With their distinct lobed leaves, brilliant fall color and twisting trunks, maples (Acer spp.) can provide ornamental interest and structure to the home garden. A maple tree that is developing brown leaves is likely suffering from a disease, pest infestation or cultural problem. Identifying the cause of the browning is vital to remedying the problem and allowing the tree to return to a healthy state.
Leaf scorch is generally caused by weather factors such as high temperatures and dry winds, though it may also be caused by soil contaminants such as excessive salts, fluorides or phosphate fertilizers. A tree suffering from scorch might produce leaves with brown, dead patches around the leaf margins or between the leaf veins. Scorch is exacerbated by dry soil, so irrigate your maple deeply and regularly during periods of drought to keep water stress at bay.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that causes brown or black spots on leaves, as well as irregularly shaped dead patches. Heavily infected leaves may drop prematurely, sometimes to the point where the tree becomes defoliated. Swollen lesions, called cankers, might also develop on twigs and branches, sometimes causing girdling and dieback. Combat anthracnose by raking up and destroying dropped leaves and pruning and destroying any dead or diseased twigs or branches. Penn State Extension notes that damage is usually minor, warranting no treatment.
When gall-making mites and insects lay their eggs in maple leaves, raised, wart-like brown bumps or felt-like patches can emerge on the leaf surface. Though unattractive, galls will not cause permanent injury to the tree, according to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, which notes that managing gall insects is typically not needed or recommended. On small trees, pick diseased leaves by hand and destroy them or dispose of them to kill gall eggs before they hatch.
Planting your maple in the wrong climate can result in foliage problems and poor growth. Maples prefer cool climates and do not do well in desert or southern climates, according to the University of California IPM. Hardiness varies depending on species. Red maple (Acer rubrum) is more heat-tolerant than most, growing in partial shade or full sunlight in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 9. Maples prefer moist, well-draining soil generously covered with 2 to 4 inches of mulch to conserve moisture.
About the Author
Michelle Wishhart is a writer based in Portland, Ore. She has been writing professionally since 2005, starting with her position as a staff arts writer for City on a Hill Press, an alternative weekly newspaper in Santa Cruz, Calif. An avid gardener, Wishhart worked as a Wholesale Nursery Grower at Encinal Nursery for two years. Wishhart holds a Bachelor of Arts in fine arts and English literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
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