Bare Armstrong Maple

Ashburn, VA

We just planted two Armstrong maple trees, with six inch caliper and height upto 20ft.
As you can see in the picture, one of them looks bare on the side. The nursery that sold us those trees told us that it is normal as trees grow in tight spaces in nurseries, and they will thrive after planting in the ground.

Do you think that's true? Do you think this tree will grow in a neat, dense symmetrical shape? Do you think I need to prune the height so that it can grow dense? I understand that I can not prune for one year after planting. Should I consult somebody next year for pruning the height?


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Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Hi, earthgal:

You don't say that it is possible to get your money back, and never again hire such a nursery or landscape contractor as would sell you such an inferior quality plant with a straight face - and try to bluff through a justification. You should at least report your dissatisfaction in writing to these vendors, as well as to any professional organization to which they belong. You live in an area that has scores of plant professionals producing high quality plants equivalent to this species- you shouldn't have to settle for garbage.

I am going to give you a clinical answer.

It is normal for trees to have bare sides that are grown too closely together for too long a time, and sold at large sizes. Your nursery did NOT tell you this is bad non-standard nursery practice.

Trees grown to be sold at 6" caliper should have a 60-72" diameter rootball on them when dug and delivered for planting (10-12" diameter of rootball per trunk caliper inch) . At that size ball per tree, the trunks for each tree in-ground in the nursery should have been a MINIMUM of twelve feet apart. Specimen trees grown to this size (and cared for throughout their life in the nursery) are far more normally placed on 15-20' spacings, so that a dense full crown can be developed before it is dug and sold.

Your trees don't appear to have that big a root ball, but your pictures are not particularly clear on that point. You appear to have a newly constructed house, which means you probably have highly disturbed and compacted soils. These are poor conditions to establish ANY kind of plant, much less ones that are very large, highly stressed from loss of roots after transplantation, and not particularly well-grown in the nursery before you received them.

There should be AT LEAST twelve inches radius of loosened soil OUTSIDE the perimeter of the planted rootball in your yard, so that there is plenty of loose soil for new roots of your maple to exploit for moisture and nutrients. I will not be surprised if you report back that the hole is barely larger than the ball in it, or that the ball is far undersized from the industry standard for that trunk caliper. These problems tend to come in droves...

I would not "prune the height" on your Armstrong Maple trees. If you cannot have them removed and replaced at no additional charge - or better, get your money back from these scoundrels and find a reputable firm to do this work (AND LOOK AT WHAT YOU ARE PAYING A LOT OF MONEY FOR BEFORE IT ARRIVES IN YOUR YARD), then I would interview and then hire a licensed and certified arborist involved in tree care (not simply tree removal) who has International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) membership. A person like this can advise you on tree care moving forward, so that your maples have a good chance at survival as well as thrifty new growth.

Ashburn, VA

Thanks ViburnumValley for taking the time to send a detailed response!

I lost my detailed reply I was typing :(

I'll reply again over the weekend.

Thanks again! Happy 4th of July.

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Unfortunately, that happens sometimes. Got me too, on a different thread.

I sometimes drop back into a Word document to compose, and then cut/paste into the site to avoid such losses. Shouldn't have to do that, but it gives time for contemplation, editing, and commitment to complex messages.

Happy to help resolve tree issues. I've been around this block a couple of times, and have plenty more to talk about as you see fit to require information.

Ashburn, VA

So, the nursery guy replaced the tree above after it died. This time we went for a sub 10ft tree since they don't have taller trees with a decent root ball.

They replaced it yesterday, the leaves looked healthy when we went to choose it ten days back.

Please let us know if we are overwatering the tree? Shall I take it easy for a day? The temperature in my area is 93 today and it is in full sun.

I was not home at the time of planting. My husband says he is 99% sure that the leaves were not this bad at the time of planting.

Another Armstrong maple 20ft tree from the same nursery seems to be doing fine.

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Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)


Ask your husband if he noticed if the tree was covered/wrapped with a tarp when it arrived to be planted at your home. That image looks like wind-beaten foliage from riding down the road uncovered.

You should thoroughly soak the rootball and planting hole soil about twice a week, in temps like that. If the rootball dries out, tree dies - because that's where all the roots are that are supporting that foliage.

Ashburn, VA

This is how it looks today. Does this look like it is not going to make it?

My husband says that the tree was covered/wrapped with a tarp, but the roots were bare. The leaves looked healthy, but the root ball is just roots.

We watered it yesterday, the soil is still moist.

I don't want to deal with this nursery guy anymore.

If this tree can't make it, can we go for an autumn blaze maple or other wide maple varieties? Our lot is narrow( about 30 feet wide) and has two Cleveland Select Pears on either ends. The main reason we went ahead with this nursery is that they carry Armstrong Maple where as other reputed nurseries do not. Are there any good maple varieties that can grow in this space?

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Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

Bare root - in August - in Virginia...

That's a lawsuit, in my estimation. I hope you don't invest any more money or confidence in that firm, either.

You may not like this opinion, but Callery Pears ('Cleveland Select' being one clone of that species) are garbage, AND invasive exotic pests to boot. I would plan on eliminating them from your landscape, and plant a real full sized shade tree that you really want instead of something artificially narrow to fit between those trash trees.

So - any size shade tree should be fine. Pick out your favorite for fall color, leaf texture, ultimate size, etc. - and as it grows to intersect with the pears, cut THEM down.

Ashburn, VA

Thanks for the advice. We initially started with maples, but the HOA didn't approve it. That's why we had to go for a pear tree last year. This year, they approved two maple trees, it's inconsistent, but I don't want to waste my time arguing with them. I am happy that they approved this year.

I will most probably go for a Red Maple brandywine from another reputed nursery.
An employee from this reputed nursery asked us to give it four weeks. He asked us to do a scratch test to see if it is green underneath the bark and it is. We'll wait for another three weeks and see how it will fare.

On another note, we are planning to get two fringe trees as they are native and medium sized.

Thanks for all your replies and expertise!

Scott County, KY(Zone 5b)

You are heading in a good and positive direction - Brandywine is present in my landscape, as is Fringe Tree. Kudos!

Perhaps you'll someday dive into political life and become part of an HOA which seems to really need a lot of horticultural help...

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