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?


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
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - September 06, 2009

From: Sacramento, CA
Region: California
Topic: Trees
Title: Problems with Acer rubrum in Sacramento
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We live in Sacramento California and have two seven year old Magenta Maple trees in our front yard that are planted about 65 feet from each other. This is the second year in a row that the tree on the north side of the yard has started dropping leaves in late August while the tree on the south side still has all its leaves and won't lose them until late September or early October. Some of the fallen leaves have turned partially red and some are still green. We don't think we have an insect problem because we applied Bayer Tree and Shrub Protect and Feed (which includes a systemic insecticide) in the Spring on both trees. Please let us know what we can do for our tree. Thank you.


"Magenta maple" is apparently a trade name given to either a cultivar or selection of Acer rubrum (red maple), although we could find no information on that particular named species.  The first thing we want to observe is that Acer rubrum is not native to Calfornia, but rather the eastern part of the United States. The closest to California that it is native is eastern Texas and Oklahoma. This is because it likes the moist soils along streambanks and in woodlands, and a slightly acidic soil. We don't know exactly that your soil is, but we can tell you that most of the soils in the western portion of the United States, including Central and West Texas, are alkaline. 

If a tree on one side of your property is doing well and a tree of the same species on the other side is doing poorly, you need to examine what has changed in the environment around the second tree that might be causing it to decline.  Did you have any indications of insect activity around the trees before you sprayed them with insecticide? Often disease and insects will attack a plant already under stress for some other reason, but if there is no insect activity it's really better not to apply insecticides. A native tree also shouldn't need fertilizer. If it is in the right kind of soil, it is getting the nutrients and trace elements it needs from the soil. Fertilizer should never be applied to a tree under stress. 

Back to the environment of each tree. The red maple has high water use, and likes sun (6 hours or more of sun a day) or part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun.) Is the tree that is not doing well getting the same amount of water as the other, or is it on a slope or in sandy soil where the artificial irrigation or rain just drains away?  Is it heavily shaded by a larger tree or a building? Has there been any compaction of soil around the sick tree, as with building materials piled on it, or vehicles parked beneath it? There is even some possibility of the roots of the ailing tree were potbound when it was planted, and if none of the wrapped-around roots were clipped, it could be rootbound and strangling. 

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the use, care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plant is being grown. Acer rubrum (red maple) is considered hardy from Zone 3 to Zone 8, and probably originated in the northern part of that range. Unless the tree is on a stream or in very moist soil, it should be planted north of Zone 9. Sacramento County is in Zone 9b, having an average annual minimum temperature of 25 to 30 deg. F. Zone 3 has average annual minimum temperatures of -35 to -30 deg. F. We are of the opinion that the red maple is planted in an area too hot and dry for it. However, there may be other causes that we cannot diagnose nor recommend treatment for at this distance. Contact the University of California Cooperative Extension Office for Sacramento County for closer-to-home assistance.

Acer rubrum

Acer rubrum

Acer rubrum

Acer rubrum




More Trees Questions

Unknown pest of Texas Mountain Laurel from Round Rock TX
May 24, 2012 - I have a Texas Mountain Laurel that is being denuded from the top down by something unseen. It's not the Genista moth larvae, as there are no worms and no webbing visible. The only clue that it might...
view the full question and answer

How to prune my Linden tree?
June 17, 2009 - We have a 15 yr old Linden in the backyard. North side of home. It can use some pruning at the lower branches. Which branches do we prune and when? Also we have some river birches back there. Oth...
view the full question and answer

Water requirements for fruit trees in California
January 15, 2013 - Dear Sir; In which of these options (fruit trees) the need for watering in irrigation process is higher than the others: -Olive tree -Nectarines and peaches trees -Hazelnut trees -Pistachios and ...
view the full question and answer

Trimming oak threatening fence in California
July 21, 2008 - I live in Diamond Springs,California,I have a large oak tree growing between my neighbors' house and mine. A large branch is cracked and in danger of falling on my fence,I would like to lighten it up...
view the full question and answer

Looking for a redbud sized tree to plant in Tulsa OK.
September 27, 2011 - I am looking for a native tree about the size of a redbud to place in my prairie bed in Tulsa Oklahoma, wildlife friendly trees preferred, thanks!
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center