Harmed Japanese Maple?

I'd welcome any opinions or predictions about one of my maples which I've worried about since late last autumn. I'd read about "sudden death syndrome" in Japanese maples, & worried I was going to experience this when the usual brilliantly red autumn colors were a grubby rusty brown, then all the leaves dried out very suddenly on the limbs without falling -- even right this minute in March, some of last year's dead leaves cling to the branches. In four years this never happened before; it always had leaves as red as a red crayon, then they fell off before they even lost the bright color.
I watched the tree through the winter with a feeling of great sadness, thinking it might be dead. But now it has new buds all over it, proving that after all it's not dead.
Last year we had some very hot droughty weeks in summer, even a few record-breaking days during a heatwave. The tree didn't seem to mind -- until it's poor autumn performance, when it was nice & rainy. I still worry it may be a doomed tree, because I'd never before noticed any Japanese maple with dried out leaves that never fell off.
Anyone experience anything similar? Does the behavior suggest a specific problem I could do something about, or guard against in the future, or is there nothing to be done, or am I over-worrying or what? I was frankly preparing myself to admit it was dead, & now that its budding for re-leaf I have my hopes up for it.
-paghat the ratgirl
--
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
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snipped-for-privacy@netscapeSPAM-ME-NOT.net (paghat) wrote:

hi paghat-
I have 11 J.maples in my garden and one of them (a lace leaf that was here before i was) has always had some clinging dried leaves through the winter. They fall off when the new leaves knock them out of the way in the spring. This year, though, I have another one - a very small one - that also has a few dried leaves still hanging on it. I was just worrying about it yesterday. It went through an otherwise-normal fall color, but it never held any leaves through the winter before.
I hope someone else will chime in, but I'm betting it's nothing to worry about. Mine's budding up, too, so I think it's fine. Maybe there was an unusual dearth of wind last fall. Heh.
BTW, my little black swan beech is budding up nicely, too... whoo hoo!
sam z/8 pnw
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I have two maples in the front yard here in the SF Bay Area - a large green and a smaller red. The red never seems to drop its leaves in fall...those dried leaves are still hanging when the new leaves bud out in spring. It is a healthy tree, albeit very slow growing.

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As you have noticed, this past season was a tough one for Japanese maples in our climate and many have suffered some dieback, most of it slight. The thing with the leaves has a relatively simple (and harmless) explanation. Most of the Puget Sound area experienced a sharp freeze very early in the fall, early October as I recall. This came before many trees in our area had fully changed color and before many leaves had started to fall - the leaves actually froze on the trees and have remained to a large extent. It happened with several of my maples and with a smoke bush that held onto its leaves until unnaturally late December. Winter winds have removed most of them by now, but often the very twiggy growth of J. maples, specially the smaller laceleaf forms, catches and retains the foliage.
As long as you notice the buds swelling, you should be OK. The "sudden death syndrome", aka verticillium wilt, usually doesn't manifest itself until the active growing season, with either select branches that fail to leaf out or visible wilting of entire branches. Not necessarily very 'sudden' also - it can be a gradual decline, but in either case, I doubt that is a problem you need to worry about if you see buds swelling.
pam - gardengal
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And bear in mind that the timing of budding varies quite a bit.
I have various palmatums opening leaves now, and a tschonoskii, but griseum, for instance is later and its hard to tell if the darned thing is still kicking unless you scratch the bark to see if it is green underneath.
If you are worried about it, scratch the bark with your fingernail - green cambium means you are still a going concern.
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Last fall I read an article in our local newspaper about this subject. It said not to worry if the trees hold on to their leaves this year (2003). It happens because the cold weather in the fall came on too fast and the trees didn't have time to respond by their leaves changing colors and falling. They went into dormancy right away to protect themselves, and this was a result. They will eventually lose their leaves, but it definitely wasn't in time to rake them before the snows. Over the winter, the trees have slowly been dropping their leaves, but some still hang on.
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Thanks to Sam Lawrence Tresh & Bill for helpful replies, & anyone else whose reply may show up later -- & especially to Pam for the explanation of what causes JM leaves in some years to very occasionally not fall off come autumn.
I wish I'd asked earlier so I wouldn't've been worrying myself over the tree throughout the winter!
-paghat the ratgirl
--
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
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