This spring one of our japanese maple trees is not showing any growth. This tree is about 8 years old. All other trees are fine. How can I tell if there is any growth? Should I be giving it any special attention?
This past winter was difficult in terms of long term freezing temperatures. Japanese maples are sensitive to wind and cold, and are often best planted in sheltered locations. I am heartened to hear that your other Japanese maples are doing well. As for the 8 year old specimen, aside from the effects from a long freeze, possible death could be from several sources. Maybe it was a less hardy cultivar than the others, it may be planted in a more open exposed location, or planted where the soil freezes more rapidly like close to the edge of a raised bed or nearer a path or driveway or maybe it didn’t receive as much water before freeze up as the other trees. Any of these could compromise the growth habit of the tree and possibly kill it.
Even so, the easiest way to determine if the tree is alive is to perform a scratch test. With your thumbnail, gently scratch through the bark on an area along the main branches. If there is green underneath the brown exterior bark, then that area is alive. If it seems brittle and not smooth underneath your thumb, then it may be a dead branch. You can test a number of branches in this manner to determine if the plant is alive. Patience is a gardeners best friend so I would wait awhile as things are slower coming into leaf this year due to the prolonged winter. If you determine that the tree has some life, once the leaves begin to come, you will see immediately what is growing and what is brittle and dead. Pruning to a live crotch in each branch may produce an odd looking tree, but it will eventually produce new branches and fill in.
If there is no growth anywhere, then you will have to remove the tree.