Lower branches cleared by goats. Top is ok fully leafed out. Will the lower branches leaf out again?? Located at Kenly NC, 8 climate zone, shade till 1 pm, sand soil
Its not very often in Toronto, when we refer to garden pests, that we see a case of goat grazing on a Japanese maple! I suppose the first question is, can you prevent the goats from eating your trees again?
Japanese maples will try to send out leaves from the leaf nodes nearest the areas where they have been damaged. It does depend on whether the goat has just eaten the leaves or chewed into the tender stems and branches. If the stems and branches have been gnawed, prune back the damaged branch to the nearest undamaged leaf node (where the leaf buds emerge from the stem).
Use clean, sharp secateurs to ensure a clean cut and reduce the risk of tearing the bark off the stem causing further damage. Take care not to cut the node. I usually prune about half a centimetre, or a quarter of an inch, away from the node.
Your maple will be working hard to heal its wounds if the damage goes beyond the leaves, so you can help it along by ensuring it gets watered regularly and never completely dries out over the hot summer months. Stick you finger into the soil under the tree once or twice a week. If the soil is dry for the top 2 inches its time for a deep soak -early in the day is best.
Spring is the time to mulch and fertilize your maple. It looks like you have some lucerne mulch or something similar around the base of your maple. Topping up with a few more inches of lucerne mulch or other composted organic material will help to hold moisture, while releasing nutrients that the maple can utilize into the soil. It will also help to insulate the root ball from your hot summer weather-particularly as your specimen is planted in full afternoon sun.
Take care not to mulch too close to the trunk of your Japanese maple as this can cause fungal growth leading to rot against the trunk. If you have a grafted tree your scion (or the top part of the tree that is grafted onto the root stock base), could sprout roots and try to grow independently from the root stock. This often leads to decline of the scion and the root stock. Pull the mulch away from the trunk about 2 inches.
If your branches don’t send out new leaves this summer, don’t despair. As you probably know, your maple is deciduous- so will loose all of its leaves in the fall. Next spring you will hopefully discover many new leaf buds emerging from the goat ravaged zone- so don’t prune off the bald branches until next year when you can be certain that they have or haven’t died.
Good luck and thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your unusual question.