Dear Master Gardener
It’s now May 21 and my Japanese Maple hasn’t bloomed (but they have bloomed around our neighborhood.) I know we had a longer, cooler wet spring and a late spring freeze, so I’m unsure if that’s a factor. A few branches bloomed but then began to wilt after the late spring freeze. As for the rest of the tree, the branches have no buds, and they’re dry and easily snap off (and were not green inside). I pruned away all the dry branches and left the ones that still bend (hopefully they are still alive).
Does my Japanese Maple tree still have time to bloom this year? If not, will it bloom next year? If the tree does not bloom does that mean it’s dead? If it is dead and I remove it, can I put another Japanese Maple in the same spot if I treat the soil (solarize it)?
Please help thank you
Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.
Japanese Maples are marginally hardy here in the Toronto area, especially in exposed locations. As you suggest, your tree has likely sustained some weather-related damage.
Pruning back the dead branches is the correct approach. You may want to check if you have pruned enough by using your fingernail to gently scrape the bark on the branches and trunk, starting at the tips and working back toward the base of the tree, until you see green, healthy wood below the bark.
If all you see is brown dead wood, I’m afraid, the tree is lost.
If you do find healthy green wood, prune the tree back to that point.
Apply mulch in a ring around the trunk and water the tree regularly and deeply when soil is dry.
Your tree may revive and send out new leaves, but this is not certain. IF it produces no new leaves this year, it is likely completely dead.
Note that a stressed tree may be a target for disease and insect damage before it is able to fully recover, so watch over it carefully and promptly address any problems that arise.
The new growth may be weak and spindly, requiring careful pruning over the next few years. Here is an excellent article on pruning and reviving seriously damaged Japanese Maples, published by the University of Missouri, https://ipm.missouri.edu/meg/2008/3/Caring-for-Freeze-Damaged-Japanese-Maples/
If you remove the dead tree, you should be able to it with another Japanese maple. Solarizing the soil should not be necessary.
If you need to replace your tree please take a look at our tree planting guide for maximal success. https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/planting-a-tree-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/
Good luck reviving your Japanese Maple.