Leaf Tatter

Leaf tatter on certain varieties of trees has caused them to look as if they are diseased, sick or being attacked by insects.  For the last several weeks I have taken a steady stream of calls about trees that are looking bad.  The calls started coming in a couple of days after we had 2 consecutive days of heavy spring winds in the 40 to 50 mph range.

The good news is that if your tree is suffering from leaf tatter, it is very unlikely the tree will die.  The bad news is that the tree may look bad for the rest of the 2009 growing season, but will come back strong next year.

Leaf tatter occurs when tender spring leaves are abused by heavy winds.  Hour after hour of violent wind creates tiny cracks or tears in the leaves.  A few days later these areas turn black, and later brown and crispy.  Much of the leaf tissue may be alive, but the damaged cells eventually just fall off, leaving a tattered leaf that has holes that might lead you to think insects were chewing holes in the leaves.

Red Maples such as Northwood, Autumn Spire, Red Sunset and Burgundy Belle are the most susceptible to leaf tatter.  Newly planted hybrids of Red Maple and Silver Maple also can be vulnerable to leaf tatter.  Once the hybrids such as Autumn Blaze Maple and Sienna Maple have been established for 2 or 3 growing seasons leaf tatter is much less common.  The trees have grown larger root systems and the larger volume of roots allows the tree to more rapidly thicken the tissue of the leaves to a thickness that is able to resist cracking in heavy winds.

This year the violent winds in mid to late May came from the south/southwest.  If your sad looking tree looks worse on the south side than on the north side, it is probably leaf tatter that caused the damage.

If you see new growth emerging from the tattered areas, and we don’t get bad winds for several weeks, and the new leaves look normal, then the damage your tree experienced was leaf tattering.

To help a tree work past the leaf tatter, water it heavily once a week and fertilize with Miracle Grow once every three weeks.  Apply no fertilizer after August 20th, so the tree can use up the fertilizer and go dormant at the right time in the fall. 

I have also shared this blog with the website at the Northfield News.