Ask a Question forum: Why are my plants dying?

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Chicago, IL
Jamestl
Jul 16, 2017 6:14 PM CST
Hi everyone!

I'm new here and new to gardening!

My wife and I recently purchased our home about four months ago. Once the weather started getting better (we're in Chicago, IL), I went to Home Depot to get some trees and shrubs for our new place. That was prob 3 months ago? I try to water them twice a week but over the past month it seems like they are getting progressively worse. About two months ago I tried the fertilizers where you punch into the soil. Over the past months I've tried watering more (~3 times a week) and also bought fish meal to supplement (~1 weeks ago), but the plants don't seem to be improving and in fact seem to be declining. I'm wondering if someone more experienced can help with my questions/hypotheses:

1) How do I check whether issue could be soil quality? Most of the soil is from the developer.
2) The guy at Home Depot says they're spaced far enough apart -- does the spacing look correct?
3) What's the optimal watering interval? Is there an easy way to check whether the plants are getting enough water?
4) I think the plants are getting enough sun light (unit faces southwest). Does it look like it?
5) Any idea on whether one of the trees seem to be doing better than the other (in both locations)?
6) Is the space large enough for these trees?

I'm out of further ideas so any help or tips are welcome. Thanks so much!


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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Jul 16, 2017 6:26 PM CST
Welcome!

First, stop fertilizing! Fertilizer is for healthy plants that need some nutrients. Fertilizing a plant in distress doesn't help and in some cases, could kill the plant.

Next, crawl under the trees and see if you planted them too deep. The soil level should be at the top of the rootball with no soil or mulch up against the trunk.

Don't water until the soil feels dry a couple inches down then put the hose on trickle and let the water soak in for a couple hours.

Does the tree that looks the worst get the most sun? When you purchase a new tree from a nursery, they need to be acclimated slowly to their final sunny position. These trees are all grown under shade cloth so aren't ready for the real world quite yet.

Final question: Were these plants terribly rootbound when you took them out of the pot? If so, the water may not be getting to the middle of the rootball.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Name: Carol
Santa Ana, ca
Sunset zone 22, USDA zone 10 A.
Charter ATP Member Hummingbirder Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Orchids Region: California Plant Identifier
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ctcarol
Jul 16, 2017 6:42 PM CST
How new is this development? If those planters are new, the concrete could be leaching into the soil. Also, the guy at HD may or may not be your best advisor. You will get better advice from a reputable nursery that depends on customer relations and satisfaction than a guy that just draws an hourly wage to sell things.
Chicago, IL
Jamestl
Jul 16, 2017 8:11 PM CST
Thanks for the quick responses!

Daisyl -- I think the tree isn't planted too deep as I think I actually had it about an inch higher than its initial pot rootball (was lazy to take it out and dig another inch...). How much should I water when I do water it? I don't really have a good proxy for what's enough. Alternatively, how long should it take for the soil to dry (assuming no rain)? The trees that look the worst probably get marginally more sun, but I don't think it's a dramatic difference. But your point is an interesting one -- I've never heard of a tree that might have too much sun! If that's the case, how do I remedy the situation? On your last question, I'm not sure how to answer the question. I took it out of the pot and placed it directly into the hole I dug.

ctcarol -- We moved into a brand new building, so leaching is very possible if it's something that happens frequently. Do you know how I can tell if that is happening?
Name: Joanna
North Central Massachusetts (N (Zone 5b)
Life & gardens: make them beautiful
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joannakat
Jul 16, 2017 8:47 PM CST
@Jamestl, welcome to the site, and to your new home!

One good thing to do before planting (and you can do it now to determine how to move forward) is to map your sun exposure. How? Well, on a day that you're home, take photos every hour or so of the area where you would like to plant. Name each picture with the time of day. Then you can tell exactly how much sun you're getting (how many consecutive hours and when). Then you will choose your plants based on their needs.

Another consideration is the wall behind the plant. Sometimes, walls can reflect so much heat and light as to burn the plant. Some plants just don't do well up against a wall, especially where the wall gets a lot of direct sunlight hitting it and especially if that's happening during peak sunshine hours (i.e., morning as compared to midday).

For watering, I guess some people do it mathematically, but I usually give it the finger test. To do this, stick your finger into the soil and if it's dry all the way down, you need to water. If the soil is moist to a depth of two inches or so, it's fine. Daisyl's advice about watering is excellent.

You should tease out the roots of a potted plant so that the water won't just run off around the rootball, especially if they're rootbound (that's when the roots are very crowded in the pot, sometimes growing in the shape of the pot). There are lots of good videos on YouTube showing how to do this. I agree that Home Depot isn't the best place to get gardening advice. If you didn't tease the roots to spread them out when you planted, you can easily (but carefully) dig them up and do it. Here're a bunch of videos: https://www.youtube.com/result...

And, the Home Depot out this way offers a guarantee on all bushes, shrubs and trees. If they die in the first year or three (?), they'll replace them for you free of charge.

HTH!
AKA Joey.

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