KC Gardens

What’s happening to my maple tree and can it be saved?

Peeling bark
Peeling bark

QUESTION:

This 9 year old Autumn Flame Maple looks good on one side but as you can see from the picture looks really bad on the other. This started a little a couple of years ago but really progressed this year. The foliage is healthy on the good side but not as full on the other side. It has not been damaged from trimming. It is out in the open and the peeling is on the southeast side. What is the cause of this and is it too late to save this tree? Sad Tree Owner

ANSWER:

The Autumn Blaze maple is a cross between a Red Maple and a Silver Maple. Unfortunately, both parent trees have problems in our area. One characteristic is that the immature bark is very thin. You noted that the peeling bark started a few years ago and is located on the southeast side of the tree. The damaged bark on your tree is the result of repeated sun scald injury. This occurs during the winter, when there is no leaf canopy to shade the trunk. As the bark warms in the winter sun, but then freezes as temperatures decline. When this happens repeatedly the thin bark cracks and splits. When young, it is a good idea to wrap the trunks of maples during the winter to avoid this injury.

The wound on your tree is very deep, and seems to have entered the cambium layer, which contains the phloem. The phloem transports the food manufactured by the leaves to the roots. Since the wound is so deep, I imagine there is damage to the xylem on that side of the tree (the xylem transports water and minerals from the roots). In short, the damage has affected the growth of the leaves on that side of the tree.

Can this tree survive? Honestly, I would start anew with another tree more suited to our extreme weather conditions. Here is a link to the KSU suggested tree list for this area: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/bookstore/pubs/mf2688.pdf . Look through this, and if you have any questions about any of the trees, please ask us. Fall is a great time to plant trees.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings.

Carole - Johnson County Extension Master Gardener.

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