Getting Trees Off to a Sweet Start

By Skip Richter

Trees are an investment both in terms of their initial cost and the future value they add to our landscapes. Unfortunately many trees are lost in the first season after transplanting because they have trouble getting established quickly enough to take on the stresses of the seasons. Bare-root trees may have as little as 5 percent of their roots left when they are dug and moved to their new location.

The key to a tree's healthy future is the rapid development of new roots, and trees depend on stored sugars to start this process. But often there is not enough foliage on a newly planted tree to produce additional sugars for the tree to use in building new roots.

Researchers in various parts of the country are now testing sugar as a root zone additive to aid new trees. Others have experimented with root dips in various concentrations of sugar. The initial results are promising, with increased lateral root branching and root formation. But there is more to this than just dropping a "lump or two" into each planting hole. If sugar concentrations are too high, root growth is actually inhibited. And not all tree species appreciate the sugar supplements. Birch trees have shown a very positive response, while some species of oaks and beeches have not.

Manufacturers have recently offered various molasses and sugar-based products for promoting yields of root crops. As research continues, we may see similar products for helping newly planted trees get off to a better start.

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