Prized tree suffering slow death

By Nickel LaFleur
Anchorage, AK (August 23, 2007)- Q. Our once-thriving 15-year-old Amur cherry tree started fading last summer and this summer seems all but dead. It barely leafed out, quickly bloomed, and then all the leaves fell off. A local tree consultant says he’s seen several cherries do this the past couple of years, and he doesn’t know why. He’s suggesting cutting it down. Anybody else having the same problem or know what’s causing it?

A. The Amur chokecherry (Prunus maackii) is revered for its flaky golden-brown bark, and the small, fragrant white flowers in the spring are a bonus to having the tree in your landscape. This extremely hardy tree can get up to 45 feet tall given its full potential. I’m sorry to hear about what appears to be the slow demise of your chokecherry. Here are a few suggestions.
First, hire an International Society of Aboriculture-certified arborist to come to your location to do a field inspection. Arborists on this list must stay abreast of issues concerning trees and should be able to give you a better diagnosis than “seen it but don’t know why.”
It sounds like your chokecherry may have a root problem. Trees, unlike flowering annuals, take years to die, which yours may be trying to do. Perhaps when it was planted it was left in burlap (“balled and burlap” or B&B) or in a metal cage, or it was left too long in a container and the roots have become girdled, stopping the tree’s ability to grow.
Perhaps there has been construction in the area (remember, tree roots spread out a long way from the trunk) and the roots were injured and compacted. Perhaps some toxins entered the soil around the tree and are poisoning it. Perhaps there is an insect, a rodent, moose or something else causing the once-thriving tree to fade.
The Alaska Community Forestry Program has a brochure called “Diagnosing Tree Health Problems” with a checklist. For the time being, give your tree lots of water so it may go into winter dormancy with as much moisture for the roots as possible. And find the cause of the problem before allowing the tree to be cut down.
Related Resources:
Anchorage Daily News
Alaska Community Forestry Council
Find an ISA arborist