Tree and Shrub Care

Cultural and Environmental Problems

Healthy, vigorous plants are less prone to pest problems. Proper horticultural practices are a key part to a successful landscape.

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Cultural Problems


  • Mulching
  • Girdling Wire
  • Mechanical Injury
  • Pruning
  • Staking
  • Watering
  • Over Mulching
  • Transplant Shock
  • Planted Too Deep

In order to understand the importance of mulch to a tree, think back to the last time you walked through a forest. You may have noticed that the forest floor was covered, not by grass, but by organic matter. Twigs, leaves, dead flowers, rotten wood, and other debris cover the forest floor. This material can be thought of as a mulch. It shades and cools the soil, adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil, reduces compaction, and helps keep grass and other plants from growing under and competing with the trees. Shade from surrounding trees also keeps soil and roots cool and moist in the forest. Trees that are native to heavily forested areas, therefore, are well adapted to having allot of organic matter covering their root systems. Trees roots are very shallow, within 6 to 12 inches of the soil surface, and this organic matter or mulch helps them survive. Roots do best under moist, cool conditions and need plenty of oxygen in the soil. These conditions are ensured by a good mulch layer.

Proper Mulching Techniques

 DO NOT-Mulch higher than 2-4 inches. If using finely textured or double shredded mulch use 1-2 inches because these materials allow less oxygen to the root zone

DO NOT-Mulch against the trunk or stems of the plants. Keep all mulch 3-4 inches away from the trunk, allowing the root flare zone to show above the ground level.

DO-Mulch to the trees drip line if possible. Remember that the "drip line" moves as the tree grows.

BEST Mulches
Worst Mulches
Bark chunks or shredded bark that is at least 3/8 inch in size. Pine bark will last longer than hardwood bark Fresh grass clipping or fresh wood chips

Pine Needles

Any fresh organic mulch that smells bad
One Year Old Wood Chips Peat moss or sawdust
Leaves that were shredded or composted for at least three months Pebbles, rocks, or cobble stones
  Bricks or pavement or black plastic
  Ground up rubber tires

Proper Mulching Benefits

Mulch helps the soil to hold water for the tree's roots
Mulch helps t0 prevent soil compaction that suffocates tree roots
Mulch helps add organic matter to the soil as it gradually breaks down, thus acting like a slowly released natural fertilizer for the tree
Mulch helps prevent the soil from washing away. Soil erosion is very harmful to the tree's exposed roots. Soil erosion not only stresses the tree but can increase the chance of blow down in a storm or windy day.
Mulch helps to reduce the damage from drought and pests
Mulch helps to keep lawn mowers and string trimmers away from the bark. Damaged bark is an open wound that can be infected by fungus and bacteria known to kill trees. If the tree's green tissues located just inside the bark are cut, then water from the roots cannot get carried upon to the leaves and food from the leaves cannot get carried down to the roots.
Mulch helps to moderate soil temperature. It behaves like an insulating blanket. It helps to keep soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. This is much less stressful fro the tree's roots.
Mulch helps to reduce weeds and grasses around trees. Weeds and grasses will compete with the tree's roots for water and nutrients.

Girding happens to a tree or shrub when wire or nylon ties are not removed or loosened to allow for growth. As the tree expands, it is damaged by the obstruction and sometimes the flow of nutrients will be cut off to the  plant material behind the obstruction. This can cause serious injury or death of the material. 


Mechanical Injury Symptoms—Mechanical injuries usually occur on the trunk, branches, or roots. Bark may be broken off, exposing the wood of the tree, or it may be dead but still attached.

Cause—Mechanical injuries are usually wounds in the cambium, bark, or roots of trees caused by physical contact with an object. These wounds expose healthy living tissue to infection by disease organisms or attack by insects. The majority of mechanical injuries are caused by homeowners. Careless use of lawn mowers and weed whips around the base of trees destroys inner bark and girdles the stem. This reduces the flow of nutrients and moisture in the tree and eventually can lead to death through drying or starvation.

