My trees are dying!

bluebooksApril 20, 2007

I am so frustrated. We've pulled out two trees already this year. It looks like two more are dead or dying.

I am a careful gardner. I researched my tree choices carefully. I also am careful about how I plant/care for my trees. My soil is VERY alkaline. But we use chelated iron and watch the trees carefully.

These are the trees that we've lost:

1) Amur Maple -- It's on Larry Sagers list of good small trees for Utah. However, a year after we planted it, I read in Michael Kuhn's "Trees of Utah" that it is one of the worst for chlorosis. It sends out new branches each year, but by the next year all of the branches are dead.

2) Japanese Maple (bloodgood) -- Protected, east-side exposure, part shade. The tree did't even make it one year.

3) October Glory Maple -- I knew that it had some problems with chlorosis, but these trees are thriving at homes around us. We've been diligent with the iron treatments. Yet, this spring it's only sending out leaves on the bottom half of the tree.

4) Redbud -- Has struggled from the beginning. Is completely dead. Our neighbor across the street has four that are beautiful.

We have a Tina Crabapple that is thriving and beautiful. We also have a Canyon Maple (graft) that seems to be doing well -- but the fall color is always brown not red. We have a Black Hills Spruce that seems to be barely surviving. We just planted another JM Bloodgood and an Osakazuki JM. My fingers are crossed that they will do well.

Any suggestions? Any suggestions for small trees that might do better in such Alkaline soil? At this point, I'll take any help I can get.

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What kind of chelated iron are you using? The most commonly available kinds is EDTA, but that doesn't work well here. You may need to use EDDHA to get much of an effect.

You can also buy water soluble iron and spray it on the leaves. This gives an immediate boost, but is short lived. Don't do it when it's over about 85 degrees or you'll burn the leaves. You'll get better results if you add some shampoo or liquid dishsoap to the water. You also need to be careful not to spray on walls, sidewalks, etc, because the iron will stain.

If you can find some soil sulfur, buy a big bag of that and a bulb auger. Got around the tree line and drill a hole about three feet deep with the bulb auger every few feet. Fill it about half full with sulfur and the rest of the way with dirt. The results from that won't appear until this fall, but can last a fairly long time.

Top dress with any organic matter you can find--compost, used coffee grounds (free from Starbucks), shredded trees (sometimes you can get these for free from tree trimming services, but you need to be prepared to accept a full truckload. If the trees are small enough, add the OM around the trunk and cover the grass enough to smother it (don't pile the coffee grounds too high, though--they can repel water when they're thick and dry off). If the trees are too big for that, top dress to a depth of 1/4 inch. Do this as often as feasible.

Don't water often. Cut back on the frequency and increase the amount of water you apply until you're watering once a week, and applying an inch each time. Once a month, water the trees very deeply. Put a hose out on trickle and let it run for a few hours.

I found a list of trees that are supposed to do well in Utah. I've posted the link here (or maybe the Rocky Mountain forum) in the past. I'll try to find it and post it again.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 11:52AM
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barclajo(z6 UT)

Japanese Maples do not like the soil, but they also will suffer from the humidity or more specifically the lack there of. My guess is that you will be able to get the JMs to grow if you baby them but they will probably never love their new home in the desert.

What kind of soil do you have clay, sand, silt, or a blend? Have you checked the drainage of your dirt? If not try digging a hole and filling it up with water. Then wait and see how long it takes for the water to disappear. This will tell you how well the soil drains.

It is the general recommendation now that trees be planted without soil amendments, however in my case I have heavy clay that drains very poorly so I have been bucking that advice and amending heavily when planting. I have had very good experience using Utelite and compost to help the dirt drain better. The Utelite really seems to break up the clay and in combination with the compost works very well. You can buy Utelite in bulk at any of the IFA stores. Another thing you could try is raising the beds before planting the trees. This can significantly help drainage.

As far as why your trees have died my guess is either too much water or not enough. Unfortunately the symptoms are exactly the same for both problems. Too much water causes the feeder roots to die and the tree cannot take up enough water. You will want to closely watch how much water you put on the trees this summer. Also trees want deeper water than your lawn. Try a soaker hose to get water down to the level the trees need.

For tree recommendations take a look at these


Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata)


Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Kentucky Coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus)
Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
London Planetree (Platanus x acerifolia)

My last recommendation is to buy from a nursery with at least a 1 year warranty. I think Glovers is the one that has a 5 year warranty.

Here is a link that might be useful: Utelite

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 12:08PM
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We have already been using the EDDHA iron twice a year. We put it around the periphery of the tree (under the soil about 6 inches). We have also used the liquid iron on the trees. We've heavily amended the soil in our beds (where the trees were) because our topsoil is such heavy clay.

I do think the Amur problem was because of overwatering. It did fine until we went on vacaton two years ago. Our sprinklers broke the day before we left. I had a neighbor manually turn on my valves to water (twice a week). But in the meanwhile, my sprinkler guy came and fixed the system. He must have unplugged the system because it defaulted to watering everyday. My tree has never been the same since.

