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 June 25, 2018 >Hi Rebecca, Recently planted trees sometimes take a little longer to get going in the spring. They also tend to be more susceptible to weather fluctuations compared to established trees because they have fewer roots because of the transplanting process. Check the twigs where there are no leaves yet. If you scratch the bark and the twigs are still green, give them a little more time. If they are brown or faded green/yellow, they may not have survived their first winter. I suggest you document the tree in photos and take them to the nursery where you purchased the tree. It may still be under warranty depending on your source. Hopefully, this helps! Here if you have any more questions, Rebecca.
  • Rebecca Royce June 22, 2018 >My maple tree is in its second year and it has leaves spring out from the ground as well as the bottom half of the branches, but the top half of the branches are bare. Should we prune the top branches that have no leaves?
  • The Tree Doctor June 1, 2018 >Hi Joanne, It sounds like you have some decay in the trunk that is affecting water and nutrient flow between the canopy and root system. The sawdust would suggest there are carpenter ants taking advantage of the decayed wood as well. 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. I could send this information to your local Davey Tree office if you’d like. You can also call them directly at (330) 968-2548. You can also fill out a quick consultation request form on their local webpage here: http://www.davey.com/local-offices/akron-tree-service-and-lawn-service/#main-form. Best of luck to you! Here if you have any more questions, Joanne.
  • Joanne Hagy May 30, 2018 >We have a maple tree that has very slow leaf development and no leaves on some sides. It also has what looks to be wet sawdust at the base of the trunk. We do not want to lose this very old tree and need some recommendations.
  • The Tree Doctor May 29, 2018 >Hi Eileen, I highly recommend that you have a certified arborist come out and take a look at that tree. They will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis once they inspect the tree in person. I could send this information to your local office if you want me to. You can call your local Davey office at (905) 529-5795. You can also fill out a consultation request form on their local webpage here: http://www.daveytree.ca/hamilton. Hopefully, this helps! Here if you have any more questions, Eileen.
  • Eileen Healey May 28, 2018 >I have a 3 yr old Manitoba redbud that has very small, stunted leaves and no spring blooms. It bloomed once but then they all fell off. It hasn't been healthy since the first year but I don't want to give up on it! What can I do?
  • 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
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