Saturday, August 6, 2011

FAQ: The leaves on my 5-year old maple tree are turning brown around the edges. What's causing it?

Q. The leaves on my 5-year old maple tree are turning brown around the edges. What's causing it? Is there anything I can do? Do you think it will live?

A. I expect that your tree is suffering from drought and heat. There's been a lot of that going around this year. Maples are not particularly drought tolerant, especially young ones. You need to water it, and you need to do it right. One option is to rig up a drip irrigation system around the base of the tree. Ask for instructions at your local garden center or check the internet. Most drip irrigation manufacturers provide instruction pamphlets.

The irrigation line should be placed on the ground around the tree just inside the drip line. That's where the feeder roots are. The drip line is under the outer branches. Watering close to the trunk won't help. There are no feeder roots there. Irrigate long enough for the water to soak deeply into the ground. Three or four hours the first day is not too long. The soil should be kept moist, not soggy.

Another option is to place the end of your garden hose on the ground just inside the drip line and let it drip slowly for one or two hours. Then move it to another place around the tree and let it drip some more.  Keep doing it until you've watered entirely. Again, the soil should be kept moist, not soggy.

A third option is to install a drip irrigation bag on your tree. There are several brands. Treegator is the original. These are placed around the trunk of the young tree and filled with water. The water is gravity fed slowly into the root ball. If the tree is too large and the drip line too far from the trunk, drip irrigation bags won't do the job.

Will it survive? I don't know. That depends on how much the tree has suffered. It might survive through this season but croak the next, or even the next. In addition, drought stress can weaken trees to the point that they succumb to other afflictions.

As I've often heard said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Watering a little during dry spells when the tree is healthy is better than watering a lot when it's suffering. But we usually don't think of it until symptoms begin to appear. That's the way we are about a lot of things, isn't it?

Readers of this blog post are invited to share their own solutions. You can share your ideas by clicking the "Post a comment" link below. Let us hear from you!

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