Common Acer Tree Problems & Fixes

Acer (AKA maple) trees come in a wide variety of sizes and colours. Some fit into pots, while others are large enough to be the centrepiece of your garden. Regardless of their size or shape, they can come with their own share of problems. If you’re trying and failing to grow a maple, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve got a full list of the most common Acer tree problems – and perhaps more importantly, how to fix them!

The most common Acer tree problems are various diseases, pests, improper pot size (if you chose to pot your tree), poor nutrient supply, and bad soil.

Wow! That was a mouthful. Let’s get into it, shall we?

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11 Common Acer Tree Problems

There’s a lot to know about what can afflict maple trees when growing – especially if you’re using a variant that’s not native to your climate. In Britain, Japanese maples are wildly popular for their beautiful colouring and manageable size. Unfortunately, Britain isn’t exactly the most welcoming place for non-native plants. This means that knowing how to spot issues early will mean the difference between life and death for your Acer tree.

Let’s start with basics first – we’ll move onto diseases in time, as that’ll be its own little list.

#1 Pests (Rodents)

Rabbits and squirrels (really rodents in general) are the most common small critters that will cause issues with your maple. You’ll notice damage to the bark and branches first, though don’t worry – this won’t actively kill your tree, per se. You’ll eventually end up with an ugly tree, but at least it’ll be living, right?

This is because rodents’ teeth never stop growing – that means that they need to gnaw on something hard to file their teeth down. It seems like they enjoy the taste of maple more than other trees – though don’t be fooled; nothing is safe from these little guys. Luckily there are a few things you can do to get them to back off your prized tree:

Acer Fixes for Rodents

  • The most common solution you’ll see is to use chicken wire or metal sheeting around the bottom part of your tree (~ the bottom meter, give or take). This will prevent them from being able to climb up, and stop them from being able to reach the bottom portion of your tree.
    • Be sure to avoid wrapping too tightly – you don’t want to strangle the tree.
  • Some people swear by the cayenne pepper method, though I can’t personally vouch for it. The idea is to mix roughly several tablespoons of cayenne with roughly a litre of water and mist it around your tree’s base. You can also spread cayenne without misting, to avoid accidentally pepper-spraying yourself.
  • If you’re not opposed to having lots of shinies in your garden, you can try what I call the sparkle method. This is, basically, attaching lots of shiny objects to the tree that move erratically and scare off small critters. You can use tinfoil, reflective ribbons – go wild here.
  • As a final alternative, you could simply leave kindling and dead branches from your garden with a few nuts sprinkled in on a pile away from your tree. This will give the rodents another, easier, and tastier target to chew on.

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#2 Potting

If you’ve got an Acer that’s potted, this is an important section that you should read. Have you noticed your potted Japanese maple starting to struggle to stay alive? Take a look at your potting situation – how big is the pot in comparison to the tree’s root system? Does the pot have drainage holes? These are vital things to know. If you’re curious for more information, check out my guide on common potted olive tree problems – we talk for a while about how to choose a proper pot, and most of that carries over.

The general rule of thumb is that you need a pot at least twice as big as the tree’s root system. This also means that you’ll need to repot every four years or so as the tree, and its roots, grow. The other vital part of your pot is that it has drainage holes. A pot with no drainage will drown your tree’s root system and can result in root rot, which we’ll talk about further down.

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#3 Soil Conditions

Just like animals need a good balance of nutrients to grow strong and healthy, trees and plants are the same – though you likely know that already. It’s important to match your soil to the type of plant you’re trying to grow, especially if it’s not native to your climate. Japanese maples, for example, are (obviously) native to Japan, meaning they love slightly acidic, sandy soil that retains water well and drains easily.

A lot of gardeners swear by using loam-based compost for growing Acer trees – potted or not. This will provide a good amount of nutrients and allow excellent drainage.

We’re going to group mulch in with soil, as it’s vital to growing most trees. In case you didn’t know – mulching your tree’s “neighbourhood” will keep it much happier than using basic soil. Using mulch or compost around the tree (without actually getting up next to the base of the tree) will help maintain moisture and provide a little boost of growth potential. It’ll also help avoid issues like leaf scorch or case-hardening around the roots.

#4 Pot and Tree Location, Weather

This is more important if you’re potting the tree, though the general guides still apply to planted trees. Direct sunlight for Acer trees, especially in hot climates, is generally a no-go. Finding a spot that’s sheltered from high wind and won’t expose the tree to too much sun is super important.

If you’re worried about temporary weather conditions, consider trying to install a windbreak around your tree. For freezing conditions, do not bring the potted tree inside – most experts agree that the sudden change in temperature is worse for the tree than our solution.

The best way to protect an Acer tree from frost damage is to wrap it in insulating material. Even something as simple as a large cardboard box with some wax or plastic on the outside to prevent it from fading with water will do here.

#5 Pruning

First things first – pruning is not generally necessary to the overall health of your Acer tree. Pruning is usually only done for aesthetic purposes, occasionally to help treat a disease or a dying section of the tree.

If you feel that you do need to prune the tree for any reason, the best time to do so is generally late summer or early autumn. Pruning outside of this time can cause bleeding which can cause further damage to the tree. If you’re an experienced gardener, then root pruning won’t be new to you, but in case it is, let’s discuss for a second.

Root pruning is exactly what it sounds like – you’re pruning the roots of the tree. Generally, this is done when replacing soil (which yes, you need to do). If you spot roots that are dry, hardened, and seem dead – prune them! If you’re not sure, though, it’s generally best to at least consult a pro to see if you’ll harm the tree before continuing.

