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Should I give up on this Crimson Queen?

I bought this Crimson Queen in 2007. It was a decent size for my front yard and we paid a lot of money for it. I think it was our most expensive plant purchase ever! I did limited gardening at the time and didn't know how to take care of this beautiful tree. It has generally been left unpruned.

In the last several years, I have noticed that the leaf tips burn each year. It has also been losing branches. Part of it turns green. When I have asked the garden nursery I purchased it at about it, they say JM do not live long. Not sure how long they are expected to survive. Verticillium wilt has also been suggested.

Not sure what I should do. At the rate it is deteriorating, a new tree may be in order soon. But I'll need to become educated on the proper practices with JM before purchasing anything new.

The "good" side:

The bad side:

It gets about 1-2 hours of midday sun. Otherwise the morning sunlight is dampled. In the shade in the afternoon.

What, if anything, can I do with this tree to improve it? Or is it just too late?

Comments (42)

  • cearbhaill (zone 6b Eastern Kentucky)

    I certainly would not give up on it.

    What I would do is prune out all the dead portions and crawl around in there and make sure the root flare isn't buried.

    Is it the asymmetry that bothers you? It's a feature, not a bug- work with it!

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked cearbhaill (zone 6b Eastern Kentucky)
  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    Maples often have relatively shallow roots and prefer evenly moist, but not wet soil, and either soil that is too wet or too dry can cause problems. Is there mulch over the soil out beyond the drip line but not against the trunk? What if anything do you do about water, such as is there irrigation either in the bed or overspray from lawn sprinklers? If you have several weeks without appreciable rain, does it get extra water if you don’t have irrigation? When do you notice the dying leaf tips and dying branches? Around here there is often some winter dieback of branches since they are borderline hardy, but I don’t know if that is typical in your area.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked NHBabs z4b-5a NH
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    "When I have asked the garden nursery I purchased it at about it, they say JM do not live long. Not sure how long they are expected to survive. Verticillium wilt has also been suggested."

    Hmmmm....all of that is nonsense so feel free to disregard completely! Japanese maples can be extremely long lived trees........hundreds of years. The less than 15 years you have had yours puts that little tree into the just barely out of the infant stage :)) And if it had Verticillium wilt, the whole tree would be dead. And it would have happened very quickly....within just a matter of days.

    JM's - and especially the weeping laceleafs - will always experience some winter twig dieback. And it doesn't hinge on cold tolerance as it happens in my climate as well. It is just the nature of the beast :-) If you get too much of a concentration of this happening on one side or in one area, then something else may be going on.

    JM's have extremely delicate root systems that dislike any disturbance and yours seems to be heavily underplanted. Do you get in there and mess around with the hostas or other plants? Even routine weeding can be distressful. For a weeping form, I generally suggest just a simple, plant-and-forget groundcover or just mulch. Nothing that requires anything in the way of ongoing cultivation :-)

    The brown, dry tips of the leaves are an indication of uneven watering or allowing the soil to dry a bit too much in between waterings. As Babs noted, these are not very drought tolerant trees and prefer an evenly moist soil. It's a common issue but really just cosmetic, especially at this time of year.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Thank you all for your responses!

    Cearbhaill: "What I would do is prune out all the dead portions and crawl around in there and make sure the root flare isn't buried.

    Is it the asymmetry that bothers you?"

    Are you saying I should prune dead branches now? Root flare should not be buried? I was unaware of that. I took a photo below. I guess the asymmetry bothers me because it was not like that before.

    Here's a photo of it in 2008:

    NHBabs: I do not mulch. Should I? In the last few years we have noticed the dry tips appearing sometime in mid summer. We water partly with a soaker hose and with an overhead sprinkler. Also by hand. We have tried to be attentive with the watering.

    Gardengal48: I was shocked (but pleased) to see that you do not agree with my JM being too old or having Verticillium wilt. Now those are two things that can finally be crossed off the list!

    "If you get too much of a concentration of this happening (twig dieback) on one side or in one area, then something else may be going on." My husband says that the JM is dying on the one side because it is the side that gets the most sun and the JM doesn't like that. Is this possible or can we throw out this possibility too?

    I am going to tell you two possibilities that I have come up with. (I know it is difficult sometimes to find the source of the problem, but it is very helpful to know what can be eliminated.) I have wondered whether the two hostas that are planted nearby have become too large and are too close to the JM. The two hostas have been planted there for about five years. My other concern is my Paper Birch Tree. It is planted about 12 feet away but is a clump of four. The tree roots are terrible and very difficult to grow under. I have to wonder whether the birch tree roots are bothering this JM.

