This past season we received many questions about common trees issues such as dry leaves/leaves falling off of trees, denuding from animals like rabbits, and transplant (re-planting) shock. While the best thing to do is to consult an arborist—remember you can post your questions on our ask the arborist forum—you can also try to diagnose what might be happening to your trees and treat them accordingly. Below are the most common ailments for young trees:
Dry leaves/leaves falling off of trees
It is important to water trees properly, as this is often the most common reason for leaves drying out, especially with young trees. When you receive your trees, check the moisture of the soil in the container it comes in. It should have the moisture level of a wrung out sponge, moist but not soggy. Too much water can be as bad as not enough. Sometimes between the time we receive trees from nurseries and the time we distribute them, the trees may have dried out so check to see if you need to water them right away. Once you plant your tree, it is important to water them DEEPLY, down to 2-3 feet. Refer to our blog on How to Properly Water Your Trees for a watering guideline table. You might also want to invest in a soil probe to detect how deeply the water is penetrating, which you can find in most hardware stores.
Pictured right is a Willow Acacia that is showing signs of dehydration—the leaves are starting to curl and crisp up, as well as turn brown-gray. Once the owner began watering more often and deeply, the tree recovered. Trees are very resilient—don’t give up on it if you start to see signs of distress. Try watering it more often and remember: moist but not soggy soil.
Once you plant your new tree it might show signs of transplant shock, like the one pictured left. When trees/plants are transplanted into a different soil environment they may go through an initial period of distress while adjusting to the new soil. Below are steps you can take to minimize the chances of transplant shock:
- Keep the roots moist while you are planting the tree (you can briefly soak the tree roots in water before you plant the tree)
- Make sure there is good soil contact on the roots. Lightly tamp the soil around the base of the tree with your foot. Don't stomp, but firmly push down the soil to make sure the root ball has good contact.
- Do not cut the roots when you plant trees—they store important carbohydrates, nutrients, and hormones necessary for tree growth. Sometimes, though, we recommend scoring the roots if they are overgrown.
- Water the tree once it is in the ground, even after it has rained and the soil is wet. This will help attach fine root particles to the roots.
If your tree does show signs of transplant shock after you plant it--like dropping its leaves or appearing droopy--scratch the bark with your finger nail to see if there's green underneath the bark. If the small branches are pliable and green, be patient. The tree will likely produce new growth in a week or two. Water normally. And remember--moist but not soggy soil.
Denuding by animals
If you notice leaves on your tree one day and the next day find it stripped of them—or denuded—hungry wildlife is most likely the cause. Rabbits are common culprits of denuding so make sure to read our blog on How to Keep Rabbits Away from Trees. While the chance of a tree surviving an “attack” by an animal can be dependent on the species and age, most trees young or old can survive a single incident of defoliation (the loss of leaves). If your tree becomes denuded by an animal, water the tree as if it has leaves, don't over compensate. If it occurs in the heat of the summer, try shading the tree until the new leaves reach maturity. And remember—dogs also love to “play” with new trees, so read about ways to keep Fido away from your tree.
If you have a tree situation, feel free to post your questions on our ask the arborist forum and our certified arborist will answer them!
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