Please help! WHY no fall color on sugar maple?

caroljm36October 4, 2005

Please help me with this. I planted this Green Mountain Sugar Maple 3 years ago and have never had any fall color. Trunk is about 2 inches now. I expected red, orange and green like other sugar maples I see around town, but nothing. The leaves just turn brown and then fall off. I also have a Purple Ash and a Mountain Ash that have never given me any color, when others of this species around town look fantastic right now.

A nursery guy who seemed pretty knowledgable said people use Ironite to get color, but I can't imagine EVERYONE uses this for all the color that seems to come so easily every October here.

The soil is alkaline and not terribly rich, low in N. Is that basically what's going on? Could (my husband's) extensive lawn watering also be slowing them down? Your answers really appreciated.

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For all three to be boring does sound like your site conditions. Ask the nurseryperson how (by what mechanism) the recommended product would assist you.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2005 at 1:36PM
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jmwclemson(z7 Ga Hoschton)

Watering may be your big factor. Vetrees in 'Japanese Males' says somewhat dryer conditions in the fall help to produce color.


    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 9:47AM
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I was out mowing yesterday and noticed a few red leaves on the OTHER side of the tree, west side & away from the house. Is there hope? The tree crown is not very big yet--does size & age help? It sure didn't seem to matter with red maples.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2005 at 11:30AM
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I work for a garden center and we grow Green Mountain. I have a hard time selling it in the fall because, although the signs and literature says yellow, orange and red fall color, I have yet to see it do it in the field at calipers up to 5." We don't fertilize or water our trees in the field. We have several on grounds that are 8"-10" diameter and color up nicely. My guess is that it is an age thing. As for the Ash, I'm stumped.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2005 at 10:57PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

Its likely the site condtions, as this maple is one of THE major contrivuters to the fall foliage spectecle. It likes it cool and moist.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2005 at 2:15PM
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griseum(z5 UT)

This is a hard question to answer without actually going to the site. But, you should look into the alkaline issue. Because your soil is so alkaline, your plant is unable to take in certain nutrients (elements) that are responsible for making chlorophyll, carotein, xanthophyll, and other pigments used in photosynthesis. These same photosynthetic pigments give the colors in the fall. Green (cholorphyll) is the first to go because it is unstable in cold temperatures. Carotein and others hang in there longer. When the colder temps come, chlorophyll is broken down and not replaced. The other pigments stay in the leaves and continue working. But, a plug forms at the petiole where the leave attaches to the stem trapping those other pigments in the leaves giving the colors. Like I said, high pH soils prevent the tree from taking up some elements like iron that are part of building these pigments. So, with a low volume of pigments, you will have little color; even year around.

If my guess is correct, then your tree should be a weaker yellow than what you saw on the tag when you bought it. If I am wrong, hey, you got to read a bit of rambling about plant science.

If it is a pH issue, you can add sulfur to the soil to bring down the pH. But, it is not long lasting. You will have to add it often. A little often is better and more useful than a lot once. It will wash away (along with the nitrogn when your husband is watering excessivly). Sometimes too much water can cause many more problems than suffocation of the roots.

Contact the extension service up there.
These people work for the state and answer questions for free. They do charge for soil tests. My state's extension service charges $14.00 for it. It's not much. But, most of the people you talk to over there have doctorates and specialize in issues just like yours. You will find them very helpful. Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 1:15AM
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myersphcf(z6a IL)

I think you have gotten two good answers...I agree it's likely to be a soil matter...but the age thing put forth by the nursery guy is also probably correct... I might add differnt trees of even the same cultivar turn at differnt times so THIS year you may get color at some point even though your townies may already have it. I have two large sugar maples that are almost totally green except for one red branch on one whereas just two doors down they are a miriad of color and already starting to loose there leaves. Where they are placed can also make a differnce my front yard SM comes out much earlier than my back yard one that gets more north wind and they turn color at differnt times even though they are sisters and exactly the same age.My bet is that as they get bigger and a better root system they will "find" the nutriants they need ...all of them and have fall color... you didn't say but I assume all three trees are approx the same age...SO maybe both folks are right and in your area the top soil is NOT optimim and they just need to get "BIGGER" and their roots down far enough to get the nutriants they need to get that color. David

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 11:21AM
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rico_md(z7 md)

I wonder if this is the answer to my tree. I have a Scanlon maple that I started from seed back in 1988. Its color has been a disappointment every year. These trees are very colorful at NASA Goddard in Greenbelt Md. However, this year I have 2 branches that are a blazing red. I've never seen this in previous years. One common trait of these branches is that they seem to be awkwardly bent. Is the bending of these branches the cause of the color (less nutrients getting to the leaves) or could it be the age of the tree? Maryland soil is generally acidic so I can probably rule out soil as a factor.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 5:47PM
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griseum(z5 UT)

I don't think the bending has anything to do with the color. It may. But, here is what I see. CULTIVAR. Ha, ha. It looks like those two branches can be the parent stock to a cultivar with your name on it: Scanlon Maple 'Rico's Blazing Red' Doesn't that sound great?!

