Homegrown: Silver maple, plum pollinators

We have a 35-year-old silver maple tree that looks pretty sick this year.

Half of the branches have no leaves, or just a few at the tips. The remaining look pretty good, but the leaves are smaller than normal and not as dense.

There were plenty of seeds this spring, some on what now look like dead branches.

Not knowing what else to do, I used a Ross Root Feeder to get some nourishment to it without the grass grabbing it all.

It looks a little better, but not much.

We like nothing better than sitting in the shade on a summer’s day but it looks like we might lose our shade. Worse, the tree is an old friend. Any idea what might be wrong here or what we can do to save our tree?

— James

I’m afraid I don’t have good news for you. I’m pretty sure your maple has a fungal disease called verticillium.

This fungus lives in the soil and enters the tree through the roots. Verticillium attacks a wide variety of different plants, but we see it most often on maples around here, especially silver maple.

The pattern that the disease usually follows is that the first year there’s a branch or portion of the tree that’s pale.

The symptom often mimics an iron deficiency where the leaf turns pale green or yellow while the veins stay green.

The next year that lime green patch is bigger. The year after it’s bigger still and some smaller branches are dying. The next year larger branches are dying.

It’s this progressive “eating” away of the tree that’s the typical pattern.

The frustrating thing is that the tree will almost always die in the end and there really isn’t a thing you can do.

Sometimes the tree will die quickly — within two or three years — and other times it will last 10 years or more before succumbing.

There’s a silver maple tree planted here at our nursery that started showing symptoms seven years ago and it’s still hanging in.

We had to remove a large branch comprising a good third of the tree several years back but the remaining portion is doing surprisingly well or better than I expected.

About the only thing you can do is to take good care of that tree. Try to get it as strong and healthy as possible so it has a chance of fighting this infection to a standstill and lasting as long as it can.

There are no fungicide treatments I’m aware of that cure this beast. The only one I’ve run across is a few commercial products that must be injected into the tree, something a tree service would have to do for you.

And this treatment is only preventative in nature. It protects a healthy tree from infection.

There’s nothing out there that will cure an existing infection.

If you have any other maple trees that aren’t infected, your best defense is to try to keep them healthy and vigorous. This way the tree has a chance to counter the infection effectively.

My Santa Rosa plum is supposed to pollinate my Satsuma plum, but the Santa Rose doesn’t bloom until a week after the Satsuma.

Is there a better pollinator?

— Les

I’d consider Santa Rosa your best choice.

If this has been a consistent problem over several years then you’ll need to consider planting another Japanese Plum variety such as Methley, Beauty or Shiro.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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