The Redbud and October Glory, however, have been well cared for.

Thanks for the recommendations. We'll amend more when I replace the trees -- and I'll continue to watch the water.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 1:49PM
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Here is the USU publication on selecting trees.

If you're using EDDHA chelated iron and a foliar spray, your trees should be greening up.

I usually add the chelated iron at the same time as I do the deep watering. I pick 4 spots around the drip line. I often put some compost in a 5 gallon bucket, let it sit for a little while (really just a few minutes) put 1/4 of the recommended amount of chelated iron down, pour the compost "tea" slowly on that spot, so it soaks in and carries the iron with it. Then I set the hose there and let it run on a trickle for an hour (or, if the soil is soaking up the water well enough, I'll let it run a bit faster and for only about 15 minutes). I repeat the process at the other 3 spots I picked out. A month or so later, I pick out 4 new spots to water. I usually try to hit the midpoints of the last watering. So, for example, if I first watered N-S-E-W, the next time, I'll do NE-SW-NW-SE. I probably do three deep waterings each year, maybe 4.

When you spray the water soluble iron, do you use shampoo or dishsoap to the water? The soap acts as a surfactant/wetting agent, so it helps it spread more evenly and stick a little better.

Have you tried adding soil sulfur? I added it a few times, but didn't realize that I wasn't doing much good by spreading it on the top of the soil. Getting the bulb auger seems to have made a big difference. Of course, it was also the time I bought a big bag (I don't remember for sure, but I think it was a 50 lb bag, for one large tree).

Another thing that might help (although I think it would be short term and have limited effect) would be to add some vinegar to the water. I wouldn't add much--maybe a quart diluted in 5 gallons. I think that would have a fast, limited and short term effect.

If you're really desperate, there are "iron pills" for trees. Basically, they're iron in a gel cap. You drill a small hole (or several holes, depending on the size of the tree) in the trunk of the tree, insert the gel cap and seal with grafting wax. Drilling a hole in the trunk isn't good for a tree, but if the alternative is losing the tree, the hole is less damaging than having a tree that can't produce chlorophyll. If you're going to try these things, you need to do it really soon. If you wait until the leaves are out and turning yellow, it's already too late.

As for amending the soil when planting, I've read conflicting advice on that. It used to be commonly advised, but most of what I've read in the last few years recommends against it. Especially in conditions like ours with the heavy clay. The problem with amending the planting hole is that it then becomes much more porous than the rest of the lawn, creating what is often referred to as a "bathtub effect" where the water from the nearby denser soil drains into the bathtub created by the soft amended soil. Most of what I've read recently recommends planting in the native soil, then adding mulch, compost, etc on top of the soil.

Another problem with amending the soil in the tree hole is that then the tree roots have a difficult time expanding beyond the amended soil. There's some sort of soil barrier effect.

I used to be a big believer in digging a big hole, amending the heck out of it and planting the tree in it, but I think that approach may be largely responsible for the demise of the magnolia I planted a few years ago (lost it to chlorosis and I think killed with kindness because it was overwatered).

    Bookmark   April 21, 2007 at 12:09AM
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songbirdmommy(UT 5)

I have 6 Amur Maples in an island in the backyard....
5 started leafing out wonderfully a few weeks ago, but one of them, seem dead.... now it finally had decided to leaf out and is looking gorgeous too.
I hope that as a careful gardener, you made sure it was truly dead...
When I read what you had written I said to myself... "Oh no! Maybe it was just being a late bloomer like mine!" I am grateful I did not take it out a week or two ago.
I also have alot of redbud, two of them are doing the same thing.
One is finally starting to get green on it and even bud before the others... and two weeks ago the others were greening up nice and this one looked dead... I think the second one, although now it is greening up... I am going to take out... by choice.... ohwhat a chore THAT will be! LOL

Now with all my teens working @ Lagoon on Saturdays, They have no time to help me do the backbreaking jobs like yanking roots out of the ground....

Reminds me, I need to call the utility companies before I start digging the stump from another tree out to put my waterfall in.

Good reminder to everyone... call before you dig. :-)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 1:33PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

I've had a few of the problems that you mention, bluebooks, but I would hate to give up on Japanese maples. They're such great trees. My experience has been counter to conventional wisdom. I had a great Bloodgood JM in a shady spot on the north side of my house, with a plain green JM near it. Both died slowly over two years, and it seemed like chlorosis, but it was hard to tell with the dark red leaves on the Bloodgood. I'm wondering now if that spot was infected with verticilium or some other disease. I have some laurel shrubs there, and they've been fine the whole time, but maybe they are resistant to the disease, if that's what it was. Anyway, it was surprising the the ones in the shade did so poorly.