    Now having said all that I had another look at my JM today. All the leaves have now fallen off. The root flare---I don't see it. I moved away the leaf debris that my husband has placed for the winter.

    Also since the leaves have fallen, I did notice something else and I don't think it looks good. (I will continue in the next post. Too many photos sometimes causes problems and the post does not submit.)

  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    So here is what I found today.

  • stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)

    Your trees branches look fine. Your Japanese Maple looks like it's planted too deep which could be causing. I would remove the excess soil until you get to the root flare. I don't think sun is the issue. Crimson Queen can handle full sun.

    My Crimson Queen is in full sun and there's no scorch. I wouldn't recommend watering an established Japanese Maple unless the drought is very severe. Japanese Maples can handle drought once established. After 3 years of being in the ground all my Japanese Maples are on their and I don't water them any more. Our summers are often very dry and we go as along as 2 weeks without rain during the summer and my established Japanese Maples handle it fine without additional water.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)
  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    2 weeks isn’t long. 4-6 weeks is a long enough dry period dry period that I might supplement water for an established tree if mulched.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked NHBabs z4b-5a NH
  • stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)

    "2 weeks isn’t long. 4-6 weeks is a long enough dry period dry period that I might supplement water for an established tree if mulched"

    Agreed. That's a pretty long time without rain. If it doesn't rain for that long a period then I think it's okay to water.

    Mulching the tree couldn't hurt and would benefit keeping the roots moist longer when it doesn't rain.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)
  • Mens Tortuosa(5b Omaha, NE)

    That wound looks like it is several years old and the tree tissue seems to be rolling over it pretty well. I don't see any rot in there. With luck the cavity will be completely covered up in time. If the abnormal dieback occurred on branches connected to this wounded area, it may be a factor.

    I too recommend trying to expose the root flare, however you may find that it is buried quite deep under a layer of roots that have grown upward from the root ball. Many larger Japanese maples are sold in this condition after having been planted too deeply in the pot; others develop these roots after being planted too deep in the ground. Unfortunately tree buyers are almost never advised to repair the roots before planting. If that is the case, I'm not sure what advice I would give to you.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Mens Tortuosa(5b Omaha, NE)
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    It really doesn't matter about frequency of rainfall.....if the soil is dry, you water!! It is as simple as that. These trees need consistently moist soil! The dry leaf tips are an indication that at some point during the summer months the tree was subjected to too dry soil conditions. And despite how they may appear in the landscape, these are not a drought tolerant species and drought stress can lead to a whole lot more serious issues......like the Verticillium wilt.

    And feel free to throw out the 'too much sun' theory as well :-) Red leafed dissectums are some of the most sun tolerant of JM's and are often recommended for hot, sunny locations. And full sun could cause leaf scorch but it will not cause branch die back.

    I agree that it has been planted too deeply and that is very likely contributing to the stem dieback on one side. I would also try to expose the root flare as much as possible.

    The asymmetry can be overlooked :-) I fact, I find the asymmetrical growth habit of many JM's to be one of their more charming features.

    Your tree will be fine. You can prune out any deadwood at any time. It is sometimes easier to detect when the tree is leafing out in spring as it will be a pale, gray color and have no buds. Expose the root flare as best you can, add a good layer of mulch (not touching the trunk) and keep up with the soaker hose during hot, dry weather.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Mens tortuosa: I am glad that the wound seems to be healing well. Since the wound seems several years old, perhaps it happened during our severe ice storm and went unnoticed.

    I see there is some disagreement regarding watering requirements. Each one of you are in different zones. Could that account for the different opinions?

    It certainly seems like the JM was planted too deep and that has affected the tree. I am disappointed and angry about it. I believe that we planted the tree at the same soil height it was in the pot assuming that it was at the correct height. So we are partly to blame as we were unaware of the sensitivity and importance of planting with the root flare exposed. I am angry that the nursery had themselves potted the plant too deep and that correct planting information was not supplied when purchasing.

    I will mulch the tree (but not the trunk) with pine bark nuggets from now on!

    Next year I will try to make note of when the tips begin to dry watching out for dry spells.

