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We live in Oklahoma and planted some autumn blaze maple trees last fall. They seemed to come out of dormancy fine and the leaves were nice and green. We planted them in an area that stays pretty soaked most of the time, and I'm wondering if that's why the leaves are starting to turn red. Is the leaves turning red a sign of over watering, or could it be some other problem I need to deal with? Below are some pics:

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UPDATE: I think I might have multiple problems. I dug a small hole around the tree and the entire soil profile resembled loose mud. The hole quickly filled up with water. Also, for two of these trees, the tree can easily be moved around in the soil (you can see the root ball moving back and forth). I think I've seen this mentioned as a crowbar problem. I went ahead and staked the trees to prevent them from coming all the way out of the ground. Are these trees just doomed if they live in such a wet area?

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This hybrid tree got the "Urban Tree of the year" award in 2003 for vigour and adaptability. It tolerates clay soil, dry conditions or wet soil. I see that it is sensitive to iron and magnesium deficiency on alkaline soils but that should be evident if the new growth is yellow with green veins which I don't see here.

Trees do change colour early if they are stressed. It's possible the tree was planted too deep. This diagram from this site may help you determine that. enter image description here

You should also check the underside of the leaves for spider mites if it has been hot and dry. I don't see the symptoms in the pictures but it's worth checking.

Also check for physical damage that may have occurred during transport or planting. Look for sunken areas on the bark indicating the cambium is dead.

And when you say the soil stays soaked most of the time this might be the main problem. Damp or wet is one thing, soaked, where you can squeeze water out of the soil with your hand is another. Try gently excavating a small hole in one area around the tree. Examine the soil profile, can you still see the original root ball? Is it wet too? Or is the whole soil profile wet from top to bottom?

Edit: The original poster asked if windy conditions could stress a young tree. I have not seen this myself. If a tree has been planted for more than a year it should not be staked anyway. But...this does allow you to do a little experiment.... Try moving the tree. A vigorous tree should not have that much motion after a year. Alternately, a tree that has not developed a good root system can be rocked back and forth. You may want to review this guide which discusses TDS or "Too Deep Syndrome". Many trees are planted too deep and the issue is often compounded by too much mulch around the base of the tree. Try excavating around the base of the tree and see where the swell of the root collar is.

Edit: Mike has told us that the soil is wet even in early June on the site. This makes it more likely that the stress that the plants are exhibiting is due to a waterlogged soil.

Seeing as the trees are planted already here are some choices:

  • Leave them be: assume it has been a wet spring, trees are adaptable, these are a vigorous cultivar so you could just monitor them and hope they will adapt
  • dig them up and replant them higher as illustrated below. This will stress the trees even more and is a messy job
  • consider changing the drainage of the area with my old friend, four inch drainage pipe with sleeve. You may be able to dry the area up enough just by digging a trench, laying pipe and gravel and recovering. This is called a French drain.
  • Or they could be a write-off. Plant trees that really like wet soil like hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) or American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana).

Planting a tree high

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Thanks for the reply! I didn't find any sunken areas in the bark or spider mites. I'll check the soil profile and get back to you. One thing I forgot to mention is that it's really windy here and we currently don't have the trees staked. Could the trees being blown around cause them to get stressed and turn early like this? –  Mike Bockus Jun 4 '12 at 13:01
    
I updated my post with my latest findings. I can still see the orginal root ball and it is definitely wet. The whole soil profile was wet from top to bottom. –  Mike Bockus Jun 6 '12 at 15:44
    
Thanks for the update! I'm going to go with option 1 and let them be for a little while. I don't remember this area being this wet in the previous year, so I'm hoping it's just a wet year or maybe I have a neighbor with a broken sprinkler head or something... –  Mike Bockus Jun 6 '12 at 18:26
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You may plant Monkey grass around the tree to help dry up the soil. Add top soil around it and top with cork or rubber mulch instead of wood mulch (wood mulch attracts pests). Protect the bottom of the tree with an expandable wrap. Good luck!

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Welcome to our community. I'm not sure how this answers the question of "are my trees dying?" Could you perhaps expand with a diagnosis of whether this user should be concerned about his trees? –  wax eagle Jul 16 '13 at 19:50
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