Maple tree (young) has thick ring of leaves growing at base. Also,bark is disengaging from trunk. #636779 - Ask Extension


Maple tree (young) has thick ring of leaves growing at base. Also,bark is disengaging from trunk. #636779

Asked May 17, 2020, 11:41 AM EDT

It is spring, tree starting to leaf.  I noticed a thick ring (like a wreath)of new growth leaves at the base of the tree.  I noticed that the bark is coming away from the trunk in rectangular shapes.  Like it is being pushed out from inside the tree.  We have had the tree about 5 yrs.  Now, I see that there is quite a bit of root showing above ground.  

Genesee County Michigan

Expert Response

It sounds like your maple tree has several issues. The sprouts coming from the bottom of the tree are called suckers because they sap the nutrition from the main tree. Such growth should be pruned out regularly being careful to avoid cutting the bark of the main trunk.

Suckers are a tree’s attempt to grow more branches, often in response to some kind of injury or other stress such as failure of a root graft. Tree suckers are not normally a significant problem but they must be dealt with to preserve the long-term health of a tree.

Some maples are predisposed to having shallow roots. This includes Norway, Red, and Silver Maples. Surface rooting is most common in compacted or clay-based soil. When the roots within the first few inches of soil get large enough, they break through the surface. Gradually, rain and wind erode the soil around them, further exposing them. Roots need oxygen. In compacted soil, they must grow up to the surface in order to get enough oxygen to keep the tree alive. In many cases, trees with surface roots are struggling to breathe and are doing their best to adapt to an environment that is less than ideal.

Don’t cut the offending roots. Cutting them can provide an easy entry point for diseases and harmful insects. It can also negatively impact a tree’s stability. Your best bet is to put down about four inches of mulch underneath the tree. This will help level out the area while keeping roots cool and moist and allowing them to breathe. Don’t put down more than four inches, though, and don’t pile mulch against the trunk.

Sometimes a maple or other hardwoods can drop bark. As long as there’s healthy bark underneath the peeling layers, your tree is OK. But if you see these other signs, your tree needs a bit more help:

  • Bark falls off after frost, which usually happens on the tree’s south or southwest side. Any sudden swing in temperature can make trees shed bark and crack under stress.
  • Bark falls off after excessive heat, which, like frost damage, strips bark down to the wood.
  • Bark falls off an unhealthy tree, which means you’d see other signs of stress such as cankers, sap, or dead leaves and twigs.
If you find any signs of pest or disease—sawdust, oozing cankers, dead leaves, or a fuzzy fungus--your best resource for diagnosing and treating your tree is to consult a certified arborist. An arborist is a certified and generally insured expert in trees and their problems. He or she can examine your tree and make recommendations regarding the health of the tree, any needed judicial pruning, and whether or not (in his opinion) it should be removed. You can find a certified arborist in your area here:

 Click on "Find an Arborist" at the top of the page; then click on United States from the pull-down menu. Then enter your State and City. This should bring up a list of certified arborists nearest to you. Or you may be able to locate one under "Tree Services" in your local Yellow Pages.


Sharon Globig Replied May 18, 2020, 3:23 PM EDT

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