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Early Fall Color Can Be a Sign of Tree Stress

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Vibrant red, orange, and gold leaves are one of the best parts of fall, especially from the beautiful red maple and the popular Florida Maple. But if the tree branches are breaking and dying, its leaves are smaller or fewer than usual or the tree is showing signs of early fall color, the tree could be suffering from maple decline.


"Stressed trees often exhibit early leaf color or leaf drop,“ says Ben Wasielewski, an ISA Certified Arborist¬® at Davey Tree in Orlando. "If you see this in your own backyard, your trees may be asking for help.“


Maple decline is a gradual weakening due to a shortage of resources or the cumulative effect of multiple stress factors ending in a tree that is susceptible to diseases. After a prolonged period of stress, secondary diseases like cankers and root rot will attack the tree and eventually kill it.


"Unless you care for your tree and address stress factors early, trees enter a cycle of decline,“ Wasielewski says. "When that happens, they continue to suffer, and without intervention, trees likely will be past the point of recovery.“


What are the symptoms of maple decline?

  • Reduced twig growth, annual increase in twig length averages less than 5 cm

  • Reduced foliage growth, sparse, light-green or scorched foliage

  • Early fall coloration, late July or early August

  • Dead branches in upper canopy in late spring or early summer

  • Flat sides indicating girdling roots that "choke“ the trunk at or slightly below grade

  • Cankers or weeping in the branches or trunks


A local arborist, like Wasielewski, could tell you exactly what is stressing trees out (and how to fix it). Or you can start boosting a tree’s health with these four easy steps.


Four Steps to Keep Trees Healthy

  1. Hydrate: Ensure the tree has enough water, nutrients and sun to survive. Water trees slowly every week or two during dry weather to a depth of 12 inches or more. If it hasn’t rained in a few weeks, it’s safe to say you should water.
  2. Mulch: Mulch provides adequate moisture and bolsters nutrients in the soil. Soil that is rich in nutrients will be less likely to carry diseases. Add two to three inches of mulch around the tree to reduce moisture loss and moderate soil temperature. Pull mulch back 6 inches from the trunk of the tree in a saucer-like fashion. Avoid creating a mulch volcano.
  3. Fertilize: Fertilize trees with a slow-release fertilizer to provide nutrients that may be missing or in short supply.
  4. Preventative Care: A tree expert regularly looks for signs of problems like these earlier. Often, these are subtle changes that only a trained expert can spot.


The Davey Tree Expert Company provides research-driven tree services, grounds maintenance and environmental consulting for residential, utility, commercial and environmental partners in the U.S. and Canada. Established in 1880 and headquartered in Kent, Ohio, Davey Tree is in the top 10 largest employee-owned companies in the U.S. and has more than 10,000 employees who are driven to create and deliver sustainable solutions. Discover your Davey career and apply today.


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