En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Monday - July 07, 2008

From: Sullivan, WI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Pests, Trees
Title: Catalpa and maple with dying branches in Wisconsin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have a northern catalpa in our front yard. It's been there for about three years now and is probably 25' high. This year it appeared to be doing great. It flowered and then all of sudden last week all the lower branches of the tree died. The top of the tree still appears to be alive but you can tell that the tree is stressed and the leaves are beginning to curl. We had an extremely wet month of June here. We are located in Jefferson County in Wisconsin. We had a similar thing happen to our sugar maple down at the curve in our drive way. Last year the lowest branch on the tree died during the summer. We didn't think much about it since that tree has also been there for the last three years. It is also rather large and has been beautiful. (Both trees came from the same nursery). This year, however, over half the tree never leafed out and is completely dead. Do you have any idea what would have caused the problems and is there any suggestion on how to save the trees?

ANSWER:

We can really only speak in generalities, because so many different problems can causes some of the symptoms you have described, in both trees. You did not mention noticing any insect infestation on either tree, and the rather "sudden death" of a branch or a large part of the tree indicates something more abrupt than insect problems.  

The Catalpa speciosa (northern catalpa) is native to North America, and therefore is on our "good" list, and in our Native Plants Database. It is not native to Wisconsin, but has been introduced there and, in some cases, escaped cultivation. In the Wisconsin Botanical Information System, this tree is shown growing in southern Wisconsin, which would include Jefferson Co. About the only thing it says that could cause the problem there is "twig blight," and we would call sudden death of the lower branches something more than twig blight. 

Acer saccharum (sugar maple is native to Wisconsin and apparently also grows in southern Wisconsin. This USDA Forest Service website, Acer saccharum will give you more general information about pests and diseases. The common pests of the Sugar Maple are leaftstalk borer and  petiole borer. The leaf stalk shrivels, turns black and leaf blade falls off. The maple can also suffer from anthracnose or verticillium wilt, which causes the wilting and death of branches. In another source, we learned that a heavy load of snow on a branch can cause splitting and breakage.

With both trees, since they both have lost or are losing branches abruptly, we need to consider the environment in which the roots grow. Most trees do not do well planted too close to concrete, like driveways or streets. The heavy rains you have been having could also be causing root problems if the drainage is not good. Root rot disease that destroys feeder roots, diseases that clog the vascular xylem tissue (water conducting tissue), and damage to the trunk of the tree by insects, disease, and/or mechanical means can result in sudden wilting and death of twigs and branches. These factors are usually very serious and frequently result in death of all or part of the plant. Brittle, inflexible, and shriveling twigs and stems are a sure sign of severe damage. Sudden drought, herbicides, or other environmental conditions can also cause leaves to wilt and drop. If the damage is slight and twigs remain green and flexible, the plant may recover; if severe, death of the plant will result. Another problem can be root girdling. A plant that has been in a pot too long before it is transplanted will sometimes have roots growing in a circle. As these roots mature, they will eventually begin to choke the tree and, again, die-off will occur. 

Obviously, at this distance, we can't hope to diagnose a specific problem because there are too many different things that could be causing the same result. We would recommend that you call in a trained arborist who can better tell you the prospects for recovery of your trees, whether they can be treated or if they will have to be removed. Or, contact the University of Wisconsin Extension Office - Jefferson Co., Wisconsinline Gardening. If the wet weather has been causing similar problems in the area or some specific insect or disease has been attacking other trees, they will at least be able to steer you in the right direction. 

 

From the Image Gallery


Northern catalpa
Catalpa speciosa

Sugar maple
Acer saccharum

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Leaves browning on non-native willow from in Cumbla PA
July 10, 2011 - We recently planted a willow tree. A lot of the leaves turned yellow and some turned brown, but it is also getting some new buds. my question is, should I take the dead leaves off or leave them there...
view the full question and answer

Grasshopper-resistant landscape plants?
May 20, 2009 - We have a ton of grasshoppers in our area. I would like to plant bushes and flowers that the grasshoppers will not eat. Can you suggest any??
view the full question and answer

Possible mildew on standing cypress
May 29, 2008 - My mother-in-law took some standing cypress seeds from Texas to Virginia several years ago. They have always done very well, but this year they are growing very tall, but the bottom half of the stalk...
view the full question and answer

Small oak tree with powdery mildew in San Antonio, TX.
May 09, 2012 - I have a small oak tree with powdery mildew. Is there anything I can do about? Will it kill the tree?
view the full question and answer

Recovery from transplant shock for bougainvillea
July 12, 2007 - I live outside of Phoenix. I just bought a bougainvillea in a large pot. It was doing nicely until I brought it home. I placed it in a sunny spot in my front yard inside of a large volcanic rock that ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center