Avoid Transplant Shock
Many newly planted trees suffer from stress because of root loss when dug up at the nursery. This condition is called transplant shock. It results in the newly planted tree’s vulnerability to drought, insects and other issues. Basically, transplant shock lasts until the natural balance between the root system and the top or crown of the transplanted tree is restored. A tree’s chances of survival can be improved through practices that establish the root system. You must care for your tree regularly during the first three years of transplanting.
Protect Tree Roots and Transplanting
An undisturbed, healthy tree usually has a very shallow root system. With good planting techniques and soil conditions, the establishment phase takes one growing season per inch of trunk diameter. On small trees, for example, trunk diameter is measured six inches above the soil line. A two-inch diameter tree takes about two years to establish. In warmer regions of the Unites States, like Texas, however, the establishment phase can be measured in months. One way to determine that the tree is establishing is by observing twig growth. The more twig growth, the more established the tree is.
It’s important to know that the root system normally extends beyond the branch spread. Fine roots absorb water and nutrients that are located very near the soil surface. This is usually located in the top four to ten inches. A natural balance exists between the roots where the water is absorbed and the top of the tree where water is utilized and transpired to the atmosphere.
When a tree is dug for transplanting, about 95% of the roots are severed. This causes the newly transplanted tree suffers from water stress. The crown can lose water faster than it can be absorbed by the limited root mass. Water stress, in turn, can reduce the ability of leaves to produce energy, diminish the growth of all parts of the tree, and subject the tree to many other environmental and pest-related problems.
Generating Root Systems of Newly Planted Trees
You need to have rapid root regeneration for your newly planted tree to survive. Keeping the top of the tree alive and healthy until the natural balance between the roots and top is restored is essential. Initial root development of a newly planted tree is supported by energy stored within the trunk, branch and root tissues. To get continued root growth during the establishment period, your tree has to depend on the leaves of the tree producing high levels of carbohydrates during the growing season, especially during the first year following transplanting.
At this point, pruning trees is not recommended. You should leave the entire top intact to favor rapid development of a supporting root system. Top pruning should be restricted to removing broken and damaged branches and developing a good tree structure. Supplemental watering is critical to avoiding moisture stress.
Plant Your Tree Properly and Give it Regular Follow-Up Care
Proper tree planting site selection is very important when planting a tree. Trees planted on inappropriate sites or in poor soil environments will not survive. If the tree and site are properly matched, successful transplanting can be achieved with good planting procedures and regular maintenance following planting. Urban planting sites usually have dense, compacted subsoils with little to no top soil. Water cannot easily infiltrate compacted soils, and, with heavy rains or overwatering may remain for long periods in loose soil. In excessively wet soil, oxygen is unavailable in sufficient amounts to support root growth.
Trees planted in compacted or wet soils have to develop fine root systems near the soil surface where oxygen is most available. If you enlarge the top of the hole two to three times that of the root ball, the diameter increases the amount of loose, backfill soil near the surface where conditions are not favorable for root growth. Generally speaking, soil from the planting hole should be used to backfill around the root ball. If organic matter is used to amend the soil, it should be incorporated in an area large enough to accommodate root growth for several years.
Watering & Mulching
You should water and mulch a newly planted tree to make sure it stays healthy. Soil moisture is definitely important during the first three years following transplanting. Studies show that carbohydrate levels which are critical for root generation are NOT lowered if newly planted trees are adequately watered. One inch of water each week for the first season is recommended. You should monitor the soil and apply water as needed, however. Overwatering can cause as many problems as under-watering so be careful.
If you mulch a large area around newly planted trees with three to four inches or wood chips or bark, soil moisture will be conserved and the soil temperature itself will remain moderate. Mulch will inhibit the growth of grass. Grass can provide serious competition for resources while you’re trying to establish roots.
We hope these tips will help you have healthy growth for your newly planted trees. If you follow these suggestions, you should be able to get through the planting period safely and successfully. Call us at Austin Tree Service if you have questions. We’re more than happy to help.