Leaves turning on Autumn Blaze Maple

ljezuit(ChicagoIL)July 2, 2008

We planted an Autumn Blaze Maple tree last year at this time. It did not do much last year other than hang onto the few leaves it had left from the nursery. This spring it has budded and developed many more leaves and started to grow. Unfortunately over the past month or so a few leaves would turn a light shade of red and then they would seem to go back to green. This last week though more and more leaves are turning red as if this were the end of the growing season. Is there something wrong with the tree? The soil is well drained and not soggy. There is about an inch or two of mulch around the base and none against the trunk. I am attaching links to a few pictures. It seems to be only on some branches. Any help would be appreciated or if you can share any similar experiences with this tree. I really like this tree and was looking forward to shade it could provide the yard down the road.





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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Describe your watering (time of day, method, how much, how often), and the current climate. Is it hot/dry, coll/rainy etc.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 12:13AM
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I live about an hour from Chicago. The weather has been not very hot (We haven't hit 90 yet), but semi dry (Although rainfall has been about average, it has come down in a few large rain systems that never really soaked in). I would check under the mulch and when it was getting dry apply a trickle of water at the base for about 7 to 10 minutes or until moist again. This would happen about every 3-5 days. I did pull up the old mulch and put down new mulch about a month ago. I did not think this would hurt it as there was only 1 very small surface root that was disturbed and I placed the same amount of mulch back.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 9:01AM
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What you are seeing is new growth. It too has the reddish color. Very common amongst many maple species. You just never noticed it 'til now.

I'd like to see more trunk flare visible than the basal shot indicates. Is this tree planted too deeply? BTW, this has nothing to do with the leaf coloration issue, but will be a concern over the long haul.

Finally, one of the key benefits of mulch is that it decomposes, thereby improving the soil for tree growth. When adding new stuff, it is not desirable to remove the old.


    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 10:06AM
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It just seemed odd as the leaves that are red were originally green, grew to full size and now are turning a shade of red.

The nursery we bought the tree from installed it. They had to install it to provide the warranty.

As for the root flare should I pull away some of the dirt and mulch? The top of the mound from grass level is at least 3 inches so I guess I could lower it.

Thank you for the advice about the mulch. My concern was that the mulch would get too deep and suffocate the tree but now looking back what I removed was not a lot and most of it probably decomposed.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 11:45AM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Up to 4" of mulch won't do any harm to the tree - as you noticed, it will break down and need another inch or so added most years. The breaking down will help improve the soil, and will be incorporated in the top inches by worms, etc..

I would dig around the trunk and see if the root flare is visible and then level things off so it is clearly "there". Adjust the mulch as needed so there is mulch up to but not in the couple of inches next to the trunk. If you can't find the root flare down a couple of inches, call the nursery and complain. They should either replant or replace it as it WILL cause problems, albeit maybe not for 15 years or more.

I'm not clear - and my computer is being difficult about calling up your photos - but are the OLD leaves turning red, or are the new leaves coming in with a red color? If the former, then you may have a problem, but if the latter, that's normal.

One problem that MIGHT be there, is if the amount of water you are giving the tree is or isn't truly getting down into the bottom of the roots. If only the top few inches are getting wet, it's not enough. If it were mine, I think I would water more but less often - soaking it for a very slow trickle, so it really soaked in, and not just at the base of the tree - the roots have, hopefully, by now grown out in a wider area - for 15-20 min. (maybe more) but only once a week.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 1:05PM
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I think that is a point I haven't thought of. This tree is in our back yard and this is the west side of the house which gets very hot and very very windy (Open field in back and winds can get to 50 mph). I will try and lay a soaker hose around the perimeter of the tree instead of just at the base near the mulch. The grass around the tree is starting to brown as temperatures climb and there has been no significant rain.

Would it be advisable to start to dig around the tree now to look for the flare or when temperatures cool down? And yes, the leaves turning red are ones that were green before and are turning red once they became full size. If the tree is distressed does this mean these branches would die or would they rebud new leaves next year. As you can tell I really like this tree.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 2:34PM
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I too planted an Autumn Blaze Maple last September about an hour North of Chicago. Things seemed fine and buds came out this Spring, but my husband and I are noticing the tree turning color already in July, seems to be getting more and more red. Tree was buried well with plenty of top soil and mulch and we added mulch this spring but have been keeping it away from the base of the tree. Is this common with this type of tree? or is this the new growth that was referred to earlier? Any help on this would be greatly appreciated!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2008 at 3:17PM
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This morning I set out to find the flare. I dug down about 2-3 inches and found the first thick root coming out of the flare. I then went and lowered the whole mulch ring down 2 inches removing the clay they dug out and piled on top of the root ball. As you can see on the picture the stem was buried.

Now I have two questions:

I disturbed quite a few very small roots near the flare and want to know what I should do as it is starting to get warm here. Should I start watering for the next few weeks as if it were just transplanted again?

How do I prevent a mulch volcano? The root flare was even with the grade of grass near the mulch ring. In order to get at least a couple of inches of mulch I had to pile it on and looks like a flat volcano. Is this ok?

Should I go ahead and water as if it were planted new since I disturbed some of these surface roots or will it grab the water it needs from the roots lower down?

BTW, the red leaves seemed to have stopped and it looks like about 1/4 of the tree is red. All the leaves are still on the tree and have yet to fall off (Fingers crossed).


    Bookmark   July 11, 2008 at 4:14PM
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Yeah, the thing was buried alright. Very distressing how slowly landscapers are becoming aware of this problem with their methods. As long as the immediate area around the rootflare is mulch-free, you needn't be concerned if you have what looks like a flat-topped volcanoe. That's how it should look at this point.