Mechanical injuries also weaken trees and make them more susceptible to secondary insect or disease attack. Treatment—Avoid hitting trees with lawn mowers, weed whips, or other damaging objects. Mulching around the base of a tree can prevent grass and other plants from growing in that area and can help prevent mower and weed whip damage.


Improper pruning is often followed by disease or decay. Pruning cuts should be made flush to the trunk or connecting branch. Branch stubs permit invasion by decay-producing organisms. Remove injured or diseased branches before they die.

Pruning, like any other skill, requires knowledge and practice to achieve success. Remember that pruning is the removal of certain plant parts that are no longer effective or of use to the plant. It is done to redirect additional energy for the development of fruit, flowers, foliage, and limbs that remain. Pruning essentially involves removing plant parts to improve health, landscape effect, or value of the plant. Once the objectives are determined and a few basic principles are understood, pruning is a simple matter of common sense.

Pruning as Surgery

  • Very little harm--and a lot of good--can come from removing dead wood from shrubbery.This can be done at any time of year and with any kind of pruning tool. Living wood is a different story. Any cut made into the vital green wood of a living shrub should be made with a clean sharp instrument in order to avoid making wounds that are contaminated and slow to heal. Most shrubbery branches are small enough to be cut easily with a bypass pruner. Unlike an anvil style pruner, a bypass pruner will not crush stems but will make a quick, clean cut. For larger branches, use a small saw specially designed for pruning. Clean your pruning instruments both before and after use and finish with an alcohol wipe.

Pruning vs. Shearing

  • There is a difference between pruning shrubs and shearing hedges. Shearing involves cutting many branches at once at their tips in order to create a smooth outer surface or "skin." Hedge trimmers are for shearing, not pruning, and should never be used on shrubbery unless the intention is to produce a tightly groomed and formed hedge or topiary. Tip cutting instead of proper pruning creates an undesirable broom-like effect at the outer ends of branches. Pruning, on the other hand, opens the plant to light and air and encourages healthy branching on the interior of the plant as well as at branch tips. Properly pruned shrubbery can also be allowed to retain it's natural shape.

Timing is Important

  • There are exceptions to every rule, so if you are not sure when to prune your shrubs, check with your local agricultural extension service. To find this service try calling your state's public university. You will not kill your shrubbery by pruning it at the wrong time, but you will do the most good if pruning is done at the optimal point in the growing or dormancy season. As a general rule, prune spring flowering shrubs just after the flowers have faded. Late summer pruning is rarely recommended for any plant. Instead, most plants other than spring flowering shrubs should be pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth has begun.

Damage From Over Pruning

The Why's Of Pruning Your Trees & Shrubs

1. To let in light and air.

2. To remove dead, diseased or damaged wood (twigs, branches and limbs).

3. To accentuate a plant's best features (such as form, structure or texture).

4. To help a plant in a difficult (tight) space.

5. To rejuvenate old and neglected plants.


resource: Oklahama Cooperative Extension Service

Tree staking is never done with the intention of harming a tree.

Staking is usually done with love and with a desire to promote root and trunk growth and protect a young tree from harm. What some tree planters do not understand is, rather than helping a tree develop root and trunk growth, improper tree staking replaces a supportive trunk and root system with an artificial support that causes the tree to put its resources into growing taller but not growing wider.

If and when the stakes are removed, the lack of trunk and root development makes these trees prime candidates for breakage or blow-down. In the first good windstorm, down these trees come. They have lost the supportive protection of natural development.

Most containerized and correctly dug balled and burlaped tree seedlings and saplings do not need staking. If you are planting bare root trees you might consider staking for a short period. If trees must be staked, place stakes as low as possible but no higher than 2/3 the height of the tree. Materials used to tie the tree to the stake should be flexible and allow for movement all the way down to the ground so that trunk taper develops correctly. Remove all staking material after roots have established. This can be as early as a few months, but should be no longer than one growing season. Materials used for permanent tree protection should never be attached to the tree.


