, like a small berm/hill. After that I replace the (thick) landscape fabric and the river rock. When it rains, the rain is probably running down the fabric away from the tree without soaking in at all.

I guess today I'll cut away the fabric and then I can do what you suggest and check the moisture of the root ball and make sure its getting enough, but not too much water.

Hopefully it comes back! Thanks again for writing- this is a great board for getting quick answers :)

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 10:02AM
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You got too much of something going on. It may be heat, wind not so sure, but those rocks, yikes, clear a circle so there's just soil around the trunk, I agree about those rocks. And planted close to a fence reflecting heat also may be a contributing factor.
Don't be too quick to declare this dead. It looks like some leaves are still okay and they're down low and maybe shaded, so perhaps the exposure to sun and reflected heat is causing the crinkle and drying or it may be insufficient water in combination with the exposure and reflection. Any new leaves coming out? The branches themselves look normal, not brittle or dried.
My emperor 1 kinda looks like yours with the crinkling. Mine is somewhat close to a fence also, in good sun, and high temps (over 100 degrees for a few days) caused my leaf crinkling. I do have new leaves coming out. Maybe emperors desire a bit more shade is my thinking (duh!). I water once a week, deeply.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 12:18PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

You asked: "if I water it every day will it come back to life or is it too late? "

Only time will tell.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2008 at 2:12PM
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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

If the wood is flexible and is determined by using your thumb and one of your fingers, it is fine. Check the limbs for healthy buds as that is your second approach to knowing the future outcome of this tree.

Just because the leaves dried up on a Japanese Maple does not in any way mean it will die. That's the good news. However, if the wood is brittle and snaps rather than being flexible, at least that part of your tree is a gonner. No matter what as mentioned above. Just wait on it. By June next year if it does not leaf out, then pull it out.

And there is no doubt in my mind that the *original* rootball never became hydrated. That in combination with sun will produce scorched leaves or even if it were in shade, 100% full shade you still would have seen dried up leaves.

My guess is that you'll have full recovery.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 10:57AM
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I planted a small Japanese maple about 6 weeks ago. I notice leaves turning brown but there is also mushrooms growing close to the tree. I live in an area where it is extremely hot so I do water it at least twice a day. Early morning and after sun down. I thought maybe the sun was burning the leaves because it is so delicate. I placed an umberalla to block the sun. Please tell me what is going on. I have several newly planted Japanese maples and they are doing great. But they are a different kind. Could you help me? We spent a lot of money on this tree and I really hate to lose it. Should I dig it up and pot plant it and raise it in the house? Thanks, Marilyn

    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 12:22PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Marilyn- Probably best to start your own post (with pix) rather than adding to a three year old post. You'll get more responses that way.


    Bookmark   July 12, 2011 at 5:23PM
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