Wondering what killed my red maples...

spedigrees z4VTJuly 4, 2013

Early this spring I planted some 30 odd trees, among them 6 sugar maples and 6 red maples. These bare rooted maples were all approx. 3 feet tall.

The sugar maples (along with a large number of evergreens and two crabapples, planted at the same time) seem to be doing well, but the red maples have lost all their leaves. I guess I should say they have lost all their leaf buds; they never leafed out as the sugar maples did.

We faithfully watered all these new trees on the handful of days last month that it did not rain. So I'm wondering if too much rain water might be responsible for the red maples' seeming demise. All our other trees were planted on a slope with excellent drainage, except for two crabapples and my experience is that apples of any kind can thrive in the wettest of conditions.

The area where I planted the maples has some drainage, but not as much as the spruce trees on the hill. I'm beginning to wish I had planted apples and crabapples in this spot instead of the maples.

Normally I do not remove plantings no matter what sad state they have reached, especially after looking at thyme2dig's photos of her blue spruce that lost all its needles and then rallied to become an amazing huge Christmas tree in all its full glory! I tend to let unthrifty plants and trees die a natural death in any case.

However I have also developed concerns about the safety of growing these red maples where they will overhang the neighbors' pasture. Since purchasing and planting the red and sugar maples I have learned that the leaves and branches of red maples are toxic to horses, and sugar maples are suspected of also being poisonous. Apparently most horses on good pasture will not browse on maples, but those with limited food resources will. Our own horses' meadow was surrounded by sugar maples, but because they never lacked for pasture grass and/or hay, they had no interest in eating maple leaves or browsing on branches. The neighbors have an agreement with a less than stellar horse owner to pasture his horses on their land, and he leaves his animals in the pasture long after the grass has been eaten, so I worry about their safety. (I would be more upset with this person except for the fact that when he finally does remove the horses to their winter home they come back the next spring in apparent good health and looking well fed.) Additionally the summer pasture bordering our land is also ringed by sugar maples, so these horses already have access to maples, sugar maples at least.

So I'm wondering if I should just pluck out the seemingly dead red maples and replace them with sugar maples. I think I will post this on the tree forum too. I'm open to all suggestions.

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I have seen red maples leaf out after loosing all leaves after planting, so if you may want to keep these here, don't remove them. I tend to doubt that the rain was at fault, though I can't be sure, since red maples grow naturally in very swampy areas with standing water at least part of the year.

I know more about red maples than horses, so I won't weigh in on the health of horses pastured near maples other than to say that red maples grow near most horse pastures here, and I haven't heard anyone talking about their horses being poisoned by maples.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 8:47AM
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spedigrees z4VT

Well I have solved the problem by relocating the "swamp maples" to the swamp! I had once known that red maples had this nickname but had forgotten.

My guess now would be that this bundle of red maple trees was left out in the sun too long prior to packing, or otherwise stressed before shipping, rather than a problem with the conditions here. However from your reply, nhbabs, as well as a reply on the tree forum, it does seem likely that these trees still have a good chance of survival.

The most insightful reply of all pointed out that the danger (whether real or perceived) to the horses was stressing me out and that the anxiety itself is a negative factor. So true! If I allowed the trees to stay and they made a comeback, the worry would continue to eat at me.

Because I also hated the idea of throwing the trees on the fire if they might regenerate, the transplantation solution suggested itself. I plucked all six of them, donned mud boots, ventured out across the wetland area on the other side of the brook, and planted a little red maple grove in the corner of our property, far away from the horse pasture where they can harm no one. Perhaps one day they will raise their heads above the willow bushes and provide some nice autumn color that can be seen from the house. Or not. But whatever their fate, I feel like a burden is lifted from my shoulders.

I decided to replace the red maples with white (paper) birch trees next spring, and I'm now much happier about the situation for both horses and trees! Thank you for the reply nhbabs. It was very helpful.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2013 at 11:41AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Most trees are planted too deep in the nursery, either in containers or in balled and burlap wraps. It is best to bare root the trees and then plant them at the proper depth with the root flare showing just above the soil line. I attended a workshop with Matt Foti, a certified aborist. He mentioned that about 90% of the trees he sees in nurseries are planted too deep. Using the bare root method they are able to transplant trees in the middle of summer with good success.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 9:14PM
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spedigrees z4VT

Thanks Steve, but you're preaching to the choir. These trees and all the others I've bought and planted came to me as bare-rooted trees, but had they arrived in containers or burlap bundles I would definitely have extricated the roots before planting. I wouldn't trust the burlap to disintegrate and would want to be sure there were no girdling roots in the making.

My sugar maples, apples, and evergreens all appear to be doing well. I will check on the red maples later in the summer during my bi-annual weeding. Time will tell if they bounce back.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 12:09PM
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