Treating Iron Chlorosis in Maple Trees

June 19, 2008


I haven’t exactly had good success planting trees in my yard. It’s not that trees don’t grow well, it’s mostly that the little trees are under constant attack, from every angle. I’ve planted about three dozen trees at various places on this property. Only 10 or 11 have survived. Reasons for their problems have been pests, flooding, severe frost, disease, and the neighbors’ children. The destruction of my trees from flooding and by the children are what have irked me the most, I guess.

Our house used to be a parsonage. The property was “public” for several decades, and was treated like a public park, for better or for worse. When we bought the place, the yard was overgrown and in bad shape, and so was the house. It took a few years before some of the neighbors realized that NO you can’t go tearing around the lawn on your motorcycles anymore; NO you can’t eat your ice cream cones in my front yard and leave your garbage. I started planting trees and building flowerbeds; next thing I know, some of the little kids (4, 5 years old) are tearing around my backyard, sawing my baby Colorado blue spruce trees. I went to the grandmother, who laughed and said she had given her grandsons some saws to play with, and were just playing “lumberjack.” Funny thing is, they played lumberjack on MY trees but not on HER trees. ?!?! She offered to replace them should they die (they did) but has not made good on her “promise.” Oh well.

Flooding is another problem. Flooding has been occurring on and off for several years here. I won’t get into the problems associated with that; let’s just say my town board has some serious fixes ahead of them (over-development, negligence, etc).

There are two certain parts of my yard that flood during any heavy rainfall. It did not used to happen, but changes in the neighbor’s topography altered the water course. (Home-ownership has been quite an effort for us).

I have had to adjust my garden flowers accordingly by finding water-loving plants that don’t mind getting their feet wet. However, there’s a beautiful young Red Maple tree in the bed, and this I cannot move. But the constant water problems have been affecting its health. For three years, it’s been afflicted with iron chlorosis, an iron deficiency that is usually due to alkaline soil. The Maple never had any problems for its first three years, so I strongly suspect that the constant flooding is eroding nutrients.

After some intensive research, I found a way to treat the tree– and this year with its new leaves, I’ve seen that it’s been successful!

Iron chlorosis is a condition where leaves turn yellow but the leaf veins are dark green. With this condition, the plant is slowly starving to death, because it cannot produce chlorophyll. (Iron is necessary to produce chlorophyll). Slowly, affected leaves turn brown and wilt. This was already happening to my tree. This photo is exactly how my tree leaves looked.


Photo courtesy of Iowa State U.

I found that there are three ways to treat an affected tree:

1) Trunk injection. This is done by a professional. It is costly. It would be better for me to remove the tree and plant another elsewhere, since it would cost me less money.

2) Foliar spray. An iron-rich liquid is sprayed on the leaves for a quick fix. This is temporary and will need to be repeated. Usually it is done for “emergency” situation where the tree is in extreme stress. My tree hadn’t reached that point yet, but was getting there.

3) Soil treatment. This is where an iron-rich liquid (an iron chelate mix) is added directly to the soil.

I opted for #2 and 3. I purchased an iron chelate formula at my local farm supply store (it was about $7). I attached the bottle to my garden hose and sprayed the leaves for about two minutes. The next day, I dug small holes under the tree canopy, about 1 foot deep. The holes did not need to be wide, but they did need to be deep. One foot was as deep as I could get this time (I’ll use a post-hole digger next time). I made these holes all around the perimeter of the tree, about two feet apart. I dumped the rest of my iron chelate solution in each hole, and added water to the holes.

I did not see any results that year. The leaves remained yellow. But this year, all the new growth is beautiful. It’s green and lush!


If the soil remains alkaline (that is, if flooding continues), I will have to continue my iron chelate treatment every other year or so. There really isn’t any “cure” for iron chlorosis if the soil remains alkaline. You have to treat the tree on a continual basis. I’m thankful iron chelate is so inexpensive. I’ve heard “old wives’ tales” about leaving rusty nails and such in the soil… but I’ve dug up rusty nails and it isn’t pleasant. I’d rather use a liquid solution or something less dangerous than punching nails in my soil! I think there’s been enough junk dumped in the yard around here already!

If you’d like more information, see here and here.

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8 Responses to “Treating Iron Chlorosis in Maple Trees”

  1. naturehills Says:

    Very interesting read. The floodwaters are horrible around the country. I hope you can save your maple tree.

  2. Bonnie Story Says:

    Another great and interesting post!! I’m really impresssed with the recovery of your tree. Good job! The tree looks great and here’s hoping for the long haul.

    We have a sort of similar issue with “historically public” land use. We are surrounded by woods. Most of it is second-growth tree farm owned by various paper companies. What’s not owner by paper comapnies is owned by the Navy. Fine. Good. Well, people around here have been using the woods, via logging roads, for generations as a sort of “whatever” zone… including lots and lots of target shooting, and also poaching of game. “My grand-daddy did it, my daddy did and I’m a-gonna do it!!”” Well, there are lots of houses around now, so… hmmm. We are trying to lay back and be cool ‘cuz we are new here, but the shooting really is nerve-racking. Hopefully we will never have a reason to not be cool about it.

    Anyway, great job with the tree and too bad your neighbor is such a flake!! She should have not left things that way.

  3. heidi Says:

    I love planting trees but don’t have much luck either. Thanks for the tips and also on the paint cans! You are full of things I need to know!

  4. Mrs. M Says:

    Hi folks. Yes, there does seem to be a lot of flooding for the past decade or so! I suspect over-development (urban and suburban sprawl) and negligence of dredging waterways are to blame.

    I’m glad you liked the tips. šŸ˜€

  5. Pam Conklin Says:

    Thanks so much for this detailed information. I live in western NY in an old 1850’s farmhouse under continual renovation for the last 24 years. Our Norway maples are flourishing and the silver maples seem to be doing fine, but we have 4 swamp or sunset maples that look exactly like the first picture on your post. One of them is in serious trouble. You have given me hope!

  6. Mike Wisniewski Says:

    Can I ask what time of the year you did this treatment? Is it too late in the year to do it now? I have five maples on my property and they all seem to be suffering from iron chlorosis. Please advise if you happen to know. Thanks!

    • ARBORx Tree Enterprises Says:

      September is not too late with the Medi-Ject system. Cost is about $35,00 per tree and it is guaranteed for 3 years.