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1. Improper Planting Depth (Too Deep or Too Shallow)

Ornamental trees and shrubs have an ideal planting depth. In order to define too deep or too shallow, it’s important to know what that measurement refers to. Most people are familiar with roots and stems, but the crown is less commonly discussed. Defined as the point where the root system and stem converge, the crown’s position in relation to the soil surface is the measurement used when discussing how shallow or deep a tree or shrub is planted.

If a tree or shrub doesn’t flare before entering the soil, it is planted too deeply. The crown is then exposed to excess moisture, leaving it more susceptible to damage, and root suffocation from depth and limited air exchange is possible. Symptoms include poor hardiness, small leaf size, decreased bloom yield in flowering plants, and poor annual growth. If the tree or shrub is planted too high (shallow), its stability may be compromised, and the tree’s ability to retrieve water and nutrients from the soil may be reduced.

Here are some solutions to fix trees or shrubs that were planted at the wrong depth:

  • If the tree was planted relatively recently, you may be able to dig it up and replant it at the correct depth. Trees that have been in place for some time may be too established for this method.
  • Crowns that are buried by frequent over-mulching or grading need to have their crowns exhumed for any chance at regaining health.
  • Trees that were planted exceedingly high may need to have soil or mulch added to them to insulate the roots and adequate water near the mass.

2. Poor Drainage

Wet soil conditions can be inhospitable for even the most tolerant of species. While some plants are more tolerant of “wet feet” than others, prolonged exposure to excessive moisture may result in poor root health, rot from a lack of oxygen, and fungal disease. A compromised root system means an unhealthy plant that either performs poorly or fails entirely.

Here are some solutions to poor drainage:

  • If planting in an area that stays damp, select a species tolerant to more root moisture.
  • Raise beds in wet areas, and use appropriate planting media; this may enable you to plant a wider variety of plants.
  • Redirect runoff from gutters or natural flow paths to keep planting areas appropriately dry.

3. Improper Cultural Practices

Cultural practices is a term that conflates a number of maintenance and management practices, including properly timed and performed watering and pruning. These practices aren’t often considered when discussing woody ornamentals. Trees and shrubs are easy to “set and forget” compared to more maintenance-intensive areas of a landscape such as turf grass. This doesn’t mean, however, that your trees and shrubs don’t require pruning or watering.

Here are some proper cultural practices to adopt:

  • Prune correctly. In this blog, we discuss reasons and methods for pruning trees and shrubs. The very first consideration when pruning should always be the health of the plant. Timing and tolerance for severity varies greatly between species, and consideration should be made before pruning substantially. That said, pruning should be considered and executed on your woody ornamental plants to encourage healthy growth habits and discourage damage from pests and pathogens.
  • Water appropriately. While excess moisture can be problematic, insufficient moisture can cause irreversible damage and even mortality much more quickly. Common species of holly and boxwood tend to be very hardy once established. Even species with ornamental foliage or flowers may seem to do fine without supplemental irrigation, but they often don’t reach their full potential. Requirements and timing vary by species and location. Solutions such as drip lines can provide an excellent source of metered moisture to the root zone of ornamentals without adding unnecessary moisture to the canopy.

4. Insufficient Nutrition

Akin to the “set and forget” mentality of pruning and watering, deciding to fertilize is a secondary consideration for many people regarding their trees and shrubs. They get nutrients from the ground, so they should be fine, right? Once depleted, the nutrients available in the soil aren’t replenished quickly. While not immediately obvious, nutrient deficiencies may result in decreased growth, vigor, foliage production, and flowering when applicable. Discolored leaves or constant ailment can also be indicative of an insufficient nutrient supply.

Here are some tips on fertilizing your trees and shrubs:

  • Fertilizers with a complete analysis as defined by labeling standards include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are macronutrients required to some degree by all plants. A truly effective ornamental fertilizer should also include micronutrients commonly deficient in your soils, the functions of which are fundamental to plant processes or the utilization of macronutrients. At Nature’s Turf, our Tree and Shrub care programs utilize truly complete fertilizers to address common needs and deficiencies in our soils and landscapes.

5. Insects and Disease

At Nature’s Turf, we can use treatments to prevent damage from insects and fungal infections. Rather than reacting to existing insects and disease, a proactive approach limits the injury trees and shrubs may receive from pests or pathogens. Unlike a bermuda or zoysia lawn, recovery time for a woody ornamental is often slow and arduous. If portions of a plant succumb to injury, death of a segment may result in a plant that is unsightly and may never fully recover aesthetically. In this case, an ounce of prevention is worth abundantly more than a pound of cure.

Here are some preventative methods:

  • At Nature’s Turf, we understand the insects present, their feeding styles, and the ways they’re vulnerable during different parts of their life cycles. Because we understand them, we are able to effectively use an appropriate treatment type and timing that will result in successful control. Insect treatments are a fundamental component of our tree and shrub program at Nature’s Turf.
  • Because most common diseases for plants are caused by fungus, at Nature’s Turf, fungal treatments are cornerstones of our Tree and Shrub program. By using preventative fungal control products in accordance with seasonal timing and environmental conditions, we can fight fungus as it develops. In addition to treatment, sufficiently watering the roots and minimizing excess foliar moisture will help reduce the development of fungal infection.