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I have a small Acer in a pot. It's about 3 years old and has been doing well. We have just noticed that the bark around the centre of the stem / trunk has disappeared. Any ideas?

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Oh, that does not look good - do you have deer that visit the garden, or could there be some other physical cause for this? If not, it could be a canker infection,or if the upper branches are suffering, die back. Unfortunately, although the fallen leaves in the pot are absolutely clear, the picture is out of focus where the trunk is in shot, so its impossible to tell whether there's any fungal mycelium there, or whether there's been any bleeding or seeping from the trunk. Inspect the plant thoroughly to see if you can find any signs of bleeding, and whether there are obvious signs of trouble in the upper branches (since I assume most of the leaves have fallen by now), together with close inspection of the base of the plant - you're looking for soft or discoloured areas. If the leaves in the pot are from the Acer, did they change colour before they fell, or did they fall early? It would also be helpful to know where you are - there are diseases of bark in somewhere like USA which are not a problem in parts of Europe.

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