Why did my tree just die?

Christopher Wray
August 29, 2018

That is a question that many homeowners can have. It is frustrating to purchase a new tree and soon after see that it has started to die. Sometimes it seems like the nursery the tree was at held a spell over the tree, as soon as it left, the spell was gone and the tree just started to die!

Unfortunately, nursery's don't have a spell. We don't have anything special that keeps our trees more alive than they can be in a landscape setting. Although that is a bummer for us, it is a good thing for you. That means that after planting your trees, you can be sure to have healthy, happy trees in your yard!

Below are some common causes why a tree can start to die after being planted:

Although there are other diseases that could definitely kill a tree, these are some of the most common reasons that healthy trees from our nursery start to perform poorly after being planted.

Blossoms of the "June Snow Dogwood" at Garden Gate Nursery, Spring 2018.

Lack of Water

Trees need water. This is especially true during months in the Spring and Summer, while they are pushing new growth the most. If a tree misses one day of water during these months, they can quickly start to wilt. Their leaves are in the amazing process of photosynthesis, where they use water and sunlight to produce energy to grow. Without water, they have no energy. They become like a child who hasn't eaten in a day. 

In order to reduce the frustration of having to make sure your trees get water, make sure that your automatic yard sprinklers are installed and working properly. Make sure when you plant the tree to check that the soil is moist (not too saturated) completely 3 feet in depth. 

Another way that you can make sure that the trees get enough water is by putting a five-gallon bucket full of water on top of the root ball with small holes cut in the bottom. Fill up the bucket with water daily.

Too Much Water

Another cause of "tree sadness," as we call it, is applying too much water to the plants. Too much water can cause as many problems as not enough water. Making sure that you aren't watering your trees too much can help ensure you to have healthy, happy trees.

Trees need some time during the day to search for water. If the soil is constantly super-saturated, the roots can become stagnant and not push out into the soil. This can cause the tree to yellow with lack of nutrients without new root growth. Also, many root diseases can start affecting the tree if they are constantly saturated with water. 

When purchasing your trees, do some research on each variety you buy. Certain varieties, like Dogwoods, enjoy having a dryer soil. This is not to be confused with no water at all- all trees need water, but some trees are happier with less. 

Weed Eaters, Lawn Mowers and Cats

Picture of a man clearing long grass with a string trimmer taken in June of 2007 by David R. Yeo.

We love all of the above, just like anyone else, but these are often the cause of death to young trees. 

Trees are amazing plants. they grow to be huge with structures that withstand incredible acts of nature, but the secret to their strength is the way they grow. Within the center of tree trunks is a solid section of dead wood that transports water up the tree. Along the outside edge of the tree is a thin layer of bark and soft tissue called the phloem that carries all of the trees important nutrients and food to and from the leaves for growth. 

When we use a weedeater or lawnmower too close to the trunk of trees, the trees can easily be damaged. Cats can climb up tree trunks and easily damage the phloem. When this happens continually, the outside tissue has no time to heal and will slowly die. The tree will continue to transport water through the center of the trunk but will be prohibited from transporting the crucial nutrients that are transported through the fragile tissues around the edge of the trunk.

We recommend that you keep the grass 1-2 feet away from the trunk in order to keep from damaging the trunk with a machine and do your best to train your cats that the trees are off limits, at least till the trees are large enough to fend for themselves.(:

Trees were Planted too Deep

Another reason for trees to start to die after being planted is often they are planted too deep. This can cause the tree to die several months or years after being planted, so it is one of worst ways for a tree to die, as often it is too late to fix the problem by the time the problem is found.

Make sure that the top of the root ball is even or 1-2 inches above the level of the soil when planting your trees. If soil is placed on top of the root ball, the roots of the tree can grow up into the soil and cause the tree in time to choke itself, as the roots will grow around the part of the trunk that is transporting nutrients up the trunk. Another thing that can happen is that the wet soil so close to the trunk can cause the trunk to start to rot. This will also cause the tree to lose nutrients that are necessary for its survival.

Roundup Weed Killer

One other common cause that trees can start to die soon after being planted is Roundup chemical. Some trees, like some varieties of Crabapples, often have shoots that can push out near the root ball of the trunk and make the tree look ugly. It is easy to want to spray those shoots with roundup to kill them, but please don't! These shoots are part of the rootstock of the tree and upon spraying them with Roundup, will take the chemical into the roots of the new tree. This can cause the tree to look weak and sickly or even kill it. It more than likely will not take care of the shoots either.

We don't like those shoots either, so we recommend to dig down into the root ball where the shoots are coming from and cut them off. If they are cut at the root level, they will eventually stop pushing out. If they are cut above the surface, they will continue to push. 

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this article and we hope that this helps you as you care for your trees!

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