Japanese Maple Leaves Turning Brown: 9 Causes & Solutions

Japanese maple trees are highly coveted among gardening enthusiasts for their vibrant and diverse colors.

They are not difficult to care for if planted correctly in an ideal spot, but these trees are not immune to problems either.

It can be quite disheartening to see the leaves of these beautiful trees turning brown, and gardeners are often at a loss when trying to determine what is wrong

The browning of Japanese maple leaves can be attributed to a variety of factors including leaf scorch, seasonal changes, drought conditions, overwatering, poor soil and fertilization issues, chemical burn, pest infestations, diseases, and environmental stress.

While it’s helpful to know the broad reasons behind the browning of your Japanese maple leaves, understanding each cause in detail can equip you with the knowledge to correct the problem and prevent any issues in the future.

Key Takeaways

  • Browning of Japanese maple leaves can result from various factors, including environmental stress, pests, diseases, and improper care.
  • Adequate watering, protection from harsh conditions, and regular pest checks can help maintain your tree’s health.
  • Balanced fertilization and well-draining, slightly acidic soil are crucial for the tree’s well-being.
  • For severe issues, consult a professional arborist or local extension service for diagnosis and treatment.

Japanese maples, like other trees, are susceptible to various kinds of problems. I go over the most common issues in this article 16 Common Japanese Maple Problems: Causes & Easy Solutions.

Japanese Maple Leaves Turning Brown: Causes & Solutions

In the following, we explain the various reasons why your Japanese maple leaves might be turning brown.

Each cause is explained in detail, followed by practical solutions to help you restore your tree’s health and beauty.

1. Leaf Scorch

Leaf scorch is a common issue that results from excessive sunlight and inadequate water.

The leaves may appear brown or burnt with the browning often occurring between the leaf veins or along the leaf margins. The leaves may also curl up and look wilted.

Solution: To combat leaf scorch, ensure your Japanese maple is planted in a location with partial shade and is receiving adequate water, especially during hot, dry periods.

A layer of organic mulch can also help keep the soil cool and moist.

2. Seasonal Changes

As seasons change, so does the appearance of Japanese maple leaves. It’s natural for leaves to turn brown during fall as the tree prepares for winter.

This is part of the tree’s natural cycle and is not a cause for concern.

Solution: No action is required for seasonal changes. The tree will regain its vibrant colors in the spring.

3. Drought Conditions

Japanese maples are not 100% drought tolerant. Prolonged periods of dry conditions can cause the leaves to turn brown and crispy. The tree may also drop leaves prematurely in response to drought stress.

Solution: Regular watering is crucial during dry spells. Mulching around the base of the tree can help retain soil moisture.

4. Overwatering

Overwatering can lead to browning leaves — this is often a sign of root rot caused by waterlogged soil. The leaves may turn a darker color and feel soft and limp.

Solution: Ensure the tree is planted in quick-draining soil. Water the tree deeply but infrequently to encourage the roots to grow deeper into the soil.

5. Poor Soil & Fertilization Issues

Japanese maples prefer slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Poor soil conditions and overfertilization can lead to nutrient imbalances, causing the leaves to brown.

Overfertilization can also lead to a buildup of salts in the soil, which can burn the roots and lead to browning leaves.

Solution: Regular soil testing can help identify any nutrient imbalances. Use a slow-release, balanced fertilizer like this one specifically for Japanese maples, to avoid overfertilization.

6. Chemical Burn

Exposure to harsh chemicals, such as those found in weed killers or pesticides, can cause leaf burn. The leaves may develop brown spots or patches, and severe exposure can lead to leaf drop.

Solution: Avoid using harsh chemicals near your tree. If possible, opt for organic or tree-friendly alternatives.

7. Pest Infestations

Pests such as aphids and scale insects can cause damage leading to browning leaves. These pests suck the sap from the leaves, causing them to turn yellow and brown and eventually fall off.

Solution: Regularly inspect your tree for signs of pests. If an infestation is found, use an appropriate insecticide or consider introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs to your garden.

8. Disease

Various diseases, such as Verticillium wilt or leaf spot, can cause browning leaves.

Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne fungus that causes the leaves to wilt and turn brown. Leaf spot diseases can cause brown spots on the leaves, which may merge and cause the entire leaf to turn brown.

Solution: If you suspect a disease, consult with a local extension service or arborist for diagnosis and treatment options. It’s important to act quickly to prevent the disease from spreading to other parts of the tree or to other trees in your garden.

9. Environmental Stress

Extreme temperature changes, wind damage, pollution, and other environmental factors can cause stress to the tree, leading to browning leaves.

For example, sudden frost can cause the leaves to turn brown, and wind damage can cause physical damage to the leaves, leading to browning.

Solution: Plant your tree in a protected location and provide proper care to help it withstand environmental stress. Regular watering, mulching, and proper fertilization can help your tree stay healthy and resilient.

Red and yellow leaves on a Japanese maple tree in autumn.

How To Tell if Japanese Maple Is Dying

Identifying the signs of a dying Japanese maple tree early can make a significant difference in its recovery. Here are some key indicators to watch out for:

  1. Severe Leaf Browning or Leaf Drop: While it’s normal for leaves to turn brown and fall off during autumn, excessive browning or leaf drop at other times of the year can be a sign of a serious problem. Look for leaves that are browning at the edges, curling up, or falling off prematurely.
  2. Dead Branches: Dead or dying branches are another sign of a distressed tree. These branches may have brown leaves or no leaves at all, and the wood may be dry and brittle.
  3. Lack of New Growth: A healthy tree should produce new growth each spring. If your Japanese maple is not producing new leaves or branches, it may be in distress.
  4. Discolored or Peeling Bark: The bark of a Japanese maple should be relatively smooth and have a consistent color. If you notice discoloration, peeling, or patches of missing bark, this could be a sign of disease or pest infestation.
  5. Root Rot: If the tree is overwatered or planted in poorly draining soil, it can develop root rot. Signs of root rot include a musty smell coming from the soil, mushrooms growing at the base of the tree, or black mushy roots.
  6. Poor Overall Appearance: If the tree has a general appearance of ill health, such as a lack of vigor, reduced growth, or a thinning canopy, it may be dying.

Related Questions:

Do Japanese Maples Lose Their Leaves in the Fall?

Yes, like all deciduous trees, Japanese maples lose their leaves in the fall. This is a natural process as the tree prepares for winter. Once spring returns, you’ll start to see new leaves emerging.

How Do You Revive a Dying Japanese Maple Tree?

Reviving a dying Japanese maple involves identifying the cause of the tree’s distress and addressing it.

This may involve adjusting watering practices, amending soil, treating for pests or diseases, or protecting the tree from harsh environmental conditions.

In severe cases, it may be beneficial to consult with a professional arborist.

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