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Last year I noticed the main limb of my maple tree was dead. Moreover, this year it seems to be getting worse and spreading!

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I assume I need to remove the tree and replant, because cutting of the main limb is going to make the tree look lopsided. Any advice?

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Yes, it's done. Call in an arborist and a chipper. When you remove the main trunk you will expose the join where the main trunk is weakly attached to the secondaries. This join looks like included bark as described here and is a major hazard.

The only reasons not to remove this tree are:

  • it is not near anything that would be damaged if a tree fell on it
  • the tree is in a woodlot where it's hard to reach
  • you want to encourage the many species of wildlife that find a dead tree to be more useful than a live one (Woodpeckers, nesting birds and mammals, decay agents)

Get an arborist in for a quote and have them diagnose the cause of the dieback. I don't have enough details to diagnose that.

  • Thanks for the reply. Should I wait until spring to replant? I live in Iowa so the winters can be rough. – Mike Cole Sep 18 '16 at 16:51
  • @MikeCole There is plenty of time till the ground freezes. Ask your local nursery. They will have regional knowledge I don't have. Nurseries may have stock they want to clear out but you may not want the stock that is picked over. – kevinsky Sep 18 '16 at 17:13
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    Also, if you need to replant you'll still need an arborist to identify the disease or insect damage. If there is a disease/insect problem you will NOT want to plant another ACER genus to replace that tree! And you'll probably need to get that stump out of the ground or it WILL try to grow back and it won't be pretty at all. Fall is the best time to plant trees and deciduous shrubs. They are able to form a better root system throughout the winter. If you replant with a deciduous it will be will be just a stick and a few branches without leaves, don't stake it. Movement causes root growth. – stormy Sep 19 '16 at 20:30
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First get an arborist, one who is familiar with your locale and can have hands on expert examination. It is obviously an old maple. Everything declines before it dies of old age but while it declines it is very susceptible to disease, insects.

I would take a good handsaw (a narrow pruning saw) and cut that leader (main branch) off right down to the healthy junction, giving an angle to cut so water is not able to sit on the 1" thick stump and forget about coating the stump with anything. Looks like an easy tree to climb but I would still take precautions; no chainsaws, tie yourself to a sturdy branch in case you fall, maybe wear a helmet? If you aren't familiar with cutting down or pruning big trees and branches please hire an arborist to thoroughly check your tree to see if it is worth saving and have them do the climbing and sawing or taking down the entire tree.

Whatever has killed that limb might be contained and this is just part of an old tree. I'd then THIN by removing all small diameter branches to allow light and air to the rest of the healthy tree. Allow wind to flow through unimpeded. The arborist will know...if the problem turns out to be just that branch then you will have more years of use and beauty of this tree. Clean that saw before using and after, using alcohol just in case!

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    Are you really suggesting climbing a tree and taking out the dead main branch that looks to be six or eight inch diameter with a handsaw? Really? – kevinsky Sep 19 '16 at 1:12
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    The tree is not as tall as it seems. I can probably reach the dead limb from the ground or stool. I'm not going to, though. – Mike Cole Sep 19 '16 at 14:48
  • Hey, I did on a regular basis. I can't really tell the caliper of those limbs but I assumed it was at least 6-8" and I DID recommend getting a professional. Anyone could saw that limb off but it is when that limb comes down that there is a problem; breaking off and popping backwards for one, breaking healthy branches for another and if not sawed correctly supported or cut off in chunks or not sawed beneath on the downhill side before the main cut on the other side. That is why I suggested a professional who could cut to the chase and use their own insurance and do all the 'dangerous' work. – stormy Sep 19 '16 at 20:18
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Mark Shepherd lets his trees survive by STUN(Sheer Total Utter Neglect), so if your tree survives it survives, if it loses all leaves, and doesn't come back next year it's dead. Just let the tree STUN.

In my parents forest we have a tree that has a large dead main branch and it died, and stopped growing. The rest of the tree is just fine for growing and the dead branch is still standing 10 years later.

You could also save the tree by cutting it off below that point which will make it look like a high bush, and that's a natural cut to the tree.

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    It is much easier than most people think to kill yourself with creative tree-cutting and no experience at it. Gravity is a harsh mistress. – Ecnerwal Sep 18 '16 at 23:52
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    @Ecnerwal That. Do the cutting yourself, if you must, but hire a professional rigger or at the very least an experienced outdoor climber who can set up a safe rig for you to hang on. – ArtOfCode Sep 18 '16 at 23:58
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    ...still not grasping the nature of the problem. No rigger or climber in their right mind and wishing to continue a healthy relationship with their insurance carrier is going to set something up and let you cut the tree, nor should they, unless you are the newest trainee of the tree company. If you get really, really lucky you might crap your pants and survive a DIY attempt at topping. I've seen people determined to DIY take a nice hit in the face (head wound, lotsa blood) from simply limbing. I'm a competent ground-level tree faller myself, but topping is a whole other way to kill yourself. – Ecnerwal Sep 19 '16 at 0:11
  • @Ecnerwal I've done plenty of DIY projects at my parents topping, and cutting low branches, so it's not too difficult to climb the tree and cut it with a 1 hand camping saw, when hanging on the big tree branch you're standing on. If you're not cutting off the lowest branch you can easily hang on for a few minutes while your safety to put the ladder back up for you. even if you're cutting the lowest branch off you can hang on (I've hung on a support pole/beam on a dining shelter and had a friend come up to help me from hanging on for dear life), but it would be very hard to do. – black thumb Sep 19 '16 at 1:11
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    Eat, drink, and be merry... – Ecnerwal Sep 19 '16 at 1:14

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