Why Does My Tree Only Have Leaves on One Side?

Why Does My Tree Only Have Leaves on One Side?

One of the best parts of summer? Relaxing beneath trees’ cool, shady canopy.

But if your tree has no leaves on one side, your favorite summer spot looks far less appealing. Even worse, your tree is likely suffering.

What could be causing the lack of leaves?

Our reader, Jim, recently asked this question. “Half of one of my maple trees has leaves. The other half looks like it started, but then there is nothing. Is this normal due to a long winter? Is there a problem, or is the tree dying?”

Like Jim, you may be wondering why your tree is growing this way. Below we explore causes and solutions for trees not leafing out.

Only half of my maple tree has leaves. Is this a sign of maple decline?

Reduced leaf growth is a sign of a declining maple tree.

Other symptoms of maple tree dieback include:

  • Reduced twig growth

  • Small, dead branches in the upper tree canopy in late spring or early summer

  • Dead, brittle or decaying roots

  • Fall colored maple leaves in July or August

Over time, larger and more visible dead branches will appear, causing crown dieback in maple trees.

What causes trees to only have leaves on one side?

Consider what your tree was exposed to before its lack of leaf growth: Harsh weather? Insufficient planting space? A nearby construction project?

If your pre-construction planning didn't account for the safety of your trees, they could suffer. Construction damage can cause soil compaction and/or root damage to the tree.

Sparse leaves are also linked to abnormally cold winter temperatures and soil moisture. For example, frozen soil and frigid winds could cause one side of the tree to suffer more injury. A weakened tree is also more susceptible to diseases and pests.

Another cause of canopy thinning is girdling roots—which wrap around other roots or the tree’s trunk and cut off the flow of water and nutrients. When nutrient uptake is compromised, you’ll see the effects in the tree’s canopy.

What are the solutions for a tree that does not leaf out?

Be sure to treat your trees with water, fertilizer and pruning as part of their plant health care program.

Dig deeper into the best solution for your tree by requesting a tree inspection. Your local arborist will pinpoint the specific cause of tree decline and recommend treatment.

In the meantime, comment below with questions about leafless trees or tree decline. We’ll have an answer for you soon!  

  • The Tree Doctor May 21, 2018 >Hi Jeri, The desiccating winds may have contributed to drying out the twigs, especially if some other issue exists with the tree’s vascular system. It would be difficult to provide an accurate diagnosis without seeing the tree first hand. I recommend you contact a certified arborist in your area. He or she can look at your tree and provide an accurate diagnosis and management options. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area. Here is a resource that may help with hiring a credible tree service company or arborist in your area: http://www.davey.com/arborist-advice/articles/hiring-a-tree-service-provider-or-an-arborist/. Here if you have any more questions, Jeri.
  • The Tree Doctor May 21, 2018 >Hi Bobbi, It depends on how much of the diameter of the tree was girdled by the ribbon. The girdle cuts off the vascular connections between the crown and the root system. I would recommend you contact a certified arborist in your area. He or she can look at your tree and provide an accurate diagnosis and management options. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area. Here is a resource that may help you on your search: http://www.davey.com/arborist-advice/articles/hiring-a-tree-service-provider-or-an-arborist/. Here if you have any more questions, Bobbi.
  • Jeri Motsick May 18, 2018 >Last summer's strong, hot Iowa winds (daily, for an extended period of time) caused our young golden maple tree to have it's leaves on the s-w side to dry & fall off. This year there are about 3 leaves on these bare branches. Rest of the tree is beautifully leafed out. The tree is about 8' tall & we planted it 3 yrs. ago. Thanks for any help...
  • Bobbi Rumbaugh May 17, 2018 >I tied a ribbon on my thundercloud tree as it was growing in honor of the fallen police officers. Now it looks as if I choked it out and pulled the ribbon off this summer. I only have half the tree growing now, will I have to cut it down or will it come around. Please help as I love this tree
  • Brice Koepp April 2, 2018 >We planted a Florida maple tree here in Central Florida in early spring. It was in a 15 gallon container. When we planted it it was bear with no leaves. It has plush green leaves on one side of the tree and nothing on the other side. We watered it consistently in the beginning stages. I would love to send a photo for you to take a look and give an opinion on why this is happening. Thank you!
  • The Tree Doctor October 4, 2017 >Hi Marianne. Try snapping one of the twigs to see if the tree is still green. If its green, then the tree is still alive and may recover with proper care. Unfortunately, if the tree is dry and brittle, and many of the twigs are this way, the tree may not recover. Hopefully about 70% of the tree is living and green. Sometimes trees can have transplant for the first 3-5 years after being established. Try watering the tree with a soaker hose, but be careful not to overwater. You can also try mulching the tree. Hope this helps, Marianne!
  • Marianne Bunn September 28, 2017 >I planted a new maple tree 2 years ago. It was a bear root tree. The first year it grew leaves on one side. This year there were a few buds, we had a freeze and they died. Finally it got about 3 stalks of leaves, but only coming out of the ground. There are no leaves on the branches.
  • The Tree Doctor May 26, 2017 >Hi Sheila. Great question, and there's an easy way to tell if your tulip tree branches are alive or dead. Use your fingernail to scrape back the bark on the twig. If it’s brown without any green, it's dead and won’t come back. If the twig is green, that means it's alive and could leaf out again. Hope this helps, Sheila.
  • Sheila C May 1, 2017 >If I have branch dieback from Tulip Tree scale, will those limbs ever leaf out again or do tgey need to be cut off?
  • The Tree Doctor June 30, 2016 >Hi there, Tim. Glad to hear you're looking out for your ash trees. Sorry to hear two other trees in your yard look like they're struggling. I've passed along your request to your local arborist, so they should be reaching out soon. If you want to contact them directly, give them a ring at 303.214.0383 or fill out this form: davey.com/local-offices/north-denver-tree-service/#main-form. Happy to help you care for your trees, Tim.
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