Ask a Consulting Arborist Q&A: Tree Health

Q: Why is a newly-planted Chitalpa tree suffering?

Monday, September 19, 2016  

Q: I live in Huntington Beach, California, and purchased a mature Chitalpa tree (about 20 feet tall) grown in a crate from a local nursery. The nursery said to expect some shock from the tree, but it has been over a year (was planted in July 2015) and it's still not doing well.

It pretty much lost all of its leaves after being planted and has never been as full. This spring, barely any leaves came through and those that did only stayed a month or so before falling (and only a handful of flowers). The leaves have brown on the edges and look unhealthy. I'm not sure what to do. It did seem to do worse with the heat wave--that's when the leaves fell--so I'm thinking it's not getting enough water. It gets water weekly on a slow drip (an hour was the recommendation). I'm worried about overwatering and root rot. Should I invest in a moisture reader? Should I fertilize? I'm very worried and don't want to lose this huge investment. I appreciate any help and guidance you can provide. My thumb is definitely brown.

A: Many things come to mind with newly planted trees. Brown edges on the leaves sounds like a salt burn, but the same could come from drying out. An agronomic analysis would let you know. Wallace Laboratories web site tells you how to take samples and where to send them.

If they told you to expect some shock, it maybe because it was very rooted into the ground where it set and the roots below the box were lost. The tree would experience this like drying out, i.e. not getting enough water.

Dropping all the leaves is one way the tree deals with root loss. This is better than holding on to wilting leaves. However, if the tree can't conserve enough water, the branches will dieback. It should have leafed out in spring unless the soil is off.

A tree that has lost all its leaves before fall will not have enough stored energy to leaf out well in spring. A bare tree also does not use much water. You should augur or dig down to the depth of the rootball and check for standing water or foul smelling soil due to anaerobic
activity.

Planting too deep is a common cause of trouble with new specimen trees. The root flare should be just above the surrounding grade. There should be no soil over the nursery potting soil.

Having checked the ASCA web site you may have noticed that you can find a consulting arborist in your area on line. We are working blind without coming to the tree and checking such things as were mentioned above.


Responder: Greg Applegate, RCA #, #365, Tustin, CA