Excessively dry soils cause the death of small roots and reduce a tree’s capacity to absorb water, even after the soil is re-moistened. The resulting drought stress increases a tree’s susceptibility to certain diseases and insects. Precious energy reserves must be used to replace the lost roots. Keep your trees and shrubs adequately watered by following the guidelines listed below.


There is no way to look at the soil from above and tell how much moisture is in it. The only way to be sure of how much moisture is in the soil is to probe or dig. A trowel, metal rod, or soil sampling tool can be used. Low-cost soil moisture meters are not very accurate. A metal rod, such as the end of a root feeder (without the water running), may be the most convenient tool for the homeowner to obtain and use. Very dry soil will resist penetration of the rod and indicate the need for watering. After a little bit of practice, anyone can learn to use this simple tool.


Proper watering is the single most important maintenance factor in the care of transplanted trees. Too much or too little water can result in tree injury. More trees are killed by too much water than by too little. Newly planted trees and shrubs may need to be watered regularly for 2-3 years until their root systems become established. Large trees may take longer. For the first few months of the growing season after a tree is planted, the tree draws most of its moisture from the root ball. The root ball can dry out in only a day or two, while surrounding soil remains moist. To water the root ball and surrounding area, by let the hose run slowly at the base of the tree or use a root-watering needle under low pressure for 5-10 minutes.


The top 8-12 inches of soil should be kept moist around trees during periods of drought, at least as far as the branches spread (dripline). It is impossible to give a formula on how much or how often to water a tree to keep the soil moist 8-12 inches deep. The amount of water required will vary with local site conditions, but without adequate rainfall, established trees may need to be watered as often as every 10-14 days. Don’t wait until your plants show signs of stress, such as wilting or yellowing. Any of several methods of watering work well. Remember, you are not watering plants, you are watering their roots.

  • If the ground is level, simply let an open hose run on the ground and move it around occasionally to get good distribution.
  • If the ground slopes a little, water may easily run off the surface, and a sprinkler or soaker hose would distribute the water more slowly.
  • If the ground slopes severely, a root-watering needle may be necessary. Insert the needle no more than 6 inches into the ground, and move it around frequently since it moistens a small area around the insertion point. No matter which watering method is chosen, it is important that you don’t saturate the trunk and that you keep the top 8-12 inches of soil evenly moist throughout dry periods



Improper mulching kills trees! Mulch should never be piled up into a cone around a tree trunk. These mulch volcanoes are killing trees and are wasting money on excess mulch material. It is easy to remember VOLCANOES are bad DONUTS are good.

Proper Mulching Techniques

DO NOT-Mulch higher than 2-4 inches. If using finely textured or double shredded mulch use 1-2 inches because these materials allow less oxygen to the root zone

DO NOT-Mulch against the trunk or stems of the plants. Keep all mulch 3-4 inches away from the trunk, allowing the root flare zone to show above the ground level.

DO-Mulch to the trees drip line if possible. Remember that the "drip line" moves as the tree grows.

Most newly planted trees are subject to stress-related problems due to tremendous root loss when dug at the nursery. This condition, commonly called transplant shock, results in increased vulnerability to drought, insects, diseases and other problems. To a greater or lesser degree, transplant shock lasts until the natural balance between the root system and the top or crown of the transplanted tree is restored. Of those newly planted trees that do not survive, most die during this root-establishment period. A tree’s chance of survival can be drastically improved through practices that favor establishment of the root system. This involves regular care during the first three years following transplanting.

There are both short and long-term problems associated with deeply planted roots. When buried too deeply, tree roots decline in health and condition. Poor tree health results in reduced growth rate, atypical leaf size and color, increased disease susceptibility, and reduced cold hardiness. Trees in poor condition exhibit decay, cracks, and excessive deadwood. Sometimes trees show signs of stress within the first year of planting, but it usually takes several years for the problem to rear its ugly head.

