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Transplant shock: Disease or cultural problem?

By Kathryn Wimberley Agent for Horticulture McCracken County Cooperative Extension Service

Fall of the year is a good time to add trees and shrubs to the landscape.

In most cases, roots of woody plants grow during the winter months in a healthy plant. A good root system provides the tree or shrub with benefits to endure the heat and typically-dry weather of summer months.

Even with a good root system, watering a newly-transplanted tree or shrub each week, to meet the amount provided by the equivalent of a 1 to 1 ½ inches of rainfall, is recommended for the first two years.

This past summer was unusual with ample, and even surplus, rainfall. We may not see that repeated in 2017.

As the McCracken County Agent for Horticulture from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Service, many of my phone calls are about concerns with trees in the landscape.

Many trees which I see have troubles related to how they were planted. Please read the selected material from our Extension publication, below. This may help by providing education on canopy decline which frequently is a result of how a tree was planted. This is a portion of the publication.

Transplant Shock: Disease or Cultural Problem?

By Nicole Ward Gauthier & Cheryl Kaiser, Plant Pathology, Mike Klahr, Horticulture Extension Agent

When trees and shrubs are moved from one growing site to another (e.g. from nursery to landscape), they endure stress. If care is taken to minimize stress through proper transplanting techniques and maintenance, plants are likely to recover rapidly and become well-established in their new sites.

Unfortunately, the opposite usually occurs. Trees and shrubs suffer "transplant shock" from improper transplanting or maintenance, and recovery is hindered. Under stressful conditions, plants are unable to recover, continue to decline, and eventually die. Although plant diseases may be responsible, transplant stresses are most often the culprit of death or decline of newly planted trees and shrubs.

Woody plants may take as long as 3 to 5 years to establish in their new locations and to recover from transplant stresses. Visible leaf and shoot emergence are not indicators of plant establishment. Transplants are not considered established until primary roots expand into native surrounding soil, branch out, and produce sufficient feeder roots on their tips. If trees fail to regenerate new, healthy roots or fail to establish root systems in new planting sites, transplant shock often results. Such root-related problems may be traced to one or more factors: stresses which occurred when plants were removed from original sites, injury during transit, improper planting techniques, and/or poor cultural practices.

Symptoms of transplant shock can resemble disease and other stresses.

â ¢ Decline

â ¢ Canopy thinning

â ¢ Dieback

â ¢ Leaf scorch, tip burn

â ¢ Reduced winter hardiness

â ¢ Poor leaf color

â ¢ Premature fall color

â ¢ Limited stem growth, stunting

â ¢ Limited flowering

â ¢ Premature defoliation/leaf drop

â ¢ Delayed leaf emergence in spring

â ¢ Secondary disease problems

â ¢ Secondary insect problems

â ¢ Excessive seed or cone production

Causes of transplant shock and related stresses can range from pre-plant care to post-plant maintenance:

Poor transplant techniques

â ¢ Root ball allowed to dry-out before planting.

â ¢ Root ball allowed to freeze prior to planting.

â ¢ Mechanical injury during digging, moving, or transplanting.

â ¢ Planting hole too small, crowding roots.

â ¢ Sides of hole "glazed," preventing root expansion.

â ¢ Twine or wire from nursery tags and guides left intact; girdling roots, trunk, or limb

â ¢ Burlap or synthetic (non-biodegradable) "burlap" or twine left around root ball.

â ¢ Container-grown plant is rootbound, and roots continue to grow around or spiral, rather than growing outward.

â ¢ Planted at the wrong depth, either too deep or too shallow.

â ¢ Failure to protect young tender bark from exposure to temperature fluctuations in winter, leading to sunscald and frost crack injury.

â ¢ Tree wrap left on trunk more than one season.

â ¢ Excessive use of fertilizer at planting time, resulting in root "burn."

â ¢ Mower or string trimmer damage.

Poor plant material

â ¢ Species/cultivar not suited to Kentucky climate.

â ¢ Plant not healthy and vigorous due to previous stress, insects, or disease damage.

â ¢ Root ball too small for amount of top growth.

â ¢ Plant roots dried out between digging and transplanting, resulting in root damage and/or death.

â ¢ Leaves and twigs of plant not protected from wind during transport from nursery to landscape.

Undesirable growing site

â ¢ Soils poorly drained - including both surface drainage and internal drainage (e.g. subsoil or other high clay content soils).

â ¢ "Wet feet" resulting from locations near gutter downspouts or other low-lying areas.

â ¢ Compacted soil, resulting in reduced root growth, lack of oxygen and air exchange, and reduced water penetration.

â ¢ Shade loving tree or shrub planted in full sun, or vice versa.

Poor follow-up cultural practices

â ¢ Improper watering--little or no watering, excessive watering (especially problematic in heavy clay soils) or frequent light sprinkling.

â ¢ Application of high levels of nitrogen, resulting in excessive top growth compared to root growth (root-to-shoot ratio).

Prevention is the key to minimizing transplant shock. Only healthy, hardy landscape material should be purchased and installed into landscapes.

The following steps are important for reducing transplant stress and may reverse transplant shock symptoms:

â ¢ Relocate plants to more appropriate sites (during dormant season).

â ¢ Prune or remove dead and dying branches.

⠢ Water thoroughly during dry periods with the equivalent of 1 to 1½ inches rain per week.

â ¢ Fertilize according to soil test results (not recommended during year one)

â ¢ Mulch.

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