    This year we enlarged the front garden bed so I could do more planting. I found the surface birch tree roots to be difficult to work with and very disappointing. My plan had been to move the two hostas near the JM a foot away but did not get to it because the tree roots were making it difficult to dig and amend my soil. That's why I thought perhaps the roots of the hosta and birch tree were affecting the JM. Is this not a consideration at all?

    I understand now that the root flare exposure is of the most utmost importance to determining the underlying cause of the tree's decline. Today I will try to remove some of the soil around the trunk and see what I find. Decisions as to how to deal with this can then be made. I am worried about what I might find!

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    "I see there is some disagreement regarding watering requirements. Each one of you are in different zones. Could that account for the different opinions?"

    No. Water needs are what they are. This is from one of the leading authorities on Japanese maples, J. D. Vertrees : "Japanese maples are easy to plant. They have a relatively shallow, fibrous root system, not a deep tap root. Regular watering helps maintain the roots in the upper soil levels. This shallow rooting allows planting in soils which may have a hard stratum or bedrock close to the surface. With adequate root coverage and attention to uniform moisture supply, these plants do an excellent job of beautifying diffiult areas. I cannot overstress the uniformity of watering-- not large amounts but rather constant amounts.

    The principal water requirement is a uniform supply. If the plant is in a dry situtation, it should not be flooded with water at irregular intervals and if it is grown where moisture is plentiful, it should not be left to dry out during dry spells but should be watered frequently during such times."

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)

    Mens Tortuosa, reguarding the root flare being planted too deep that's the same issue I have with all my large tree's that I bought. I loosen the roots on the outside but the root flare is not visible. I'm going to attempt to excavate it with a tool like this:

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Great information on watering requirements gardengal48!

    Stuartlawrence: let us know what you find out in regards to the root flare of your trees.

    Bill: I watched the video. Very informative. Thank you!

    So let me show you what I have found after a bit of digging:

    Root flare begins to show up at approximately 2 inches below surface.

    And closer:

    Shall I continue? Should I cut all these fine roots? According to the video Bill provided, the exposed roots should be cut off. And ideally, there is more of the root flare to expose. I am thinking that maybe my husband could make a wooden frame around the JM to hold the soil from washing towards the JM's lowered soil level? How much more can I or should I dig down?

    Also, it is OK to have mulched leaves to protect the roots and next to the trunk for the winter?

  • stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)

    I would remove more soil. I don't see the root flare yet. Mulched leaves is fine to use.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)
  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    If you removed 2" of soil, that's probably why the tree was struggling. It appears you are at the beginning of the root flare, so in essence have taken care of 99% of the problem. Removing a little more soil wouldn't hurt, soil tends to increase in a low spot if anything.

    You could place bricks or something around that area to form a 'well' to keep the dirt back. Otherwise lower the dirt in a larger area around the tree.

    Yes, snip surface roots growing up or towards the tree trunk. Removing a little more dirt would give you a better view of things. Just be careful not to damage or skin the roots.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    I am headed out now for a half hour to work on it! Thanks!

  • Mens Tortuosa(5b Omaha, NE)

    I suggest you keep digging but stick close to the trunk for now until you are sure you've found the flare. Do be careful with that sharp tool not to nick the trunk and large roots too much. My worry is that the widening of the trunk you are seeing there is the graft point and not the root flare. I do not see an obvious graft scar in the other pictures, but it could be farther up the trunk.

  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    OK, so I did dig so another 20 minutes or so. I could see that I was getting impatient, so I figured it would be a good time to stop. Here is what it looks like now:

    I think that is the root flare on the left, isn't it? (above photo)

    And there is a root going right across it.

    Bill, I like your suggestion of putting bricks around the tree to keep the soil from entering the escavated area. I would like to remove a wider area, but would like to wait until early next year. Is that OK?

    So do I need to go down even further? Ideally I think so---according to the video you linked to Bill. But maybe due to how deep the flare is, it's not going to be possible in my situation?

  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    Mens Tortuosa was correct, the first bump is the graft.

    The tree will be going dormant this time of year, so waiting until spring would be okay.

    But yes, further excavation is needed so the flare is at or slightly above grade. Looks like root surgery will be necessary to clean up those circling roots too.

    You'll have to get creative on how you finish out the area. Maybe some landscaping blocks? You can get them 6-8" thick so that would go a long way to compensate for the differential in depth. Maybe just a row on each end, with the house being the back wall and if there's a sidewalk along the front?

    That or replace the tree with a new one planted at proper depth. Might be easier.

