Deciduous Tree Leafing Problems: Why Won’t My Tree Leaf Out?

tree-no-leaves
Image by Claire Murphy

By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Deciduous trees are trees that lose their leaves at some point during the winter. These trees, especially fruit trees, require a period of dormancy brought about by colder temperatures in order to thrive. Deciduous tree leafing problems are common and can evoke anxiety in homeowners who become fearful that their favorite trees will not recover. Diagnosing trees not leafing out is not an easy task and one that follows a process of elimination.

Why Won’t My Tree Leaf Out?

Trees not leafing out? A tree with no leaves when spring comes indicates a tree in some degree of distress. It is best to do a thorough investigation before jumping to any conclusions regarding the lack of growth.

A tree with no leaves can be attributed to bud issues. If the tree has some leaves, begin your assessment of buds that never broke. If you cut into the bud and it is brown and dead, it is an indication that it has been dead quite a long time. If the bud is brown on the inside but still green on the outside, the damage is probably due to cold damage.

You can also check the branches to see if they are still alive. If there are many buds dead, but the branch is alive, then the tree has been suffering for some time. The problem could be due to stress or a root problem.

Suspect disease when there are no buds at all. Verticillium wilt, caused by a fungus, is common in maples and can be diagnosed if the wood is streaked. Unfortunately, there are no controls for this problem.

Some trees, like fruit trees, fail to leaf out simply because they did properly chill over the winter.

How to Get a Tree to Grow Leaves

How to get a tree to grow leaves is not a simple task and is typically dependent on the reason behind the leafing out problem. The best way to get a tree to grow leaves is to practice proper care and maintenance. Following a regular watering, feeding and pruning schedule will ensure that trees remain as healthy as possible.

Proper irrigation will sometimes help promote health in a tree that is suffering stress. Taking up grass and other vegetation around the tree also helps to reduce the competition for nutrients and is a profitable practice for keeping trees vital.

Some things, however, cannot be controlled, such as the weather.

Getting Professional Help for a Tree With No Leaves

If you have trees that have not leafed out, it is always best to seek the guidance of an expert before making any decisions on treatment. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office for help with diagnosis and treatment for deciduous tree leafing problems.

This article was last updated on

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