Will tree that didn’t drop its leaves in winter survive?

tree holding its leaves in spring
The wind was roaring when I took this photo last week, but the tree on the left was still tenaciously holding its leaves. Other trees in the area, like the one on the right, have already budded. Don’t worry, even if your tree hasn’t dropped its leaves, it will be okay. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I was chatting with one of my subscribers at Plantasia and she mentioned that she has seen trees– Japanese maples as well as other trees– that didn’t lose their leaves over the winter. The leaves are brown, but still attached.

“I’m scared because the trees don’t have buds yet,” she said.

I noticed the same thing in my neighborhood, so I talked to John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.

Don’t worry, Farfaglia said. Even if your tree is still holding its leaves, it will be fine. The tree does have buds; you just can’t see them because of the leaves.

“The trees will leaf out and they will be fine,” Farfaglia said. “By early May, any tree that is still holding its leaves will be shedding them.”

The Japanese maple is the best example of trees that didn’t drop their leaves this winter, but he also noticed it on Norway maples, barberries and hydrangeas.

Usually the trees go through a process that causes the leaves to detach, he explained, but in years with unusual weather patterns, the process can get disrupted.

This past year, we had cool weather early in the summer. In late summer, instead of cooling off, the weather was warm.

“So some trees didn’t go through that natural process to drop their leaves,” Farfaglia said, “but it will happen. The leaves will shed and the tree will bud.”

There’s some speculation that Japanese maples naturally lose their leaves later than other trees do because in their native habitat, they are understory trees; that is, they grow beneath larger shade trees.

Farfaglia also said that it’s normal for certain trees, such as white oak, swamp white oak and beech, to hold their leaves through the winter.



6 Comments on “Will tree that didn’t drop its leaves in winter survive?

  1. Linda, I would suggest you contact PLANT WNY. There are folks in that group that would know if your tree is rare, how much it might cost to dig it up and whether there is someone who wants to do that. I hope that helps.

  2. I have a Dawn Redwood — is there anyone or anyplace I could give it to instead of chopping it down?

  3. Roberta, I’m glad this article was helpful to you. When something unusual like this is going on, I figure lots of people have the same questions.

  4. Thanks for your question and answer about Japanese maples not losing their leaves….
    I also was quite worried but feel relieved.

  5. The scientific term for this phenomenon is called marcescence. It is common for the oaks and American Beech to display this every Winter season, particularly the smaller individuals and lower branches of larger trees. It is thought this may be a defensive tactic protecting next season’s buds from freezing and/or browsing by mammals.

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