  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Further excavation? Oh dear. This poor tree!

    Root surgery---I should remove the roots growing upwards; cut the root going over the root flare; any roots not going upward should remain? Can you explain more about what I might have to do in regards to the roots? I should excavate more soil making a wider area around the tree (next spring). I like your idea of landscaping bricks. I am also considering a wood framing.

    I am concerned that the quality of the soil at a deeper level is rather clay like rather than what the soil would have been like for the roots had it been planted higher.

    Replace the tree---easier---I agree.

    I have to ask myself---after doing all that is possible, what is the tree's future potential?

    The loss of this tree's full potential saddens me. On the bright side, I am better educated today---thanks to you all who have pointed me in the right direction.

    I will definitely be looking at root grafts and root flares of JM in a whole new light! In fact one of my neighbors told me that her JM is not doing well. I will be over to have a look. I rather suspect that it is not that uncommon to find JM planted too deep.

  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    Planting trees too deep is probably the #1 thing, most done wrong when trees are planted. So yes, not uncommon at all.

    Hard to say how much root surgery is needed until more dirt is removed. It may not be as bad as you might think. Even the tree in the video only had small surface and circling roots that had to be removed. You really don't want to get down into the main root mass, just what's above it.

    The upside of fixing the depth problem, is that you have an established set of roots at the ready. It may take a season or two for the tree to resume normal growth but when you think about it, a new smaller tree will take at least a few years to get going good, there is an advantage to saving the older tree.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    As Bill notes, planting too deeply is very common and certainly not restricted to just Japanese maples!! OTOH, trees can live for years with a deeper than advised planting if all other conditions are met. It is not an ideal situation but it is not necessarily the end of the world, either!

    Personally, I wouldn't be overly concerned about removing a lot of the visible roots you are now seeing. They look to be almost entirely fine feeder roots and these are killed off and replaced continuously in the normal course of events. No obviously conflicting or girdling roots. I'd just cover the area with a light layer of mulch and call it good!

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    Yes, and just to clarify. Excavating is too harsh of a word.

    You're down far enough around the trunk, but you might want to remove more surface soil further out, just to make sure there's no roots coming back towards the tree and leveling the surrounding ground.

    I agree about surface roots, I'm just too much of a perfectionist and would clip everything sticking up out of the top of the main roots, or above the flare, sort of like the video shows.

    The downside of a 'well' is leaves and such tend to blow in so may need to be cleaned out occasionally. But many people are very creative with this sort of thing and what's the big deal, most people tidy up around everything at least once a year anyways, right? :-)

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    I think I am interested in trying to save this tree. I figure I have the option to buy another one at any time. I will give it a few years and then make a decision about whether it stays or it goes. I'll do the work in order to have the chance to save this tree.

    "It is not an ideal situation but it is not necessarily the end of the world, either!" Thanks gardengal48! I will try to be optimistic!

    I can clean out the well periodically for the sake of the tree! Perhaps some kind of open plastic mesh could surround the trunk?

    Now, when I remove some of the surface soil around the JM, how far out is ideal? I think I can go about 1-1/2 feet on each side at most. Maybe more for the remaining two sides.

    By the way, Bill and Gardengal, you both make good points! And I do like perfectionists!

  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    You should be fine with a foot or so each side. The root system breathes in the area of the root flare, so getting that above grade is the main thing.

    Where the problem comes in, is the adjacent area. Roots that grow 'up' from roots that are planted too deep, trying to get air, have no sense of direction, so once at the correct level, they just start traveling in all directions, sometimes towards the trunk.

    So once you get away from the trunk, out from the original root ball, the roots have probably found their own, correct level and you shouldn't have a problem further out.

    From what I gather from GG, JM's aren't quite as critical with this as other types of trees.

    So you should be fine with the room you have.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Well, I just went out and had another look at the tree. It's getting cold here and I want to prepare the garden for the winter. I poked around a bit and found this root:

    It's hard to see whether it goes around the tree. Shall I just cut it off?

    I am so glad, Bill, that you think a foot around the tree may be sufficient an area to remove. We will do something temporarily to hold the soil for this winter. Something more attractive next year would be my goal.

  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    In an established garden such as yours, there is most likely a solid mass of roots, competing for nutrients and moisture. Most, not coming from or associated with your JM. The one in the picture looks to be possibly spruce? Snip it if you like. It probably grew in over the top being the JM roots were below the surface too far.

