Why Does My Tree Have No Leaves on Top? (Maple, Birch and Ash)

Why Does My Tree Have No Leaves on Top? (Maple, Birch and Ash)

Seeing sun-kissed leaves flutter at the tippy top of our trees is one of the joys of summer!

Spotting leafless twigs is quite the opposite, and trees with no leaves on top are not just unattractive, they are likely in trouble.

Find out why trees of all kinds, including maple, birch, and ash, experience this and what you should do next.



Is my tree dead if it has no leaves on top?

If your tree has no leaves at the top, its life may be at stake. But, depending on the issue, you may be able help your tree live longer.

For most tree species, there are two common reasons why this happens. 

1. Verticillium wilt: This soil fungus causes leaves to drop, starting at the top of the tree. Upper leaves will wither, curl and turn brown while the rest of the tree appears perfectly healthy. Verticillium wilt​ affects maple trees most often but can also impact ash, elm, linden and redbud trees.

Next step: Have an arborist confirm. Unfortunately, fungicides and pruning only ease tree stress temporarily. It’s typically best to remove the tree, so the fungus doesn’t spread.

2. Girdling roots: These wrap around the trunk and essentially choke the tree by cutting off water flow to the top. In addition to tangled roots and leaf loss, you’ll see leaves with early fall color. Maples commonly get girdling roots, but many tree species can be affected as well.

Next step: Pruning girdled roots can relieve trees, but it’s a delicate process. If you remove an essential root, you can harm the tree. Because it’s such a tricky job, it’s best left to professionals

Why does my birch or ash tree not have leaves on top?

If you have a birch or ash tree, look for these symptoms in addition the above possibilities.

Birch tree with no leaves on top

Ash tree with no leaves on top

  • Most Common Cause: Emerald ash borer or EAB, a pest that exclusively affects ash trees
  • Symptoms: Chewed leaf tips, D-shaped holes in tree bark and S-shaped tunnels beneath bark
  • Treatment: If your tree is a good candidate for preservation, try one of these emerald ash borer treatment options.

Do your trees need an expert’s opinion? Click here to request a free tree inspection.

  • The Tree Doctor August 28, 2018 >Hi Carole, There are spray treatments and trunk injection treatments available that are supposed to suppress fruiting. Unfortunately, my experience has not proven them reliable. Properly timing the spray applications can be difficult and the trunk injections often make unsightly wounds at the injection point. I usually do not recommend them because clients are usually disappointed with the results. Your best bet may either be raking or perhaps using a shop vac to suck them up if that is possible. Another option would be to remove and replace the tree with another species, but that may not be acceptable. Hopefully, this helps. Best of luck to you, Carole.
  • The Tree Doctor August 28, 2018 >Hi Brian, I would recommend having a certified arborist come out and take a look at that tree. Because it is an ash, it is susceptible to Emerald Ash Borer so it is better to be safe and get it checked out. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service the area code that you provided. Here is a resource that can help you find a certified arborist or reputable tree service: http://www.davey.com/arborist-advice/articles/hiring-a-tree-service-provider-or-an-arborist/. Here is also a resource on Emerald Ash Borer, so you can see if your tree has any more of these symptoms: http://blog.davey.com/2016/05/the-101-on-emerald-ash-borer/. Best of luck to you, Brian.
  • Brian Doyle August 27, 2018 >My tree has branches growing out of the base with lots of healthy looking leaves but the top of the tree is bare. I have pictures that I can send to help diagnose if needed. I believe it's an Ash.
  • The Tree Doctor July 9, 2018 >Hi John, Late or no spring leaf out can result from many issues. Early fall or late spring freezes, drought, or harsh winter conditions can result in bud death, forcing the tree to develop replacement buds, which requires additional time to accomplish. If the entire tree does not leaf out, this often indicates a potential issue with the tree’s roots system, which is not supplying the water/nutrients necessary to initiate Spring growth. I recommend contacting a certified arborist and having them come out to take a look at the tree. They will be able to accurately diagnose the issue and prescribe a treatment plan accordingly. You can contact your local Davey office directly at (303) 515-7492. You can also fill out and complete a quick form to request a free consultation here: http://www.davey.com/local-offices/east-denver-tree-service/#main-form. Best of luck to you! Here if you have any more questions, John.
  • John Teeter July 5, 2018 >Last year my sugar maple tree had leaves. Thus year, none except for branch and leaf growth on the trunk at the bottom. What can I do to help my tree?
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