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Sunset Maple Tree

Q: I have a sunset maple (trunk probably 6 inches in diameter) that doesn't look healthy this year. The new leaves are curled and black at the edges, many of the leaves are a very pale green and some are turning red.

Any ideas about the cause and cure? Thanks

A: There could be many reasons for the symptoms you are experiencing, but since maples are one of the best trees at developing girdling roots(roots that grow around the trunk or a large buttress root either above or below ground level and choke it), I would begin my investigation here.

Carefully remove the soil from over the roots at the base of the tree all the way around. You can combine hand-digging with compressed air or a hard stream of water from the hose (which is messy but can sometimes help do the work). You may need to go 1-2' away from the trunk.

Look for misdirected roots that grow over the top of other large roots near the trunk of the tree or around the trunk itself, in whole or part, it doesn't matter. The pressure exerted at the point of contact is what causes the girdling.

I have found some roots that have girdled the trunk so badly that there is an actual depression in the trunk where the root is.

If possible, sever anything you find like this at both ends, and try to remove the offending root. If it won't come out easily, just leave it.

As long as you've severed both ends (and make sure there's a slight gap between the cuts, otherwise the root may graft back together), further injury should not occur.

Keep in mind, though, that even a girdling root is supplying water, nutrients and minerals to the tree, so you have to be prudent in your root cutting. If it becomes too complicated, call in an arborist for advice.

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Tom Mugridge

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