The part of a plant where the stem and root system meet is called the “root collar” which has a “flare” where it transitions between the stem wood and the roots. Four to eleven large roots called “transport roots” radiate from the root collar and function to move water and minerals that are absorbed by smaller roots. Transport roots contain cells that synthesize a variety of substances essential to the normal functioning of the top of the tree as well as help to stabilize the tree. The smaller roots called “absorbing” or “feeder roots” emanate from the transport roots. They have a huge surface area and function to absorb water and minerals from the soil in addition to providing sites for chemical synthesis. For tree roots to grow vigorously, they require water, oxygen and warmth. An oxygen level of 25% of the soil volume is considered good for root development. At a 5% oxygen level growth stops, and at 2% roots decline and die. What exactly happens to cause these adverse reactions? Lack of Water & Oxygen: Tree roots naturally grow quite shallowly in the soil profile. When root systems are buried, less soil oxygen and water is available. As a survival response, trees work to get roots closer to the soil surface where there is a more reliable source of both. The energy that a newly transplanted tree should use to overcome normal transplant stress is instead used just to survive. The tree expends its energy either by forcing its roots to grow upward or by creating totally new roots from dormant buds on the buried trunk. Some plants survive being buried too deeply and live normal lives after developing a functional root system. Others begin a long, slow decline of health resulting in either premature death or sudden failure during wind or ice storms.\

Source: planting/tabid/5462/Default.aspx

Environmental Problems

  • Chlorosis
  • Drought Stress
  • Girdling Root
  • Grade Change
  • Leaf Scorch
  • Poor Drainage
  • Soil Compaction
  • Too Sunny
  • Too Wet
  • Winter Damage

Chlorosis is a yellowing of leaf tissue due to a lack of chlorophyll. Possible causes of chlorosis include poor drainage, damaged roots, compacted roots, high alkalinity, and nutrient deficiencies in the plant. Nutrient deficiencies may occur because there is an insufficient amount in the soil or because the nutrients are unavailable due to a high pH (alkaline soil). Or the nutrients may not be absorbed due to injured roots or poor root growth.

The lack of iron is one of the more common nutrients associated with chlorosis. Manganese or zinc deficiencies in the plant will also cause chlorosis. The way to separate an iron deficiency from a zinc or manganese deficiency is to check what foliage turned chlorotic first. Iron chlorosis starts on the younger or terminal leaves and later works inward to the older leaves. However, manganese and zinc deficiencies develop on the inner or the older leaves first and then progress outward. Plants need iron for the formation of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and is necessary for the plant to produce the food it needs for its own growth. Iron is also necessary for many enzyme functions that manage plant metabolism and respiration. Iron becomes more insoluble as the soil pH climbs above 6.5 to 6.7 (7.0 is neutral below 7.0, the pH is acidic; above 7.0, the pH is alkaline).

With most plants, iron can only be absorbed as a free ion (Fe++) when the pH is between 5.0 and 6.5. Other elements such as calcium, zinc, manganese, phosphorus, or copper in high amounts in the soil can tie up iron so that it is unavailable to the plant. However, a shortage of potassium in the plant will reduce the availability of iron to the plant. Insufficient iron in the soil is also a problem. The problem is the availability of the iron in soil to the plant. Herbaceous plant as well as woody plants are susceptible to chlorosis.




Drought and high temperatures are a one-two punch to trees. Trees exhale moisture from their leaves in a process called transpiration. As temperatures climb, transpiration kicks into overdrive. During a drought, there isn’t enough water in the soil to replenish the water lost. When this happens, trees adopt survival strategies that can stress and weaken them.

If Mother Nature doesn’t provide at least an inch or two of rain each month, you can help your trees by watering. While frequent, light watering is sufficient for lawns and vegetable gardens, trees aren’t carrots and their moisture needs are different.