I'm surprised you've been dry down there. Seems like the bullseye for storm systems has been N. Illinois/S. Wisconsin for months on end now. At any rate, direct examination with your fingers to assess soil moisture will remove any doubt as to its' status. Just scrape away alittle mulch and see what you've got.

I have no idea why green leaves would turn back to the reddish shade, and then, if I read you right, turn green again. As I said, new growth on these things will be reddish, and of course that is their Fall coloration too. But the interim period should see them a nice green color-not back and forth!


    Bookmark   July 12, 2008 at 4:08PM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Ljezuit, I would not worry too much about the few feeder roots you found in the soil you removed. They will die, but they weren't a large part of the roots, so their loss will have little to no affect on the tree. As +om says, you should have what amounts to a flat-topped volcano of mulch, PROVIDING that the extent of the volcano is at least out to the drip-line of the tree, and the total depth of soil and mulch is at no point more than 4-5" over the roots - most roots are in the top 12-18" of soil, and they need to be close enough to the surface that there can be a goodly air-exchange - trees do need oxygen at their roots too. If the "volcano" is deep or narrow at its base, spread it out a bit more. And water according to how dry or wet the soil is, under the mulch, and down 2" or so - if dry, give a LONG, slow watering, if moist, wait, and test again another day. Since you say it's very windy on that side of the house, you may need to water more, and more frequently, than you need to water a tree on the more sheltered side of the house.

Kimberly, you need to check if the root flare for your tree was buried, and if so, deal with that. Otherwise, dig down 4-6 inches, under the mulch, and see how wet or dry the soil is down there. If it is adequately wet, then the tree is probably just dealing with "transplant stress", and will be fine with good care - it may take a year or so before it looks really good, but it is hanging in there. Loss of leaves is a normal reaction of many trees to stress. If it is dry down in the soil, then you have found one source of stress, and need to water MUCH more deeply than you have been. If you have applied more than 4" of mulch, that is too much, and can be interfering with air exchange at the roots. Spread the mulch out around the tree until it is no deeper than 4" everywhere.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2008 at 4:47PM
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It is amazing. Speaking with the farmer behind us he believes his corn is about 2 weeks behind because the rainfall has come down in very short periods and mostly run off. On top of that most of the large rain producing systems have gone either north or south of us so far. It all evens out in the end so of course last night and today we got pounded with rain. On the bright side I will not have to water it for a while.

The mulch now does look kind of weird compared to the way everyone else piles up mulch to the trunk. Hopefully as it grows I can expand the mulch ring and keep it not as deep so that it is more flat and does not draw attention to the flare as if it disappears into a hole of mulch.

Thanks for all the advice and I will keep an eye on the tree the rest of the summer and provide updates.

My hope is that the tree is putting a lot of energy into creating new roots so that way it can take up nutrients and plant itself firmly in the ground since it is in a very windy location. Then in the next couple of years it can start adding height.

Kimberly, keep me updated if your tree retains its leaves. Mine have been red for a few weeks and none have dropped. My hope is that they will stay on for some time and then those branches will leaf out again next year. Do you have pictures of the tree? I would be interested to see if it looks the same as mine posted.

I hope I can ask one more question:

When a tree is stressed and drops leaves early, does that branch also die? For example, on the couple of branches that all the leaves are red, do the leaves just die off or does the branch usually die off and need to be cut out the following year?

My thoughts on the landscapers/nurseries that sell the trees are they are much more short sighted that what we believe. I think it is not much about selling you another tree down the road when the one they put in dies. I think it is about the process of putting it in. They came with a 2 Â 2.5" caliber tree with a large root ball and a bag of mulch. They left with nothing.

I would think that once they dig this big of a hole, plant the tree and use some to backfill, they would be left over with quite a bit of clay from deep in the hole. Instead of taking it away they just pile it on top of the root ball, cover it with mulch and leave empty handed. If you think about it, and they had to take away just a few buckets of soil from each tree they planted, this would create a problem for them with what to do with it. It is much easier on their part to plant wrong that do what is right. It is too bad because if they would have just left a pile of the soil that was not needed, I could have found a use for it.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2008 at 10:47PM
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Thanks for the advice! I will be checking the flare tonight and getting back to all of you. We have been getting a lot of rain, so much so my husband had to stake the honey locust we planted last weekend. I also dethatched my entire front lawn to help with some of the potential irregation issues near the tree. We have a good mulch right around the tree and no mulch directly on it. My leaves have not fallen off and up close the tree looks healthy, they have not turned back green either, the tree just looks redder and redder when the temps this week are in the high 80s with high humidity. I will take a picture and post it too.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 2:56PM
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If all the leaves from a branch fall off prematurely, it 'may' result in branch death. But it is not a given. In any case, there is nothing else that need be done now. Wait and see......

Kimberley, pulling this a bit off-topic......I noticed your reference to "de-thatching" your lawn. This practice is of no benefit to anyone, except people that sell the machines to do it. If there truly is a problem of too much thatch (There usually isn't), the thing to do would be to topdress the turf with a light application of a finely sifted compost. This will give the microorganisms that decompose thatch a boost and all will be well.


    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 10:24PM
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To all the excellent advice I just wanted to add that it is likely that the tree is not getting enough water.

We planted quite a few small trees and shrubs last year and we would leave the hose on them on a slow trickle for around a half hour or so. The trees are on a hill, so they drain very quickly. Even with that, some of them showed some early fall coloration that seemed to be water stress.

You don't want to drown the tree, but a new tree has something like a tenth of its normal root mass, and is not able to handle the stress of dry ground very well at all. 7-10 minutes may only be wetting the top two inches or so of the soil. My understanding is that less frequent but deep waterings are much preferred.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 10:57PM
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