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Earwigs killing Maple Tree?

Q: I live in Michigan and have two Maple trees which I planted in my back yard about 10 years ago. The tree caliper dimersions were 3-4 inches when they were planted. One was a Sunset Maple and the other is a Autumn Blaze Maple.

The Sunset maple died completely this year. About two years ago I noticed that some of the leaves on certain branches started to turn red in the middle of the summer. The leaves on those branches fell prematurely before the fall. This spring, no leaves emerged on the tree and it appears to be completely dead.

Now the Autumn Blaze maple (which is about 30 feet tall with a 10-12 inch diameter trunk) is starting to have some of its leaves on certain branches turn red. I am worried that it is going to die as well.

I noticed that some of the bark on the trunk of the tree, on the same side as the ailing branches, was black and soft. I peeled several pieces of it back and noticed that the bark appeared to be rotting and there were many earwigs underneath the bad bark.

I do not know if the Earwigs are causing my trees to die or if they are taking advantage of another problem that is causing the trees to die. Any suggestions or advice you could offer would be appreciated before I lose another tree!


A: Without seeing the tree it is difficult to diagnose what is happening. However, the symptoms point to the potential of one or more girdling roots that may be strangling the tree. Maples have been found to be very good at developing a girdling root system, especially the Norway maple and its cultivars.

Take a look at the trunk to see if it looks round or if it has flattened off on the side that is ailing. If it is flattish, there is likely a girdling root, possibly below the ground where you can't see it, on that side of the trunk.

Carefully excavate the dirt from the base and look for the root, which will be either encircling the trunk or growing crosswise to it.

If you find such a root, sever both ends and remove it. If the trunk has grown around the root enough to prevent simply lifting it out, you can make several cuts along the length of the root to remove material -- the kerf made by the saw will make the root "thinner". Then, carefully remove the root.

The earwigs have nothing to do with the situation, they are only exploiting the tree for a place to hide. Good luck!

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Tom Mugridge

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