Trees need a slow, thorough soaking at least once a month. Most water is absorbed by roots in the top 6-12 inches of soil. These water-gathering roots extend outward from the trunk in all directions at relatively the same distance as twice the height of the tree. However, you can concentrate your watering from the trunk out to the tips of the tree’s branches. This critical piece of real estate is called the dripline.

There are several methods you can use to give your tree a drink. One is to turn your garden hose on a slow trickle and leave it in different zones within the dripline until each is soaked. Another method is to spiral a soaker hose out from the trunk. Maintain a 2-foot spacing between each successive coil, and be sure to extend the spiral out to the tips of the branches. To test if enough water is reaching the roots, push a piece of re-bar down into the soil. If you can penetrate 6-12 inches, you’ve probably provided adequate water.

Some trees need a little more TLC during a drought. Keep a close eye on drought-sensitive species such as MagnoliasJapanese MaplesDogwoodsBeeches, and Birches. Also pay close attention to container plants and newly planted trees. Because they haven’t had time to establish extensive root systems, they are more vulnerable to periods of high temperatures and low rainfall.

Last, don’t forget to mulch. Mulch is any tree’s best friend. Besides minimizing evaporation of soil moisture and limiting rainwater runoff, mulch also protects the tree from mower and weed trimmer damage. Apply 2-4 inches of organic mulch around the root zone, taking care to keep it off the trunk.

Source: MDC On Line

Trees can slowly weaken and die over a period of years or decades because of root girdling. Roots begin to grow around the main stem of the tree and cut off or restrict the movement of water, plant nutrients and stored food reserves. Over time, growth of the branches on the side of the plant affected by the girdling will be slowed. As injury progresses, leaves will become smaller and lighter green, fewer leaves will be produced, and eventually the branch will begin to die back. Death of the entire plant can occur in five to 20 years; watering, fertilizing and pruning will do little to correct the problem. Certain trees are more prone to this problem than others. Lindens, magnolias, pines, and maples other than the silver maple are susceptible to root girdling. On the other hand, oaks, silver maple, ash, and elm are well known for their ability to form functional root grafts and are rarely adversely affected by girdling roots. Normal trees have a gentle trunk flair or buttress at their base.


In preparing a building site, soil is often moved in order to level areas which once were sloped, or to slope areas which were originally level. If trees are left standing in these affected areas, they may have soil added over their root systems, or the original soil level over the roots may be lowered. These changes can cause significant damage and even death. Raising the grade can suffocate the roots. The amount of damage depends in part on the kind of tree, the depth of the fill, and the soil texture of the fill.

Several inches of fill over the root system will adversely affect most kinds of trees. Some can be adversely affected by less than an inch of added soil depth. Sandy or gravelly fills are less damaging than heavier fills such as silt or clay. Placing asphalt or concrete over a root system can have the same suffocating effect as raising the grade around the tree. Lowering the grade around trees can be detrimental. Most feeder roots are located in the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. Removing soil removes many of these roots which supply the tree with water and nutrients. It also causes significant root injury.

If enough large roots are removed, lack of anchorage may cause the tree to fall. Grade changes can also affect the depth of the water table. If the grade is raised, the resulting rise in the water table may suffocate roots in addition to the suffocation from the added soil depth. If the grade is lowered, soil water may be less available, and this, in combination with lack of roots due to the grade lowering, may put severe drought stress on the tree. Other changes in drainage patterns, such as those due to asphalt or concrete driveways, patios, or foundations placed near trees, can result in trees receiving more, or less, water than they originally did, and this can sometimes cause serious damage to trees.


Symptoms of leaf scorch due to environmental causes include browning of the leaf margins and yellowing or darkening of tissues between the main leaf veins. As the condition progresses, entire leaves may dry up, turn brown and become brittle. Leaves sometimes wilt rapidly, usually remaining a pale green color even when dried out. Damage is usually more pronounced on the upper, windward or southern side of trees. Plants may lose many leaves prematurely during late summer and exhibit some twig dieback.