Do the other branches have coloration at all? If not, there could be a mutation causing this blazing red. You can plant seeds from the species; or even your own tree. Grow them for one year. In the fall of year one, take some buds from the blazing branches and put one towards the base of the seedlings a few inches above the soil line, but below any buds on the seedling. Let it overwinter. In the spring of year two, prune the origional tree down to the bud you grafted on. This season, that bud will become the new tree. This is a cultivar. This is how nurseries make money. If you have room and a desire, it sounds like you have an opportunity that you can't pass up. Or, you can contact a local nursery and see if they will want to buy some buds from your tree so they can do the work and make the money.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 6:29PM
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rico_md(z7 md)


Yeah I found out, much to my disappointment, that it was a cultivar when the tree was about 5 years old. The bending I see is to the point of breaking. Very extreme. That was the only reason I could come up with for the color change.
The other branches have a little color. But not as much as these 2 branches. I think the other branches are just about to turn and there are spots of red scattered thru out the canopy.

Hmmm... I never grafted anything b4. Maybe it's worth a shot. A little fame wouldn't hurt either :)
Would the seeds from those branches be any different from the other branches?

Thanks for the input.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 5:23PM
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griseum(z5 UT)

No, the seeds should be a generic species seed. Often if you collect seeds from a cultivar, you will get seedlings that do not share the mutation. These seedlings are used for the rootstock to put the cultivar bud or graft onto. So, all the seeds should be basically the same. Should be. But, in seeds, meiosis causes a slight difference from the parents to the children. Like our children look like us. But, not exactly. The only way to get exactly like us is to take a cutting. Cut your arm off and grow a whole new you! Ha. Well, that's what we do with plants. If we like what it looks like, we take a piece of it and either attach it to roots or get it to root itself.

So, those branches were breaking off. It sounds like that's it. Hey, if you don't like the fall color on the tree, ask around your town and see what trees work in your area.

Why are you disappointed that it was a cultivar? Generally you know what you are getting in a cultivar.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2005 at 2:20AM
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rico_md(z7 md)


When I found out that it was a cultivar ( and learned what a cultivar is), I realized that it would never have the same fall color as it's parent ( since I started the tree from a seed). The tree is now 17 years old. The colors this year were the same drab yellow ( except for those 2 branches) as years passed. Maybe next year I'll bend some more branches to see if I can bring out the reds. I won't cut it down. I did start another tree from the seeds of tree with the bent branches. It's about 5 years old and the leaf colors on that tree had more of a red/orange tinge to them this year than in past years. Maybe there's hope for the younger tree.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2005 at 12:50PM
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griseum(z5 UT)

Yeah, seeds are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get - to rip off Forrest Gump. Sounds like you've been at this a while. I don't know if bending will give you the uniform color, though. I don't know. Maybe it will. Also, understand, I am not a pro on this. I'm just trying to make sense of it. So, you took some seeds from the broken branches. Those were the branches that gave you the red color. Your thought is: the red color might possibly be inherant in the seeds from those branches. You know, it would make an awesome research project. In order for that to be possible, the DNA in those branches must be different than the rest of the tree. And, when those branches produce seeds, that mutated DNA must be transfered to the gametes that produced the seeds. I don't know. I just don't know.

I think you should investigate why that 5-year-old had redder leaves. What is the soil like? Is it more acidic than the the other tree? What is the climate like? Well, microclimate. Is the light, temperature, wind, moisture, or humidity different for it than the other? If so, what is the difference? Could those differences be the reason? Once you narrow all that out, it would be easier to say that, hey, it just might be a DNA mutation that is driving the redder color.

Sounds like fun. There is so much more to a yard than just looking at a pretty view. That's why I like horticulture so much. There is always something interesting going on.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2005 at 3:14AM
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rico_md(z7 md)


I haven't taken seeds from the bent branches because I just noticed them this fall. But I plan on doing that in the spring. I marked the branch b4 the leaves dropped. However, it will be at least 2 years b4 I find anything out because during the 17 year old tree's first fall, the leaves were all red. It was in a pot back then so that might have been a factor. Who knows????

My 2 trees are 20 ft from one another and about 4 ft to either side of my driveway. Both are in full sun. It's possible that the soil is different on the different sides of my driveway. It would have to be checked out. Of your possible causes for the redder tree, the soil is the prime suspect.

Many thanks for your input.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 1:17PM
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