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I moved into this house last year, so I've only seen this tree with leaves once and I do not know what kind of tree it is (I live in Iowa). I noticed this spring that the leaves didn't seem to come in very strong this year, and I noticed some suckers at the bottom that I trimmed. At this point there are no leaves on the branches, and it appears that there are new green branches coming in which look a lot like the suckers I cut out. I need to know if these new branches should be removed (the tree would have zero leaves if so) and if I should do anything else for the tree.

The Tree Closeup on new branch

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    In terms of having a tree that looks good over the next few years this tree will never do that. There is too much damage to the main trunk. You could leave it for the summer to make sure the main trunk is really dead but sucker growth will never have as strong an attachment. Sadly it looks like this tree will never look good. – kevinsky Jun 30 '14 at 2:26
  • So, what happened that caused this? Could it have been avoided? – Mike Cole Jun 30 '14 at 2:31
  • I believe I see a long dark scar on the trunk below the sucker growth. Any kind of damage to the trunk could contribute to the damage you see. Look for whipper snipper damage at the base, cracks in the trunk. – kevinsky Jun 30 '14 at 3:01
  • is there any signs of damage anywhere on the trunk? – kevinsky Jun 30 '14 at 16:51
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    @kevinsky I also noticed a lot of ants crawling on the tree, coming out from the inside of the tree. Not sure if this is a symptom of anything. – Mike Cole Jun 30 '14 at 18:22
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This tree has had enough damage that you will probably want to start with a new tree. I doubt that this was entirely winter kill, but that may have helped. You mentioned cutting suckers from the base of the tree, and if the tree has growth in the crown (which it does), that usually means that there is damage at the ground level. This could be mechanical damage, like grass cutting equipment getting too close, and cutting/scraping through the bark. Or, it may be bacterial canker, or similar. Without pictures of the damage, I won't be quite sure what it is.

You also mentioned ants coming out of the tree. Unless there is a food source for the ants inside the tree (unlikely), This signifies at least the start of a nest. That means the inside of the tree is being hollowed out. Look for 'sawdust' around the ants' entry point if you want to be sure.

The damage to the tree could have been prevented (as always), but it was most likely caused by (neglect from) the previous homeowner. Because these cases do not generally turn out well, I'd recommend starting with a new tree. Get a tree that is disease resistant in your area, and keep close track of any abnormal developments. If you are careful around the tree, and keep it fertilized and watered, you will be rewarded with a healthy tree that resists pest and diseases on it's own.

If you do notice the start of what looks like disease, you can have it looked at right away, ideally by a certified plant health care professional. Most disease and pest problems are easy to take care of, if the tree is healthy and growing well.

If you are not interested in starting anew, you will have to verify what the damage is, so you can prescribe proper treatment. A healthy tree has an unbroken layer of live cambium under the bark over the entire trunk and branch structure. Look for cracks, cuts, holes, dead patches, canker, etc. where disease might enter. Again, this tree (if it can recover) will never be very healthy or attractive, and it would be highly recommended that you start with a new tree.

  • I'm planning on removing it and planting a new tree, I just want to try to figure out why this happened because I definitely don't want it to happen again. – Mike Cole Jun 30 '14 at 21:15
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    @MikeCole You should find it fairly easy to grow your new tree. You obviously care a good deal more than the last folk at your place did. People who care get results :) – J. Musser Jun 30 '14 at 21:18

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