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Last summer I moved into a new house and it has this tree in the back garden. Can someone please help me to identify the species and also to work out why it is not growing very well.

Some branches are out in full leaf with the seeds hanging beneath, whilst other branches (probably just over 50% of the canopy) show reduced growth and poor-quality leaves.

Photos:

Stunted leaf growth

Tree canopy with healthy and unhealthy growth

Tree canopy with healthy and unhealthy growth

Leaves

Trunk

Updated photos 15.05.2019

Clear photo of tree leaves

The photo below shows a damaged leaf which may have originally misled, apologies for that.

Damaged leaf which may have originally misled

Area surrounding tree trunk, next to decking

  • What part of the world are you in? – Bamboo May 13 at 10:50
  • United Kingdom. – Andrew Abbott May 13 at 10:56
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    The seeds look like maple, maybe Amur maple aka Acer ginnala. I can't help with the diagnosis though. – benn May 13 at 12:56
  • Thanks, I'm doubtful though as the tree only has green leaves, not red. – Andrew Abbott May 13 at 13:02
  • Yeah, it is likely a less exotic maple. It was a long shot. – benn May 13 at 13:11
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Depending which part of the UK you're in, it might just be that the top part of the tree has not fully opened out into leaf yet because of the weather conditions this year, that is, the very warm February and the recent cold spell. Even here in the south of the UK, some Acers have been slow to leaf out, especially at the top, and in some cases, the new, upper leaves have been burned back by frost.

This is an Acer of some variety, but, in the images which show the top part of the tree, it's hard to be sure that some of the leaves don't have a white or cream variegation round the edges. This might be just an effect of the light, but it would help to make an ID of the variety of Acer if you could confirm or deny whether this is the case. There is certainly no evidence of variegation on the lower leaves visible in the penultimate photo. The other question I'd ask is whether the leaves on this tree turned red before falling or not last autumn.

UPDATE

On looking again at the images, the final picture shows some growth near the base on the left hand side that looks to be variegated, with white and maybe a touch of pink. Can you confirm that is the case? If you inspect the foliage, you may notice some all green branches as well as variegated ones, if what I'm seeing is variegated foliage in some parts at all.

  • Thanks for your reply. No, the leaves remained green all year last year on this tree. – Andrew Abbott May 13 at 13:07
  • Can you check the upper leaves for variegation please? It looks pretty mature, any idea how old the tree is, or how tall it is? Don't soak with water if its over 35 feet tall or so, it doesn't need it and will make no difference – Bamboo May 13 at 19:21
  • Hi, I'm afraid I don't know the age as the previous owner provided no information. I have an idea that it may be between 15-20 years old. Also, I have updated the photos to show the leaf shapes more clearly now, I hope this will help. – Andrew Abbott May 15 at 10:20
  • Can you confirm whether there are any variegated leaves? – Bamboo May 15 at 10:42
  • Yes, there is definitely some variegation in various zones of the tree. – Andrew Abbott May 15 at 10:49
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I think your acer is an Acer nigrum, that has fairly dull yellow brownish autumn color that you most likely even did not notice (any acer can't be just the same green all the way to the time of leaves dropping):

enter image description here

Compare the drawing above (public domain, 1913) with details of your acer.

As for remeding the problems, I would suggest removing the weekest branches (up to 20% of the tree), and thinning crowded crown areas, cleaning the area of weeds, even any grass, and watering generously this season. Small shoots from the last photo should be all removed, as they are consuming energy that should be better spent elsewhere. Then evaluate the result the next year, etc.

  • Thank you. I didn't get the chance to look yesterday, but I will look this evening (around nine hours after this comment). Given your suggestion to water generously, is it also possible that the location of the tree, adjacent to decking, is reducing rainfall infiltration into the soils surrounding the tree and therefore reducing its water intake (i.e. the decking is sheltering some of the root zone)? – Andrew Abbott May 14 at 9:15
  • Decking may have affected the tree, definitely. Various factors (amount of available water among them) also affect the color of the leaves of many plants, though I am not sure about your maple. I do know though that the color of leaves of various japanese maples throughout the year are affected by many factors, even by weather (the color is different in rainy spring year than the color during sunny spring years, lets say). It may be the case that your maple still did not reveal its best color to you. – Aleksandar M May 14 at 17:59
  • Overall, my impession is that the tree is worth keeping, and that it definitely needs a little bit of love, that will be returned multiple times by its beauty in coming years. Did you have the time to enjoy the beauty of leaves and flowers developing from the buds this spring? That process is truly beautiful with all maples, too bad it spans just a week or so. – Aleksandar M May 14 at 18:04
  • I have added three more photos which hopefully clarify things. I have to apologise, I didn't realise that the leaf shape in the original photo was ambiguous - it appears that I inadvertently took a photo including a damaged lead. Could you have another look and see if the leaf shape means anything more to you now that they are clearer? I've watered the tree last night, as shown in the photo which also hopefully clearly shows its location next to decking and covered by stones and a small area of weed membrane. – Andrew Abbott May 15 at 10:19
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Looks to me like a Manitoba Maple (Acer negundo), although what this Canadian species is doing in the UK I don't know. This tree has compound leaves with three to seven leaflets in the more mature parts of the tree. One of the photos shows typical bright green sucker growth characteristic of this weedy species. It is a fast growing nuisance of a garden component that fills a space but produces poor wood and is rarely attractive. Its energetic, weak growth leads to loss of limbs which it cheerfully makes up for with more growth which you might not need. If I am right then the garden might be better off without it.

  • I agree, it does look like a Manitoba maple or a cultivar. Why you would plant this when there are so many better choices is puzzling – kevinsky May 15 at 13:23
  • All it takes is a souvenir seed from Granpa's farm. – Colin Beckingham May 15 at 14:00

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