Leaf scorch can be caused by many adverse environmental conditions, including soil compaction, transplant shock, nutrient deficiency, drought, salt toxicity and herbicide injury. Leaf scorch is common in the Northeast due to cold soils and slow root growth. The loss of leaves is seldom immediately fatal, but conditions causing leaf scorch should be corrected if possible over time, they can cause the decline or death of the tree or shrub. Plants under stress are subject to secondary problems such as attack by insects or diseases.

To help prevent leaf scorch, prune sprouts and diseased areas. Maintain vigor through proper watering and fertilizing. Water deeply to encourage deep root systems that enable trees to withstand environmental stress such as drought and winter desiccation. Check soil moisture at least 12 inches down if it is rather dry, water trees slowly and deeply, allowing water to penetrate at least two feet. Deep-water the entire area under the canopy, one and one-half to three times farther than the branches 95% of the roots of most trees, including tall evergreens and large deciduous trees, is found in the top 18 inches of soil in this extended area.

Sufficient moisture will help keep the trees vigorous enough to withstand pest attacks, as well as help prevent winter injury. It is very important to deep-water trees and shrubs at least twice a year, especially in areas where the water table is far below the soil surface or on sites exposed to wind; water every fall, after leaves turn autumn color but before the ground freezes (perhaps at the same time fall fertilizers are applied if needed), and again in spring as soon as the ground thaws to replenish dehydrated roots. Avoid frequent, light watering's as well as watering only at the base of the tree trunk. Trees suffering from drought can be selectively pruned to reduce transpiration (the loss of water due to evaporation through the leaves). Drought occurs when transpiration exceeds the plant's ability to supply water through the roots.


Preparation for planting is the key to success in establishing landscape plants. Preparation includes site analysis, design, plant selection and installation, as well as planning for follow-up care and maintenance. Site analysis and proper planting assure rapid plant establishment and healthy growth, provided environmental factors are favorable. However, proper planting involves much more than just digging a hole and sticking a plant in it. By taking a little extra time to plant properly, you can avoid future costly maintenance problems.

Soil Compaction and Drainage

Many landscape plants die because they are planted in soil that is too wet or too dry. Soil with good porosity throughout the rooting depth allows large quantities of water to move through the soil profile without affecting plant roots unless there is a naturally high water table at the site. Typically, a soil contains about 50 percent solid materials and about 50 percent pore space, filled by air and water. In poorly drained soils, most of the pore space is filled with water for long periods, leaving too little air. In compacted soils, the solid material composes about 60 to 80 percent of the total make-up. In this case, the remaining pores are very small and do not drain easily, leading to wet conditions.

Many landscape sites do not have ideal drainage. During rainy weather, water may stand on the soil surface or drain very slowly. Poor drainage is a common problem and a major cause of plant death in landscapes. Some trees, such as white pines, are susceptible to fungal root diseases when grown on wet sites. Consistently wet soils often have an odor caused by anaerobic bacteria in the soil.

Poor drainage can occur naturally. Bright soil colors indicate good water drainage, while a dull color or gray could indicate poor drainage. The USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service recognizes seven drainage classes. Soils that are considered a challenge in landscape sites are somewhat poorly drained, poorly drained, and very poorly drained. Somewhat poorly drained soils remain wet for prolonged periods, but not all the time. Poorly drained soils drain so slowly that the soil remains wet for a large portion of the year. These conditions are caused by a high water table or a slowly permeable layer within the soil profile. Very poorly drained soils occur when the water table remains at or near the surface most of the year. These soils are often found in depressed sites and are frequently ponded. Natural poor drainage may be due to natural hardpans or heavy clay in the subsoil, to seepage from higher areas or to a locally high water table.

Poor drainage often occurs when contractors remove topsoil during construction of new homes, leaving only subsoil. The amount of topsoil reapplied may be unknown. A plant sitting in a hole dug through 3 inches of topsoil and 9 inches of yellow clay will have a tough time surviving. Also, during construction, heavy equipment compacts the soil,which reduces air space. What little air space is left fills with water after a rain. Roots suffocate and die from lack of air. Shoots soon die from lack of water, since the roots are no longer functional. Poor drainage also is often a result of improper shaping of the yard, leading to ponding in low areas or around the foundation, or due to failure to properly remove runoff water from roofs, downspouts and streets.

