I planted a Japanese Maple about two years ago. Last fall I noticed a few of the top branches lost their leaves. This spring I noticed the problem had spread somewhat. I cut away the dead gray branches and left the ones that looked reddish but didn’t have leaves. The bottom of the tree looks healthier than the top.
Any idea what’s happening and what I should do?
Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.
In most cases when a tree fails in the first couple of years it is from improper planting or location. I can not tell from the picture if it is planted too deep. Another issue could be the location. Does this area drain well, especially in our wet springs, and does it get the right amount of light?
The area at the base of the trunk where it widens and starts branching out into roots should be flush to the ground, and mulch and dirt should not be piled up against the trunk. When you planted the tree did you loosen up the roots or where they still in the pot shape? If the roots are not loosened it will not allow them to establish properly and possibly girdle the trunk. Was anything added to the hole other than the dirt that was removed? Fertilizers etc. added to the hole discourages roots from reaching out into the surrounding area. How was the plant watered? Trees should be watered deeply less often ( a soaker hose over a few hours is the easiest) rather than frequent surface watering.
There is an article in our library that goes through the different issues that can come up with Japanese Maples. I am attaching the link below. The answer does contain a link for diseases and insects that can be a problem for Japanese Maples if you feel that is more likely the issue.
If the plant still easily moves within the soil when you wiggle it and/or if it is buried too deeply you should dig it up and replant it in the fall. When you replant do take care to not dig too deep a hole and fan the roots out away from the trunk. An easy way to help detangle the roots for planting is to wash the roots with a hose. When filling in the hole once the tree is placed use only the dirt that was removed with no additives.
Here is an article that outlines the best way to plant trees:
You do need to prune off the dead branches. take them back to the first large branch that is alive. You can tell if a branch is alive by gently scraping the bark with your finger nail. If it is green underneath it is alive.