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How does one diagnose Sugar Maple problems? There is some green on the trunk and the leaves haven't filled out for a couple years.

Climate: Southern Michigan

Soil: ~18 inches of topsoil with clay underneath

Fertilizers used: 1) Jobe's regular tree spikes each spring, 2) Osmocote Plus Smart-Release Plant Food for the bushes near the tree, and 3) composted manure.

Known insects nearby: Clover mites (no idea if these are contributing to the problem)

2018 update - It's been 3 years since I posted the original question and ended up cutting the girdled root that was constricting water to the others. The tree has now been growing new limbs and the leaves look healthy. As one respondent said, it still doesn't look like a normal tree and may never fully get there, but it's certainly no longer in danger of dying and falling. See the last picture for the 2018 update.

Pictures: enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here update 3 years later

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    The green just looks like moss, and I wouldn't expect it to be problem in and of itself. Though it does hint at higher moisture, which might be relevant. I don't love the mulch piled up against the trunk, but I'm more interested in how severe a winter you had. This kind of looks like a severe winter die back. – That Idiot Jun 29 '15 at 16:36
  • I wonder if this isn't an example of what happens when you do this: gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/19925/… - was it growing in the lawn, and the flowerbed/mulch added on top? – Ecnerwal Jun 29 '15 at 17:24
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    Vitek, that's a really well structured way to ask your question on this site. You've included the issue, the conditions surrounding it, and good pictures. Welcome to the site. – Dalton Jun 29 '15 at 20:34
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    I am concerned about the mulch and bark situation. Be nice to see where the roots begin and how much bark is under the mulch. Any mulch will allow moisture to support bacteria which will kill the circulatory system that is just beneath the bark and easily girdled. This is not a healthy tree, or rather it wasn't a healthy tree. Looks as if it is trying to survive. The green on the bark is a non-issue but does show extra moisture in the environment. Let us have a closer look at the bark/root/mulch/moisture at the bottom of this tree. Knock away the mulch and soil from bottom. – stormy Jun 29 '15 at 21:01
  • Thanks everyone for the great comments! In response to the questions posed... 1) This past winter was cold (-15F one day), but we get a lot of cold winters in these parts. The tree has been on the decline for a few years so last winter is not solely to blame. 2) The tree was planted in 2005 along with everything else in the yard (grass, beds, trees, etc.) corresponding with construction of the house and lot. The tree has been in this bed since the day we planted it. 3) As the picture shows, there is minimal mulch on the ground and ~18 inches of topsoil in the bed. – Jim Vitek Jul 2 '15 at 17:02
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I'm going to answer the question you have not asked. Will this tree ever look nice? It doesn't look nice now and that will not change for some time.

  • the extent of the dieback on every major branch means the tree will never look the same as one in good health
  • I'm already seeing water sprouts. These are not as well attached as normal growth and will be trouble later.
  • the girdling roots like the prime cause of the issues to me and just cutting the roots will not reverse the decline quickly

Where I live you can go all out and get a new 20' maple planted for $1500 or you can buy a nice ball and burlapped one about 7' tall for a few hundred dollars

I recommend cutting this one down and getting a new one planted by an arborist.

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  • Thanks for pointing out the girdling. I'm a complete novice and hadn't heard of that before. I did more digging, found a good bit of compression, and removed the offending roots by the time I saw this. I suspect that I'll end up replacing the tree as you suggest. – Jim Vitek Jul 6 '15 at 4:31

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