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Japanese Maple Tree Problem

Q: My Japanese maple looks dead. It should be covered in leaves but they are all dry and dead.

We trimmed it back and have been watering it every couple of days(we have been in a drought)but now I notice the bark in the trunk is splitting.

Is there any hope? It is at least18 years old.

Robin from Canberra, Australia

A: Unfortunately, it sounds as if the Japanese maple has died. I don't know the exact cause(s), but one possible cause could be one or more girdling roots that have strangled the tree.

Look at the base of the tree to see if there is a root growing around the trunk or over the top of a large root flare at the base of the trunk. There may be more than one.

If not, you may have one or more girdling roots that have developed below grade, out of sight. The only way to find them is to remove the dirt around the base of the tree and look.

Sans finding a root, or something else such as twine from when the tree was planted, girdling the tree, it is difficult to diagnose your problem.

It may be due to the drought if it has been an extended drought and this is the first you've watered the tree. Watering after a drought has taken its toll is often too late. At the first sign of drought one should begin watering right away.

Once the roots dry out, that's pretty much it, they won't draw up water no matter how much you give them. The leaves shrivel up and hang on the tree as a reminder.

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