The Q&A Archives: Waterfall Japanese Maple

Question: This is the second year for my Waterfall Japanese Maple. Early spring, it was just fine. Then it started showing brown, dried up tips mainly on the top part of the tree. At first I thought I was watering too much, then I thought maybe I watered not enough. It seems to be doing OK now, however there are tips are all dried up and brittle. Can I clip these off? or just let it do it's thing. How and what and when do I give it nutrients? I love this tree, it is just so graceful. I hate to lose it. Thank You

Answer: Based on your description I am not certain what is happening to your tree. If it leafs out fine and then later begins to show foliage damage at the top of the tree only, it might be due to frost damage that happened back when it was first starting to leaf out. Sometimes the tissue damage does not become apparent until later on when the foliage is fully expanded. If the damage is to the growth tips of the branches and has killed back the twigs, I would suspect winter injury due to cold. It is very difficult to diagnose this type of thing without seeing the tree, being familiar with the local weather patterns that year, and understanding the microclimate and growing conditions where it is planted. So I would suggest you work with your county extension and/or professionally certified nurseryman to try to diagnose the problem. Once you know that, you can determine how to proceed. Generally speaking truly dead wood can be trimmed off, but I would wait to do this until you can consult with someone about what is causing it -- the pattern of where the problem is can be a big clue. As far as fertilizing, ideally you would do this based on soil test results. A general guide would be to apply a top dressing of good quality compost every spring along with possibly a general purpose granular or slow release fertilizer with an analysis of 10-10-10 or similar proportions, read and follow the label instructions. Also maintain a year round layer of organic mulch about two to three inches deep in a flat layer over the root area. (Do not allow it to touch the trunk.)The mulch helps to feed the soil gradually as it breaks down over time. It is better to underfertilize than overfertilize, so do not be tempted to overfeed it to make it grow back quicker and do not fertilize it after mid summer. This can actually encourage overly fast, weak growth that is susceptible to winter damage. Good luck with your tree!

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