Did I just kill my Paperbark Maple?

mjw24(7)March 21, 2011

Well, I finally found a good spot for my new Paperbark maple. It's a beauty. About 10' tall. Paid way too much for it at a local nursery but I've been eying this kind of tree for years.

Anyhow I had the rootball in the hole and was getting ready to backfill and decided I needed to move it about a foot to the left. I decided that the best way to do this was to grab the wire cage. But as I pulled and pulled the wire cage came out from under the root ball and the root ball pretty much disintegrated. I was horrified as I've read just about everywhere that if the rootball breaks the tree is doomed. I did my best to re-set the tree into the soil of the rootball. I watered the roots (now just 3 or 4 very thick roots) with Superthrive and added a starter fertilizer I've had good luck with. Because the tree no longer has the very heavy/strong rootball holding it in place I went ahead and staked the tree.

The local nursery seems to think the tree still has a good shot since it's still dormant. Does anyone else share their optimism or do you think I've ruined this beautiful tree? I feel terrible....

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brian_zn_5_ks(N.E. Kansas)

You know what? Trees are just a whole lot tougher than we often give them credit for.

The collapse of the nursery root ball is in no way a problem for the ultimate survival of the tree. The tree could, perhaps, have had a denser, more fibrous root system that would have tended to hold that soil mass together - but it didn't, so we'll just move on.

In this instance, staking probably is a good idea - but don't leave the staking material on for too long. Certainly, get it off by next spring.

Water thoughtfully, as needed, this first growing season. Don't know about what kind of summers you have, but in my area, summers are hot and dry, and a time of greatest stress for new plants. When customers come back to me with problems, it is after Labor Day, and invariably the problems relate to inadequate watering.

Don't kick yourself about your planting procedure, you did fine, and your tree will probably do fine, too. Excellent choice, by the way - paperbarks are an aristocrat among all the fine maples.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 9:21PM
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You are probably fine. I have field planted many a Paperbark Maple after the root ball fell apart.
I am so glad to hear the wire basket is gone. Despite what you hear you should never ever plant in these things. Even with them bent back below the surface, roots hit them get tangled and turn back on themselves. Burlap in my opinion should also always be removed.
The important thing is did you plant it at the proper depth?
That is you can see the root collar and the top of the first major root where it contacts the trunk.
Did you heal it in around the root ball to remove air pockets in the soil?
The one mistake you made is fertilizer. Never fertilize a newly planted tree for at least one full growing season. If you did not use much and it was low or slow release nitrogen it should not do much harm. I looked up Superthrive and it looks like it's Vitamin b1 and auxins. Sounds like another product designed to separate consumers from their hard earned money, but it can't do any harm like fertilizer and it's your money so use it if you like.

Here is a link that might be useful: A little science on B1 and auxins

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 9:54PM
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I agree that the collapse of the rootball does not necessarily spell doom for your tree -- in fact, it is probably a good thing. There has been a lot of study done regarding the establishment of B&B nursery stock (containered stock, also) that indicates removing any existing soil from the rootball before planting encourages faster establishment and allows proper identification of the root flare and a close examination of root system and correction of any problems. Plus it eliminates common issues like soil interface problems and the drying out of the rootball soil after planting.

And I am of the camp that considers Superthrive (or Superjive, as some call it :-)) just a waste of money. The growth stimulators - such as they are - that it contains are diluted beyond usefulness or any benefit. A starter fertilizer may be appropriate but even that is up for some discussion as the B1 most contain is available to the plant naturally and seldom needs to be supplemented. But a small amount is usually not an issue and the phosphorus may help to encourage root regeneration.

FWIW, the notion that maintaining rootball integrity is sacrosanct is very much old school. Removing any and all wrappings and washing or bare rooting the plant of any existing soil before planting is now considered a beneficial practice. What is most important for your new tree beyond any rootball considerations or fertilizing is correct planting practices and attention to watering through its first season in the ground.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 11:47AM
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Thanks to each of you for responding. I've planted the tree at the proper depth and the fertiilzer was strictly a starter fertilizer so I think I'm okay there. My big concern is that the majority of the very small, fine roots were pulled away when the rootball disintegrated. What I was left with was 3 or 4 very thick woody roots. From what I've read it is those fine root hairs that deliver the water/nutrients for the tree to survive. If they are gone will the larger thicker roots be able to deliver water, etc. while smaller roots begin to grow?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 1:31PM
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You should be fine. This early in the year the tree probably has enough energy stored in those big roots to grow more fine roots. You may have to baby it a little longer than normal though.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 8:26PM
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