The Q&A Archives: Dying Aspen

Question: I just bought two Aspen trees from Home Depot and planted them. I followed all of the instructions and included the Miracle Grow products suggested. The first tree within 2-3 days, the leaves turned black and then wilted and died. The second tree was looking very good until about 2 weeks the top leaves are now turning black like the first tree. The bottom leaves still look good. What am I doing wrong and what is happening to my trees?

Answer: I'm sorry you're having difficulty with your aspen. It's hard to say without seeing it, but here are some possibilities. It might be transplant shock, especially since it happened so quickly on the first tree. Another possibility is fertilizer burn, which can show up as browning and dead leaves. Did you follow package instructions exactly? Sometimes we're tempted to throw in a little more product for "good measure" but that's not a good idea. Were the trees rootbound in the pot, and if so, did you loosen the roots before planting? If rootbound, they'd have trouble spreading out to obtain moisture. Are you watering deeply through the entire root zone? Insufficient water in hot weather can quickly cause new transplants problems. This is very common with drip systems, which are programmed to turn on frequently for short times when they are first set up. For example, an emitter that puts out one gallon per hour (very common) would only put a quart of water on the ground in 15 minutes. Think about taking a quart jar of water out to a tree and pouring it on the ground. It wouldn't make a dent in the plant's needs. Let your drip or hose run for 30 minutes, then check with a soil probe. It will move easily through moist soil but stop at dry hard soil, so you can determine how far water penetrates. Continue doing this in 30 minute increments until water has penetrated as deep as the rootball, then you'll know how long to run the water. On the other hand, overwatering drowns roots, as they need oxygen to survive and constantly wet soil forces out the oxygen molecules and roots rot. Is there any possibility of chemical drift from the neighborhood? Assuming the trees were healthy when you brought them home, it seems unlikely a disease would strike so quickly. What about frost damage (which would show as blackened foliage). Have you had a late frost within this time frame? If none of this info helps you narrow the cause, I suggest you take samples of the affected foliage to your Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension., 1510 Menaul NW, ABQ, 87107, 505-243-1386. They can diagnose the problem. Good luck!

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