The Q&A Archives: Over stimulated roots

Question: Purhased a redbud tree from nursery. Planted at brand new house, first time garden. Added triple mix to make the garden soil, so I know that's not the problem. About 2 weeks after purchasing the redbud, it started to die, then I went back to the nursery and looked at the ones still there, the looked similar but had much more leaves. The guy told me to prune it agressively and give it a blast of root starter/stimulator, which I did and also did to my sickly looking japanese maple that was starting to take a turn, needless to say I now have two sticks. No leaves, no nuthing, just sticks and I paid a good buck for these two plants. Is there anything I can do. Again I used liquid root stimulator and perhaps used too much? Any help to try to bring these sticks back would be greatly appreciated. I removed the japanese maple and put it in a pot by itself with brand new dirt. When I scratch the branches of these trees, they are still green (alive) at this point anyway. Some friends say I have flipped the tree into another cycle and I will have to wait til spring, but I don't want to look at two sticks til next year.

Answer: It sounds like your plants experienced transplant shock, but it is also possible they were planted incorrectly or watered too much or too little, or even overfertilized. In my experience it is better to loosen the soil over a wide area and to the depth of the container, then plant without adding amendments. At planting time make sure any encircling roots are untangled and directed outward to encourage wider rooting. Set the plant so it is at the same depth or slightly higher than it grew in the container. Replace the soil and water to settle air pockets, then mulch.

The most important thing you can do is to keep the soil slightly moist. Water as needed to supplement rain, the soil should be kept evenly moist but not sopping wet. To know if you need to water, dig into the soil with your finger. If it is still damp, do not water yet. When you water, water deeply so it soaks into the soil and encourages deeper rooting. After watering, wait a few hours and then dig down to see how far the water went; sometimes it can be surprising. It is better to water less often but deeply than to sprinkle lightly every day.

You should also maintain a layer of organic mulch over the root area (do not allow it to touch the stem or trunk) to a depth of two or three inches in a flat layer (do not mound it up against the bark). This helps keep the soil moist, holds down weeds and also feeds the soil as it breaks down over time.

At this point the best you can do is make sure they are planted correctly and watered and mulched. Do not be tempted to fertilize them to encourage them to grow, this will be more stressful. With luck they will recover and releaf this summer.

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