Insects and Diseases

Now, this is the fun part! This is the section where we talk about various bugs and infections that your Acer tree problems can stem from. Let’s get into it, shall we?

#1 Insects

Depending on your climate, these bugs will vary – but there’s a few that seem to love maples that you’ll want to keep an eye out for. There are aphids, mites, pear thrips, and scale insects. Luckily, there are a lot of treatments for these guys:

  • Again, for natural pesticides, refer to above linked olive tree article. If you can’t be bothered, here are my favourites:
    • Neem oil is a natural oil that many bugs simply hate. It’s great for getting rid of aphids, among others, and is entirely safe to use with pets and children, as well as on other plants you’ll be eating later.
    • Soapy water works great – just be sure to use organic soap, like castile soap. Mix ~a tablespoon with a litre of water and mist every couple of days.
    • Vinegar solution can be made easily and cheaply at home and works great on aphids. Mix ~100 mL (cheap) vinegar with a tablespoon of the above soap and roughly 2 litres of water. Mist like with soapy water.
  • You can also buy synthetic insecticide that will work more effectively – just be sure it’s safe to use with other nearby plants. You don’t want to accidentally poison nearby veggies or flowers.
  • Some minor infestations can be dealt with by hand, though it’s generally best to use insecticide, natural or otherwise.

#2 Root Rot

This comes in a lot of forms, though the most common in the UK is phytophthora. It can be spotted by cankers and mushroom-like growth near the base of the tree. They’ll generally appear near the root system, as that’s what it actively attacks. You’ll also notice branches starting to die and foliage beginning to wilt and become more sparse. The only way to treat this is to prevent it in the first place by taking proper care of your tree.

If your tree develops root rot, it’s likely time to call it for that tree. Learn from your mistakes – allow better drainage and adjust your watering schedule in heavy rain.

#3 Verticillium Wilt

This is easily spotted by specific parts (or even one side of the tree) yellowing, losing leaves, and stunted growth. It’s caused by a fungus in your soil and is extremely common with most subspecies of Acer. You’ll notice it in late summer, following extremely hot and dry stretches of time.

The best, and really only way, to treat this is with proper watering, fertiliser, and shade. Try to use a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorous fertiliser and prune dead or dying branches as soon as you see them. As this is a fungus, it can spread, so be careful.

If you really want to dive into treating the problem, you can solarize your soil. This is done by tilling and wetting the top 15 cm of soil, covering it with a clear plastic tarp, and burying it under roughly 8 cm of soil. Place it in the best area to get constant sunlight, as you’re essentially drying and burning the fungus out. This is not a guaranteed fix. Often, verticillium wilt is incurable and fatal to most plants.

#4 Powdery Mildew

All Acer trees are susceptible to this, though Norway and Japanese maples are the most vulnerable. This is incredibly common in moist, humid environments and generally is more of an inconvenience than a death sentence.

Powdery mildew can be spotted by white, powdery tops of leaves and browning undersides. It can be removed by hand, as well as using chemical fungicides. You can even use neem oil for this – as I said above, neem oil is awesome for gardening. A good DIY fungicide is:

  • 1:1:1 baking soda, vegetable oil, and dish soap (1 tablespoon is best here) mixed with 3.75 litres of water.
  • Check out the olive tree guide (linked above under “potting”) for more good combinations!

#5 Honey Fungus

The main symptoms of honey fungus are decaying roots and fungal growths, meaning it can easily be mistaken for root rot. You’ll notice toadstools on the stumps of the tree, along with growth between the bark and wood, and small, pale leaves.

Treatments include:

  • Removing all affected plants, and their roots, down to at least 40 cm – including those that look healthy. So this isn’t exactly ideal, but it can spread, especially to hedges.
  • Remove infected soil and replace it with healthy soil. Replace any wood, as it will spread the fungus – so replace mulch, too.
  • Quarantine the infected area with plastic that goes at least 45 cm into the ground.
  • Wait at least eight months before planting anything else in this soil – it takes a long time for this fungus to die off, and you don’t want to bring it back.
  • Use Armillatox (not sold online generally, but can be found in hardware stores as an “outdoor cleaner”) or Jeyes Fluid mixed with water (20:1) and soak new soil with the solution. These are the only two known chemicals to work on honey fungus.

#6 Biotic and Abiotic Leaf Scorch

Leaf scorch can be caused by either poor weather (hot, dry wind and sun, or frost with waterlogged soil), or bacterial infection. Leaf scorch of any form can be spotted by drying leaves with browning veins and edges. You can also (depending on the type) expect to see red or yellow bands between green and brown patches along the leaf’s surface.

To treat (and prevent) leaf scorch:

  • Water more heavily during hot, dry days
  • Mulch your tree to retain moisture
  • Fertilise regularly – but not on drought-stressed trees. Fertiliser can encourage growth that your tree may not be able to handle, and runs the risk of dehydrating it further.

Final Thoughts

Acer (maple) trees are absolutely beautiful, and unfortunately, rather prone to disease and pests. Luckily, DreamyHome did the legwork for you and brought you this absolute chunker of a list for all of your Acer woes. Whether it’s a small Japanese Acer in a pot or a massive Canadian Maple in your yard – you should be set to handle anything mother nature throws at you.

Be sure to check out our other gardening work, as there’s a lot of overlap for treatments of various diseases that affect your garden. And we’re here to help, so be sure to check back with more questions in the future – we’ll be waiting.