An easy method to determine the drainage of a site is to dig a hole 12 inches long, 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep. Fill the hole with water. If the water drains in fewer than three hours, the drainage is excellent, and plants suited for dry locations will perform well. However, this method should be done only when the soil is moist. Poorly drained soils may drain excessively when the soil is dry giving the false impression of good drainage. Distributing large amounts of compost or organic material throughout the soil medium can greatly improve the water-holding capacity of the soil.

If the water takes from three to 12 hours to drain, then the drainage is adequate for most landscape plants (about 1 inch per hour). If it takes more than 12 hours, then the drainage is poor. But before corrective action is taken, dig a little deeper to see if there is an impermeable layer of soil that is restricting water movement. Although it is difficult to change the soil, you can alter the site to minimize the poor physical drainage. Check several locations in the landscape. Select trees that are tolerant of the wet conditions or change the site to meet the needs of the plants.

Even if soil has not been removed or added during construction, the drainage patterns of unaltered native soils also may change. A hard pan may occur in areas that have had a lot of heavy equipment and traffic. A hard pan is a layer of soil, about 12-15 inches deep, that is extremely compacted and can obstruct good soil drainage. Deep tilling is recommended to break up this compacted layer of soil.

In areas where it would be difficult to use equipment, dig a dry well to break through the hard pan. After the planting hole is dug, use a post hole digger to dig a hole about 12- 15 inches deep in the bottom of the planting hole. Fill this hole (dry well) with porous material, such as gravel. Then plant the ornamental tree. The dry well should allow the soil to drain below the hard pan layer. This method will only work properly if the well actually goes all the way through the restrictive layer. If it doesn’t, the well will hold water like the rest of the planting hole.

Another way to handle a drainage problem is to raise the height of the soil. Elevate the site by adding 10-12 inches of well-drained topsoil, compost or other organic matter to raise the planting zone. The amendment should be tilled into the soil to provide a homogenous medium for the plants. The root zone of the tree is then adequately above any poor internal drainage. The addition of organic amendments should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Organic amendments, such as peat moss, rotted animal waste or composted yard waste, are applied to soils to improve their nutrient- and water-holding capacity and improve the tilth (condition) of the soil.

Adding an organic amendment to an individual planting hole is not recommended. Extensive research has determined that organic amendments placed in the planting hole do not result in a larger root system or encourage root penetration into the native soil. When a planting hole is amended, the structure and texture of the soil in the hole differ from that of the surrounding native soil. This encourages the roots to stay within the confines of the hole and discourages them from growing into the surrounding soil. The water movement between the surrounding native soil and the soil in the hole is disrupted and the planting hole can act like a sponge, holding excess moisture after rain or irrigation.

Organic matter should be incorporated uniformly throughout the projected root zone, as opposed to putting it into the planting hole. At least a 1 percent increase in organic matter is required to have an effect on the water- and nutrient-holding capacity of a soil. To achieve a 1 percent increase in organic matter, apply 500 pounds of a stable, well-composted organic amendment per 1,000 square feet of bed area (50 pounds per 100 square feet) and incorporate to a 6-inch depth. A 25 percent increase in organic matter would be achieved by adding 3 inches of composted material to the soil surface and incorporating it to a 12-inch depth. Avoid using more than 50 percent organic matter, because plant problems may result from humic acids and other organic compounds. Apply the amendment uniformly over the existing soil that has been deep tilled (8-12 inches). Till or work the amendment in the soil until a homogenous mixture is developed.

