The Q&A Archives: Poor Condition Of Sugar Maple

Question: My mother has a sugar maple tree in her yard that is approx. 30 yrs old. The trunk has turned a black near where the limbs start to branch from the trunk and I noticed a lot of woodpecker holes in the trunk. It is just starting to bud. Is this tree diseased? It has always been a slow grower and late to leaf out as compared to a sister tree in another area of the yard. Thanks.

Answer: Sugar maples are usually long-lived trees, so it sounds like something has caused its decline. The woodpeckers are searching for insects under the bark -- the insects may be culprits in the tree's decline. In other words, the tree was in decline before the woodpeckers got to it, although they do make wounds where pest organisms can enter.

Maples are very sensitive to soil compaction. Those growing near roads and those exposed to heavy construction equipment can suffer long term ill effects. Also, damage to the bark from lawnmowers, etc. can weaken the tree. There's not much you can do now but wait and see. You could hire an arborist to come out and evaluate the tree, and possibly removed damaged parts -- dead branches and weak, decaying wood can pose a hazard. But it's possible the tree may hang on for several more years.

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