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I have a scarlett red maple. It's about 8 years old and last year the leaves didn't get very big. This year, it hasn't even began to bloom yet although, It has tiny buds. I noticed that the bark in some places peels off very easily. Under the bark, it looks like there may be some black flecks (maybe bug feces). I only noticed one little red colored bug under where I peeled the bark. I don't see any other bugs anywhere, even at the base. Do you think it could have a disease or bugs? I am going to put some fertilizer steaks around it and pour some Bayer Advanced tree and shrub insect control around the base of the tree. Is it too late to spary it?

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A

USU Extension recommends that you always identify a pest before applying any treatment to ailing plants. Many plants suffer from environmental problems, so applying chemical insecticides may be a waste of time and money, plus an unnecessary poison in our environment.

Poor quality and poorly planted trees often exhibit the symptoms you describe after about 6 to 10 years. If the tree had been growing in a pot too long, its roots would start growing in circles at the bottom of the pot. If these circling roots were not cut or straightened out at planting, they may now have grown large enough to strangle the main tree trunk. Unfortunately, there is no solution to this problem. To know if this is the problem, clear soil away from the main trunk about 6 to 12 inches below the soil line. Are there circling roots growing tightly against the trunk?

If you clear away the soil and circling roots are not apparent, and you can see roots growing outward away from the tree trunk, then check the trunk itself. If the tree was planted too deeply, it may get crown rot. The crown of the tree (where the trunk meets the roots) stays too wet and starts to rot away. When this happens, little or no water can move up from the roots into the top of the tree.

Maples are also susceptible to "southwest injury" that will cause the peeling bark you have mentioned. During winter, bright sunshine heats up the bark on the southwest side of the trunk, and water may move into cell membranes as if the tree is getting ready to exit dormancy. At night, the temperature dips below freezing and the water within the cells freezes and may burst the cell membranes, killing the cells. Thus, that side of the trunk dies. To avoid this, wrap the trunk in winter or shade the SW side of the trunk somehow.

There are also some diseases that can cause the symptoms you describe. To diagnose the problem better, take some photos and a piece of tree limb into your county Extension office.  An Agent or a Master Gardener Volunteer will help you figure out what is wrong with your tree.

Good gardening!

Posted on 27 Apr 2007

Maggie Wolf
Horticulture Agent, Salt Lake County

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