Why Is My Japanese Maple Tree Dying?

Japanese Maples are beautiful, and they are hardy to the UK climate. They are popular with homeowners because they are seen as easy to grow, and experienced and inexperienced gardeners will enjoy growing them while reaping great results! However, things happen, and you may notice your Japanese Maple looking worse or even dying. What causes one to die? Well, let’s look at some reasons a Japanese maple dies and what to do about it. 

Japanese Maples are known to die after transplanting due to shock. However, these trees can die from root rot, alkaline soil, poor site location, wind, sun, fungal diseases, or insufficient water. If a Japanese Maple is planted too deep, it may show signs of dying. Incorrect fertilizing could also kill a Japanese Maple.

It could be discouraging to see your Japanese Maple tree dying, but as soon as you can figure out why, the sooner you can work to revive it. Continue reading to find out the main causes. 

Signs Your Japanese Maple Is Dying

If you want to determine if your Japanese Maple tree might be dying, all it takes is a quick look at the leaves. When a Japanese maple is sick or dying, the foliage will become yellow or brown, making it look burnt. 

In addition to the discolored foliage, your Japanese Maple may also lose many leaves. It will shed its leaves starting from the bottom until the top. 

You may also notice its branches weakening, breaking off at the slightest wind. 

All these are symptoms of a dying Japanese Maple, but what could cause them?

Reasons For A Dying Japanese Maple

Although Japanese Maple Trees are strong, some things can contribute to them losing their resiliency and beginning to deteriorate. 

Let’s look at the reasons why your Japanese Maple Tree might be dying:

Transplant Issues

Japanese Maples are known to die due to transplant shock. While it is possible to transplant them, you must know when and how to move them. 

Make sure the tree is at least two years old before attempting to move it to a new place. This ensures the root system is established and can withstand the stress of the move and new environment. 

It’s best to transplant your tree in the early spring, as it will be dormant, and allow it to adapt to the new condition once it starts growing again. 

Transplanting your Japanese Maple tree if it’s damaged or during the summer or late spring will cause it to die. 

Avoid moving a Japanese maple during hot, dry weather or the tree’s active growing season, from late April to early September. 

Root Rot

Due to Japanese Maple Trees’ origin, they have gotten used to growing in soils rich in compost, leaf mold, and other organic matter. 

These soil types have an aerated structure that absorbs moisture incredibly well while allowing any extra water to drain. 

If a Japanese Maple is grown in pots without drainage or soils that drain too slowly, paired with overwatering, it could cause them to develop root rot and die. 

To determine if your tree is suffering from root rot, look for grey, yellow, brown, or grey-colored leaves and wilting and dying branches.

If this is the case, you must remove contaminated soil from the tree’s foundation and trim any dead or injured roots. 

Alkaline Soil

Generally, most soil types will be neutral, but some places have alkaline soil. If a Japanese Maple tree is planted in such soil, it will die if not corrected. 

Alkaline soil cannot provide the Japanese Maple tree with enough minerals that it needs for photosynthesis. This is because alkaline soil contains pH levels above 7, meaning it has high levels of magnesium, calcium, and sodium. 

Sweet soil, also known as alkaline soil, will cause discoloring of the trees, stunted growth, and make them look sickly. 

The best soil for a Japanese maple tree is one with an acidic pH level between 6.0 to 6.5. 

Planted Incorrectly

When a Japanese Maple Tree is improperly planted, it could lead to stunting in growth and loss of their leaves, and if the matter isn’t corrected, it could lead to its death. 

When a Japanese Maple is planted too deep, it may cause the trunk and roots to be buried. 

This will cause the trunk to rot under the soil, killing the tree from the bottom and working its way to the top. When transplanting the tree, dig a hole twice the size of the root ball. This will ensure the root is below the surface but not deep to damage it. 

Too Much Wind

Because Japanese Maple trees used to grow only in the canopy of forests, they do not do well in especially windy areas. 

If your Japanese Maple is planted in an unshielded area that frequently gets a lot of wind, it could increase water loss leaf loss and result in them becoming so weak that they wilt and die.

Too Much Sun Exposure

As we mentioned above, Japanese Maples are used to growing only in forest canopies. This means they have adapted to these shaded areas. 

If your Japanese Maple tree is planted in an exposed area with intense sunlight, it could dehydrate its leaves. 

If this is the case with your Japanese Maple, you will notice the leaves looking burned with a brownish appearance.


When a Japanese Maple doesn’t get sufficient water, it will die due to dehydration, just like any other tree. 

If you suspect dehydration is the problem, gently run your finger on a single leaf. Dehydrated leaves will crumble or fall off due to the lack of water. 

Japanese maple trees prefer moist, well-draining soil. They do not need a lot of water, and depending on where you live, you may not need to water. 

You’ll need to water during drought periods when the soil becomes dry. 

Incorrect Fertilizing

Japanese Maple trees do not require additional fertilizer if planted in high-quality soil with organic matter. Organic soil contains living and dead microorganisms that play a crucial role in the growth of plants and trees. 

Some of the well-known brands of organic soils are; Dr. Earth, Miracle-Gro, FoxFarm, etc. 

If you fertilize your Japanese Maple tree, it should be done cautiously. 

Too much fertilizer could cause their leaves to become scorched and adopt a yellow or brown color. If you continue applying fertilizer while noticing these signs, it could kill your Japanese Maple tree in months.

Final Word

Japanese Maple trees are not difficult to care for as long as you know their needs. Now that you know the symptoms and the reasons, you are one step ahead of reviving your Japanese Maple to make it thrive again!

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