Promoting growth in a maple tree

by Nichole
(Toowoomba, QLD)

We planted a lipstick maple tree about 3 years ago and it has hardly grown at all.

It's currently about 3.5-3m tall and has probably grown half a metre since we planted it.

I'm just wondering if there is a way to promote growth in the tree or if there are common mistakes that we may be doing.

Hi Nicole, I'm not familiar with this tree, but if it truly is a maple, from the Acer genus, these are moisture loving trees in general, so they need a good soil and ample watering, especially when actively growing.

They also prefer a little dappled shade, especially when young.

Now for the tough questions, and no-one wants to answer these: when you planted it, what was the soil type?

If it's sandy and very alkaline, this is a problem because these trees prefer a more organic and slightly more acid soil - think forest floor - rich and with deep organic mulch from years of fall leaves and twigs.

You can try mulching with chopped leaves or bark to try and give it more suitable conditions.

The next awful question is; when you planted it, was it in a pot or container, and did you spread out the roots in the planting hole?

If you just took it out of the pot and stuck it in the hole and backfilled it, the roots continue to wind around and around in the shape of the pot, eventually strangling themselves.

A tree that you buy on sale could potentially have this issue.

Root bound trees live for a few years, but eventually they can't survive. I suggest that you dig the tree up in the spring, before it breaks dormancy and investigate if this is the case.

If it is, and it will be obvious that there is no root growth outside the root ball, you will have to cut off some of the strangling ones and try to pull others apart.

Cut off the biggest roots, leave the smaller ones (with feeder roots on the ends of them) to take over the work. If you're not confident about your ability to do this, you may want to have an arborist or horticulturist assist.

This would be the last ditch effort to save the tree. You say that it did grow last year, so that's a good sign.

If you don't want to dig the tree up, sometimes you can cut off some of the existing roots close to the root ball with a sharp spade, which will encourage others to grow.

Again, this might be something that a horticulturist can help with.

Hope this helps get your tree back on track.

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Jan 21, 2013
by: Nichole

Thanks Jacki.

It was dormant when we planted it. I did purchase it from a nursery, in a pot. We did spread the roots, but thinking back now, I remember at the time we were a little concerned, as the roots had started to grow around in a circle. We have red soil (type A in Australia), but it is pretty hard soil, as we don't have a deep layer of topsoil.

Digging it up to check the roots sounds like it may be the way to go...

Thanks for your help.

Best of luck with this - but just think, if you can save it, you will be so glad you did the work!

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