Can this tree be saved?
June 5, 2014 11:09 AM   Subscribe

We have what was a beautiful Japanese maple tree in our yard. It has sentimental significance for my family - we brought it from our old house in another state. This past winter was hard on a lot of trees and shrubs where I live. Most things have recovered, at least somewhat. Until today, we thought the Japanese maple was dead. Today, there are two leaves. Does it have a chance? What can I do to encourage it to survive?

The tree is about 17 years old. It went into winter in pretty good shape. There were no obvious problems. We had one of the coldest winters in history with the most prolonged cold in history and the most snow in history. A lot of trees, shrubs & plants in our area died. It was a bad winter.

We didn't cut the tree down because we were hoping against hope it was alive. It is - just barely. Should we leave it alone and hope for the best? Is there any magic that will bring it back? I feel as though I should do something, but what?
posted by clarkstonian to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have a nearby university with an extension office for gardening and landscaping? Mine has expert gardeners on staff who are knowledgeable about our local conditions, and they are usually the first call I would make for this kind of question.
posted by Think_Long at 11:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

How many years has the tree been in the ground at its current location? Did you dig it up to transport it or was it pot grown? Transplanting field grown trees is always sort of dicey because you leave some of the root structure behind. Pot grown trees have a very dense, winding root ball which will sprawl once they hit the field. If it was field grown and the transplant was recent then that's more precarious than a pot grown tree that's been in the ground for a few years.

Japanese maples tend to be pretty easy on the fertilizer. One feeding a year right before the spring growth cycle is about the max. I would clip obviously dead branches (these are fully dry and snap off in your hand), but not prune into live growth. Give it the summer to recover. If it's going well, I'd prune just before winter on the normal cycle.

If you get really heavy snows then you need to be fastidious with the prewinter prune. Heavy snow will snap fragile branches.
posted by 26.2 at 11:44 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

We do have at least one good university with an extension office. That's a great idea.

The tree was pot grown. It has been in the ground at its current location for 10 years. Last fall, it was in really good shape - there were no dead branches. It was budded this spring. It just didn't leaf out. The winter was so hard, we didn't even notice until a week ago.

If there is one live branch, can that support the root system?
posted by clarkstonian at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2014

Ten years in the ground? I think it will make it. You'll lose the shape of the tree and it'll take a few years to get it back to a nice form. It'll take a few years of looking leggy but I'd be stunned if it didn't survive.
posted by 26.2 at 9:55 PM on June 5, 2014

We had almost an identical thing happen with a newer Japanese maple. We've only had it since last fall. It leafed out beautifully this spring and then we had a series of hard unusual freezes. I asked the folks at one of our local nurseries, and they recommended a tree food and time. It is still green when I scrape at the base and is putting out new shoots. The nursery people also recommended giving it a year before writing it off.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:11 AM on June 6, 2014

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