5 Reasons Your Aspen Isn’t Leafing Out

Spring in the Colorado foothills is full of wildflowers, flowering trees and shrubs, and new leaves on trees. This is why it can be concerning when you don’t see your aspen leafing or showing any sign that they are still alive. Sometimes, when other trees are already growing new leaves (known as “leafing out,”) aspens can still appear dormant or even dead.

There are five common reasons your aspen trees may not sprout new leaves immediately in the spring:

  1. Lack of water
  2. Aspens have short lifespans
  3. It’s too early in the season
  4. Aspens have issues in general
  5. The aspens were improperly pruned

In this article, we’ll walk you through the reasons your aspen trees may not “leaf out.”

An aspen tree shows new spring foliage in Colorado near a body of water.

Reason 1: Lack of Winter Watering

If it’s been a dry winter, trees, including aspens, will be struggling come spring. Winter watering is important to keep trees hydrated, especially when Colorado is experiencing periods of drought.

Trees in locations with a lot of wind will need even more supplemental watering, as the wind will dry out the area faster.

If your aspen trees aren’t leafing out and you suspect lack of water is the reason, give the roots a long, deep drink of water. However, if your ground is already saturated or there has recently been a lot of rainfall, watering probably isn’t the answer.

Why Should You Water Trees in Winter?

How Much Water Do Trees Need?

An older aspen tree in Colorado during the winter with several dead branches.

Reason 2: Aspens Have Short Life Spans

The most notable thing to remember about aspens is that one individual “tree” will not live very long. In fact, they often live only 20-40 years. Aspens function as a group with one common root system rather than individual trees. The trees are different sprouts that shoot up from the system of roots, which is why aspen trees always have suckers in the ground around them.

If your aspen tree is not leafing out in spring, it may be that the lifetime of that particular aspen tree has ended.

You can check if your aspen tree is still alive by performing a scratch test. Scratch off a very tiny section of bark from a branch. If the wood revealed is brown, the branch is dead. If it is green, the branch is still alive.

If only a handful of branches are dead, the tree may still survive and leaf out again. If all are dead, it is best to have the tree removed.

Schedule a Tree Removal >>

Dormant aspen trees against a bright winter sun in Colorado.

Reason 3: It Is Too Early

Many times, the LAM Tree Service office will receive a request for a tree consultation for an Aspen that is not leafing out.

However, by the time we visit the property (usually a few weeks later), leaves have appeared.

If your aspen isn’t growing any leaves, it may just be too early. Remember, trees and plants don’t follow a calendar. Rather, they have their own ways to determine when the best time is to grow, when to go dormant, when to drop leaves, and when to begin producing new leaves.

We’ve seen several instances where some aspens will leaf out, but nearby aspens won’t leaf out until 10 days to two weeks later!

If you still want a way to determine if your aspen tree will produce leaves this spring, you can check for buds, perform a scratch test…or just wait! There are other spring tasks that you can perform on your property while you wait for the leaves to appear.

What Can I Do While I Wait for My Trees to Leaf Out?

A grove of aspen trees in Colorado, some with green leaves and others with dead sections.

Reason 4: Aspens Have Many Issues

As you can see on our aspen resource page, aspen trees have a lot of problems. They are susceptible to many pests and diseases, can become easily injured from elk rubbing or deer browsing, and have a hard time surviving on residential properties, especially during times of drought or extreme heat.

Even if your aspen tree is not that old, it may have succumbed to any of the issues mentioned above, or it may have been injured by frost damage during the winter.

A pest or disease may also be to blame, especially if only part of your aspen tree grows leaves and the rest of the branches remain bare.

What are Some Common Aspen Issues?

Reason 5: Trees Were Improperly Pruned

If your aspen trees were improperly pruned, the tree may not be able to grow new buds, and no leaves will appear.

Removing or snipping the ends of branches (known as stubbing out) removes the apical or dominant bud and stimulates the branch to grow, so several new branches take its place.

When the apical bud is removed, the buds below it are prevented from growing.

Is Pruning a DIY Job?

A grove of aspen trees with green leaves.

What Should You Do If Spring Aspen Leafing Doesn’t Happen?

Now that you know some of the potential reasons why your aspen tree is not leafing out, what should you do?

Wait and See

This may be difficult, but our first suggestion is to wait. Aspen trees sometimes leaf out later than other trees, so just because other trees have their leaves doesn’t mean anything is wrong with your aspen.

Water Your Trees

If it has been a dry winter or there hasn’t been rainfall in a while, consider watering your trees. Remember to water the roots (not the trunk) and to water slowly and deeply. You can do this by placing a garden hose at the dripline and setting the water to a slow trickle.

How Much Water Do Trees Need?

Schedule a Tree Consultation

With so many issues plaguing aspens, it can be hard to determine what is the cause without a professional’s in-person inspection.

Schedule a tree consultation with the professionals at LAM Tree Service if you suspect a bigger issue that has resulted in lack of leaves.

Contact LAM Tree Service >>

Schedule a Tree Removal

If your aspen is dead or if you want to remove aspens from your Colorado foothills property and replace them with something else, contact LAM Tree Service to schedule a tree removal and/or tree planting.

What Trees Can I Plant Instead of Aspens?

LAM Tree Service Can Help

The professionals at LAM Tree Service can assist you with your tree care needs. Aspens that don’t leaf out can point to bigger issues, and we can help you determine the problem as well as the next steps, including:

  • Fertilization
  • Watering
  • Professional pruning
  • Professional tree removal
  • Tree planting
  • Plant health care to prevent or treat pests or diseases
  • And more!

Learn More About Tree Services from LAM >>

Request an Estimate from LAM Tree Service

Tree Planting

We recommend spring or early fall planting to get your new trees off to a great start. You can always call us for advice on where to plant your new tree(s) and don’t forget that we offer professional tree planting services if you don’t want to do it yourself!

Recommended Trees & Shrubs

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Call us at 303-674-8733 or contact us online to get a free estimate for tree planting, general tree services or any aspect of our Plant Health Care program.