Investigate surface and internal water drainage in the landscape. Check for areas where water collects, drains slowly or stands for long periods. Sometimes the problem can be solved by shaping the surface to allow runoff or by diverting excess water. Sometimes, the only way to overcome poorly drained soils is to install drain tile. In this extreme condition, make sure the drain tiles are installed to move soil water away from structures and ornamental trees. Drain tiles are an expensive technique to modify the planting area, but the results are typically worth the effort.


Soil compaction around trees is often caused by people, pets, bicycles and cars in parks and other recreation areas as well as in heavily used areas surrounding public buildings, business centers and multi-unit residential dwellings. Injured, exposed tree roots are hazardous to trees and people.

Compacted soil cuts off water and oxygen to tree roots. Dying leaves on mature trees and dying branches on young trees may indicate compaction injury.


Symptoms—Sunscald appears as long, vertical dead areas on the south or southwest side of young, thin-bark trees (Figure 6). Maple, honeylocust, linden, Bradford pear, eastern white pine, all fruit trees, and other trees with thin, smooth bark are most susceptible. The dead area often is somewhat reddish and sunken in appearance and may have rough edges if the dead bark has begun to dry and crack.

Cause—During the daytime in winter, the bark on the south or southwest side of a tree can be warmed to above freezing by the sun, even though the air temperature may be below freezing. When the sun sets or moves behind clouds, the bark temperature drops below freezing and the area of warmed, active tissue is frozen and often killed. When this occurs a long, narrow dead area (canker) is formed. Trees are more susceptible to sunscald if their roots have recently been severely injured, such as during transplanting. The localized dead area that forms on the trunk often provides a site for disease infection and insect attack during the next growing season.

Treatment—Care should be taken to minimize root injuries during transplanting. Large roots that have been cleanly cut during transplanting contribute less to sunscald than do roots that have been crushed. The trunks of recently transplanted trees that are especially susceptible to sunscald can be wrapped with a commercial tree wrap during the first winter to reduce the chance that sunscald will occur. The tree wrap must be removed at the beginning of the following spring to avoid damaging the tree during the growing season.



Symptoms—A uniform paling or yellowing of foliage and uniform thinning and dieback of a tree's crown can be caused by flooding or a highly saturated soil . This is a common problem in landscapes with automatic sprinklers and heavy soils or in areas where large amounts of runoff water stand. Concolor fir is very susceptible to flooding injury.

Cause—During periods of heavy rains or in landscapes with heavy irrigation, the pore spaces between soil particles become filled with water. As these spaces fill with water, gas exchange between the soil and air is reduced. Roots require oxygen from the soil to survive, and when the oxygen is not available, roots die. As roots die they are no longer able to absorb the water and nutrients the rest of the tree needs.

Treatment—Improve the drainage around the tree if it is in an area where runoff water pools. If sprinkler irrigation is used regularly, be sure the soil is allowed to drain well between waterings.


As we transition into spring it is time to take a look back and evaluate the impact winter weather has had on our landscape. Too often we forget that the trees, shrubs, vines, and turf that make up our landscape are living, breathing organisms with cells, tomatoes, and xylem and phloem pathways which carry nutrients from the roots to the buds and back again. The weather conditions we experience during our winter season have a significant impact on the health of our landscape plantings.

Temperature plays an enormous role in the health of our landscape. Sudden temperature changes,extreme cold,harsh winds,and lack of insulating snow were common occurrences this past winter. Given these harsh conditions,we should anticipate some serious damage to plants in the landscape.

The sun and mild temperatures we had in the early part of the winter caused many flowers or leaf buds to open prematurely. When these buds opened in response to warm temperatures and bright sun the tender new foliage and flowers were then exposed to bitter cold, snow and ice which followed. Many species of trees, shrubs, and vines will essentially give up on this set of damaged buds and start anew for the spring with a brand new bud set. However this takes an incredible toll on the health of the tree as the tree then has to use much of its stored energy reserves to push out and support this new set of buds. This will lead to many plants that will be stressed and susceptible to secondary pest and insect problems this spring.


Don't let this happen next year. Find out more about our Winter Protections Service



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