Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Slow Decline

We're back to hot humid summer. The cool weather has gone, but not my rib wracking cough. And now an angry looking cold sore the shape of Illinois has formed above my lip. I suffer.

I fear I am watching a slow rolling catastrophe. . . . not my health, but rather the 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple by the deck may be in decline. It may take years to succumb, but every time I look at this pretty tree, I see a problem gradually unfolding in front of me.

It's no mystery. The tree has phytophthera canker, a fungal root rot. I noticed wet black weeping areas below the graft last year, and Bartlett has been treating it with a systemic soil drench several times a year now.

One side of the slender trunk is hollow sounding when tapped, a sign that there is a dead area under the bark. The affected part of the root flare has turned powdery, and there are now tiny orange fungal spores on the trunk, which is a sign of decayed material underneath.

The tree, helped by the soil drench, will either fight off the canker and heal itself around the dead areas, or it will not. But it will be a slow process before it's clear which will happen.

Although the canopy looks full and the color is rich red, I can see tip dieback on the upper twigs. That's a sign that enough of the roots have died off that the remaining roots are having trouble supporting new growth.

It looks wrong to me. Normally by mid summer the leaves darken to a mahogany color before returning to bright scarlet again in fall. This year they have stayed bright red well into the end of July. It's a beautiful color, but somehow it looks stressed to me, especially in full sunlight. Too bright, too red, too unseasonable.

Overall, it has a funny limp look that is not evident to a casual observer -- really, it looks fine, doesn't it? -- but to me it just doesn't look right.

I planted Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' in fall 2008, and here it is in 2009 on the left, compared to what it looks like now, five years later in 2014.

What a gorgeous tree. I have every hope that it will fight off the canker and form protective scars around the dead parts. I have every expectation it will heal and carry on and become an even nicer tree. I do not want to watch it slowly decline.

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