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Q: I have a maple tree that is six years old and about 10 feet tall. This spring, the buds came out over all the branches, but only the buds on the bottom part of the tree opened into nice big healthy leaves. My neighbor told me it had “dieback”. What is that and what should I do? I live in zone 3. It has been a very cold spring, with quite a bit of rain. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
In this season of weird weather it seems that the plant may be suffering from a sudden temperature drop that has “frozen” (figuratively, not literally) the buds. If a cold wind goes through, the sudden
temperature change stuns them and places the newly sprouted buds back into dormancy. If the temperature change is too great, it can kill them off. I suspect the latter. We as humans consider a change of 10 to 15 degrees to be severe. For new buds, a change of only two to five degrees has the same severity.
If the buds have not opened by now, then they probably will not do so. If the branches snap like matchsticks, they should be pruned out. Use a sharp clean pair of pruners or a saw to remove them. The best time to prune maples is when they are in full leaf as the rising sap and full leaf cover will
help the tree recover. Don’t use a pruning seal – it’s just a placebo for us.
Here is a great link for the beginner pruner: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/pruning/pruning.html