I’m under the impression most plants that die in the landscape are killed by user error. As we move into the proper planting season for shrubs and trees I want to help ensure success down the road. It could either be improper planting, mechanical injury, or too much mulch. I can’t tell you the number of plants I’ve killed because it’s pretty high, but unnecessary plant deaths can be avoided. If you hire a landscaper to execute your landscape plan, make sure they follow some simple steps. We’re going to look at proper planting of trees since they are the costliest things to add to the landscape.
Firstly, the tree needs to be placed accordingly in the ground. Soil should not be up on the bark and the plant should be placed slightly above the existing soil. All trees, unless they’re grafted, have a slight flare at the bottom of the tree. This flare should not be buried in the ground. The issue is that sometimes those trees are not planted correctly in the container they are sold in. You may have to dig in the container to find the proper planting depth of the tree you purchased. Those trees that are grafted just need to be planted as deep as they are in the container and not anymore.
Secondly, do not hit the tree with a lawn mower or the weed eater. When I go look at a tree that is dying, the first thing I look for is weed eater damage at the base of the tree. The xylem and phloem are located right beneath the bark. If they are constantly damaged, you are slowly starving the tree until it reaches the point of not being able to take up any more water or food. It’s easy to see a tree that has been damaged multiple times by mechanical injury because the base of the tree will be sunken in slightly.
Lastly, watch the mulch. Mulch should not be touching the base of the tree because mulch decomposes. If mulch is held up against the tree, then the base of the tree will slowly be composted as well. You also do not want to hold moisture against the bark because it will be the same principle of slowly rotting the base of the tree away.
As always, if you have any questions regarding any horticulture facet, feel free to contact Lucas Holman, Horticulture UT-TSU Extension Agent, Wilson County at 615-444-9584 or Lholman1@utk.edu.