Help, peeling bark and no leaf growth on very large, old red japanese maple!

I live in NY, Long Island and have a very large and old Red Japanese Maple that last summer had leaves on only parts of the tree, and now it seems to have peeling bark. Took a sample to the Cornell Cooperative Extension, they said if have verticilium wilt should see it in tree sample-didn't see it. Asked if lawn sprayer guy accidently sprayed tree, they said no. We haven't had major construction or line work in area, so- not sure how much to water or fertilize but first 2 years in house no problems, except for last year! Everyone wants several hundred just to see the tree with no guarnetees! Does anyone have experience with these larger trees in this area-climate-we really want to save this beautiful specimen?
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On 9 Mar 2006 11:39:52 -0800

How large is very large? How old is very old? Does it have good buds for this year? That last is the most important; if no, it's too late. Has it had a change to its light situation, like a neighbor tree removed?
Have you tested the soil? Perhaps the previous owners were doing maintenance.
Of course no one will guarantee that they can cure your tree before seeing it. If it is a fungal outbreak it may be already too late. Another fungus that attacks japanese maples is fusarium. Although rarer than verticillium it has a similar effect. Neither fungus is all that common on well established trees.
Was there any kind of mold on the leaves? Maybe Botrytis.
Here's what I would do. First give it a wash, while still dormant, with a tar oil based spray. Treat the soil with a benomyl-based fungicide at regular intervals. If benomyl is illegal find the substitute. Let it leaf out, when (if) the leaves are reasonably mature treat with Bordeaux mixture every 3 weeks.
Don't water. Mulch the base to the crown edge with peat.
Oh, and if I were you, I'd pay a qualified tree specialist to look at it. Nothing is going to replace experience on the ground. The tree is worth basically priceless, because as you describe it, it can't be replaced in your life time.
Good luck.
-E
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Emery Davis
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