The Q&A Archives: Curling Up Leaves On A Japanese Maple

Question: I just planted a japanese maple 10 days ago. It appears as though the leaves are beginning to curl up and look brittle, and some are falling off when the water of the hose hits them. I have been watering it regularly in the morning. Is there something that I can do to help care for it?...fertilizer? Or could it just be in shock because it's newly planted?

Answer: Drying, curling and dropping foliage can be a sign of transplant shock (midsummer is the most stressful time to plant these trees) combined with over or underwatering. Your goal in watering is to keep the soil evenly moist but not sopping wet. Sometimes the potting mix dries at a different rate from the surrounding soil, so you need to use your finger to dig down a bit into both and check for if and when you need to water. Use several inches of organic mulch over the root zone but not up against the trunk, this will help keep the soil more evenly cool and moist. Also, if the plant is in full sun, shade it paritally if possible for a few weeks while it is adapting. These trees do best in morning sun or dappled light all day long and may find the heat of summer plus a full sun location very stressful, particularly while trying to become established and/or if previously grown in a shadier location. Finally, avoid chemical sprays and do not fertilize the tree now while it is stressed. Overfertilizing or using a water soluble foliar fertilizer during overly hot weather can also cause the symptoms you described. At this point, allow the plant time to recover and pay careful attention to the watering. If the problem worsens, you may want to consult with either the nursery where you purchased the tree or perhaps with your county extension. Good luck with your Japanese maple.

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