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Thursday - May 31, 2012

From: Hutto, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Planting, Trees
Title: Trees starting to die in subdivision in Hutto, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in Hutto Tx, in a subdivision where everyone has the 2 trees planted in the front yard. My trees have started to die, and I want to find out what kind they are to find a solution


We don't have much of any way to discover what those trees might be, and knowing would bring us no closer to a solution and/or cure. What tree is involved doesn't matter as much as how and when were the trees planted? Just as a matter of curiosity, though, you could probably ask neighbors, someone will know what those trees are.

If they were planted some time other than November through January, they are probably suffering from transplant shock. We recommend that woody plants, trees and shrubs, be planted in the cool months while they are dormant. If they are not native to your area, they could be in a soil with which they are not compatible. If they had been in pots too long before they were planted they may be rootbound, a condition in which roots that cannot get out into surrounding soil wrap around themselves, eventually strangling the tree. If they were planted in improperly dug holes, without provisions for drainage, that could be a problem. If they have not been deep watered, by which a hose is inserted deeply into the dirt around the tree and allowed to slowly drip until water appears on the surface, they are likely suffering from thirst. If herbicide to kill broad-leaf weeds in the lawn was sprayed in the area, the tree (also a broad-leaf plant) may have been poisoned as well.

The point of all this is not to say we know the perfect solution, but to help you avoid any similar mistakes in the future. The first thing you want to know is are the trees still alive, at all? For this, you need the thumbnail test. Using your thumb nail, scratch a thin sliver of bark off as high as you can reach on the tree. If there is a thin layer of green under that bark, that branch is still alive. If it appears dead, work your way down the tree, similarly searching for a green underlayer. If you don't find any signs of life clear to the bottom, those roots are probably dead and the tree is doomed. if you determine it is root-dead, you should probably remove it. It would be dangerous, possibly dropping on a child or being blown down, to leave a dead tree in the ground.

If the tree proves to be still alive, and you want to try to nurture it back to health, there is some chance of that. First, water, using the method we describe above, and repeat about once a week unless there has been plenty of rain and even then if the water is running off and not soaking in. After you have begun your watering program, get some good shredded hardwood mulch and spread it over the root area of the trees, NOT pushing it up against the trunk, as that can cause fungal growth. And don't fertilize - never fertilize a stressed plant, as yours obviously are. Fertilizers push an already struggling plant into new growth.

If you determine there is no hope for the trees, you can replace them with native trees whose names you know. Remember: Neither buy nor attempt to plant the trees until November. We are going to give you a list of trees native to the area of Williamson County. Insist that any tree you are interested in be pulled out of the pot so you can see if the roots look healthy and/or are rootbound.

Because a lot of the soils in the Travis/Williamson Counties area are clay soils, we found an article with a video on How to Plant a Tree, that has instructions for clay soils. What the instructor calls "soil conditioners," we call compost. Get a good quality compost and use plenty of it to mix in with the native soil. This is one of the best ways we know of to promote drainage and prevent roots standing in wet soil, leading to rot. It also helps the little new rootlets access the nutrients in the soil. As we mentioned above, we do not ordinarily recommend fertilizer on native plants, as they are already accustomed to the conditions in the soil. Being transplanted stresses the tree, and you never want to fertilize a stressed tree. Most of the trees you will purchase in this area will be in pots instead of burlap, unless you are planning to plant a really big (and heavy) tree! Either way, take a good look at the roots before you pay for the tree.

We have chosen a variety of locally native trees; some flowering, some small, some larger and slower growing. Always remember to allow for the size of the root span when you put in a tree. The roots will probably spread out further in the ground than the crown of the tree does aboveground. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that tree to read about its growing conditions and needs.

New native trees for Williamson County:

Acacia farnesiana (Huisache)

Aesculus glabra (Ohio buckeye)

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud)

Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow)

Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon)

Fraxinus texensis (Texas ash)

Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon)

Leucaena retusa (Goldenball leadtree)

Platanus occidentalis (American sycamore)

Quercus macrocarpa (Bur oak)

Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii (Western soapberry)

Taxodium distichum (Bald cypress)


From the Image Gallery

Acacia farnesiana

Ohio buckeye
Aesculus glabra

Texas redbud
Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

Texas persimmon
Diospyros texana

Texas ash
Fraxinus albicans

Ilex vomitoria

Goldenball leadtree
Leucaena retusa

American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis

Bur oak
Quercus macrocarpa

Western soapberry
Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii

Bald cypress
Taxodium distichum

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