    It's much nicer working in the garden in the spring. That would be my goal. You know what to do and not a lot will be happening, growth wise for the next several months, so you can give it a rest for now if you like.

    Maybe put a few inches mulch around the root zone, to protect the roots if you have ground freezing in your area.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)

    newhostalady, you have a very pretty Japanese Maple. If it were me I would rather work on helping the tree than getting a new one. It's a lot easier than getting a new one. Also It will take a long time before the new maple gets to be a big size.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked stuartlawrence (7b L.I. NY)
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Bill, I don't really know what JM roots look like. I am familiar with hosta roots, cedar roots and maple tree roots. The particular root in question would not be spruce. On one side of the JM is a boxwood hedge, in front two hostas and on the other side is a yew. Perhaps the root is from the paperbark birch tree?

    I agree it is much nicer working in the spring. The new gardening season holds a lot of promise. It will be a long winter and I can make some garden plans!

    Mulch? Yes I have mulch. Will do!

    Thank you stuartlawrence for the compliment on my tree. I agree I should keep it. I am hoping for an improved version of it in a few years!

    Now pruning will be another thing I will want to learn. I've been scared to do it (other than removing dead wood). Don't understand the method.

    Well, I finally got to see my neighbor's JM tree. I don't see a root graph or root flare. Oh dear! I showed her my JM. Hopefully they will remove some of the soil around their tree also.

    And, I couldn't help myself---I had to look at another tree in our neighborhood. There is a property with two JM in their front yard. I have admired how good they looked. One is near the sidewalk. Now that I had a closer look, I think it wasn't pruned properly and the root graph may be just above soil level? No root flare exposed. I see what you mean----common problem---planted too deep. I quickly took a photo of it:

    I noticed that my neighbor's tree and the above tree have no branches on the lower portion. Is this the kind of JM or dieback? I am looking at JM in a whole new light!!!

    And this "well" that now has been created should NEVER EVER be filled with mulch or leaves? Not even in winter?

  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    Any time you use mulch around a tree or shrub, don't put it right up against the trunk. Leave a few inches of bare dirt between the mulch and the trunk. Just an inch or two deep is plenty.

    Same thing with leaves building up in the well. They will rot and eventually you'll end up with the same problem you have now, too much wet organic matter smothering the root flare. :-)

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    OK, got it Bill! I guess my JM and I are going to have a special relationship as I routinely make sure this "well" remains clear and free from debris of any kind.

    Now I will have to wait patiently to see what my JM thinks of all this intervention. I am remaining positive and very much thankful for finally having a better understanding of this tree's requirements.

  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    We have been working on a framing for our JM. This one will be temporary until we can figure out something else next spring. Next spring I will remove more soil within the framing. We intend to cover the soil with mulched leaves for the winter. I don't really like the collar my husband put around the tree to keep debris from falling in there. I don't think it leaves enough space between the graft and the collar. What do you say?

  • Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}

    I'd be more concerned about mr. rabbit chewing on the bark this winter. But then, we have that problem here and you might not have it in your area. Maples are among their favorite foods.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked Bill_minn_3b {West Central MN}
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Rabbits! Well, I guess, so far my JM has been safe. I certainly know there are rabbits around. I recently planted several hosta nearby. I worry that the rabbits will find them and eat the fresh tender leaves in spring. I guess it's easier to replace a few hosta rather than a JM!

  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Recently I had an arborist come to look at a couple of my mature trees. I got a chance to ask him what he thought was the problem with this Crimson Queen Japanese maple. He said I should check the pH. I thought that was interesting.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Hmmm.......not sure that pH is relevant unless it is off significantly in one direction or the other. Anywhere in the 5.0 to 7.5 range is fine.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Well, it won't hurt to check it out. I would like to do that in other parts of my garden too. Might be interesting to see what results I get!

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Agree that if you have never done so or have no idea what your soil pH is, testing is a helpful tool. Be sure to dig down to at least 6 inches in garden beds (avoid any mulch layer - you want real garden soil :-)) And don't bother to test immediately adjacent to house foundation or any concrete paving - the lime leaching from the concrete will throw off the results.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
  • newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

    Thanks for the info gardengal. I've never checked any of my garden before. But I will check near the Japanese maple and other parts of my garden. I'll remember your suggestions!

  • val rie (7a)

    Good luck newhostalady. This tree's color is stunning. Glad to know you are trying to save it.

    newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada thanked val rie (7a)

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