The contrary thing is that I also have two JMs in sunny spots, and they've done just fine! One is a plain green variety, and it gets full sun all day. It does get some very minor leaf burn but it's OK. The other is a plain red JM (atropurpureum) on the west side of my house, so it doesn't get sun all day, but it gets the hottest sun. It's surrounded by brick walls on two sides and concrete walks on the other two sides, so you'd think it would be a tough, hot spot. This tree struggled some the first year, until I applied about three inches of shredded bark mulch. After that, it thrived! It's been a wonderful tree and is getting quite large now, after five years in the ground. I've since applied a finer compost mulch on top of the shredded bark, and it continues to do well. The soil it's in is native soil filled against the house with maybe four inches of sandy loam "topsoil" added on top. It may be that when the builder filled the native dirt back into that spot after the basement excavation that the soil became looser and better draining than it was before being dug up. But the heavy mulching has been the most helpful thing, I think. Here's a photo of that tree from last fall:

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 2:04PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Hey BPGreen, I could use a little more advice, since we're talking about chlorosis here. You mentioned some things in another thread, and I might as well followup here, because it's the same issue.

I mentioned that I have a large Autumn Blaze maple that has been chlorotic (while two others very near this tree are just fine and this variety is supposed to resist chlorosis). Anyway, what I did late last summer was to treat it with EDDHA iron fed through a "syringe" root feeder. I just took some of the iron powder and put it in the chamber of the root feeder and injected it into the ground all around the drip line, probably about a foot deep. Then I let the water run through the syringe thing for about an hour each in different locations. The tree was already dropping leaves prematurely in August, after being pale yellow all summer. After my root feeding, a lot of little leaves sprouted out in September, but they were still immature when the frosts froze them. I was worried that the tree might not come back this spring, because when I lost the Bloodgood Japanese maple, it went through the same August leaf drop behavior, with a second crop of little leaves trying to emerge too late in the season, and then it was just dead the next spring. But so far, this big maple is coming back. It doesn't look as vigorous as the other two, but it has young leaves, and they look as green as the other two trees of the same variety.

My question is this: I also bought the "Medicap" iron implants this winter, thinking I would implant them in the trunk early this spring. If I do that, is it possible I could give it an overdose of iron (because of the soil treatment as well)?

In the other thread, you mentioned that the problem isn't really lack of iron in the soil, it's the alkalinity that keeps the tree from absorbing the iron. I understand that, but I also thought that the right kind of iron (EDDHA) CAN be absorbed and be helpful in such an alkaline situation. I take it from your post above that you agree it can be helpful. Is that correct?

I have this nagging doubt that perhaps it wasn't really chlorosis. Could the tree have looked this way (pale leaves with marginal burn and premature drop) from underwatering? I know overwatering can turn things yellow, but can underwatering do the same thing? This tree happens to be at the end of a long drip system that loses a lot of pressure by the time it reaches the tree. I'm certain that of the three Autumn Blaze maples, this one gets the least water. For the two that are doing better, one gets automatic sprinkler watering twice a week, and one is at the beginning of that drip line where the pressure is adequate. I tried putting a sprinkler under the sick tree once or twice a month last summer (when I would see some nearby shrubs start to wilt), but I don't know if that got deep enough to help the tree.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 2:21PM
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Stevation--I think you've hit some of the biggest issues in trying to care for plants around here. Sometimes it's very difficult to tell the difference between overwatering and underwatering.

To get to some of your specific questions, you're right that EDDHA iron can be used by the plants even though the soil conditions are poor. The iron that is in the soil is bound and can't be used by the trees, but the EDDHA is in a form that is immediately usable.

I don't think you'll be overdosing with iron if you use the medicaps. I think the EDDHA iron has a short life, and is already gone.

As you already know, it's difficult to be sure exactly what helped the tree last fall. Was it underwatered, so watering for an hour at various places brought it back, or was it the iron along with it?

If I were you, I would wait until the rains have stopped and the soil is drying out, then once a month or so, use that root feeder thing the way you did last year. You want to give the tree plenty of water, but you also want to give the soil a chance to dry out between feedings. I wouldn't use a sprinkler to water the tree, because too much of that water will stay near the surface. You want to water it deeply, and only once a month or so (either use the root feeder as you did or just put the hose out and leave it as long as it doesn't run off). That'll give it a chance to develop deep healthy roots, and give the soil a chance to dry out so it doesn't get chlorotic from sogginess.

If it does well this year, next year, try the root feeder without the iron and see if the leaves start turning yellow. If they don't turn yellow, you know it was just a lack of water. If they do start to turn yellow, you can start applying the iron again the next time you water.

Since you have the medicaps, I would use them along with the eddha iron you'll water in. But if you don't use the medicaps in the next week or so, you've missed the window for them to help (at least I think that's the case). I don't think you need to worry about too much iron if the trees have been suffering from too little all along.

Good luck, and keep us posted on how it goes.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 5:09PM
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Beautiful JM Stevation!

I'm waiting to pull out the Redbud. It was a slow bloomer last year so I need to make sure -- but the branches are so dry and snap right off when bent (I think it's gone).

My Redbud and October Glory were planted in native soil. The Amur and Bloodgood (now the two new JMs) were planted in beds where the entire area had been amended. We do the equivalent of the bulb auger when we use the iron. We make sure to bury it so it doesn't break down in the sun. We'll try adding some soap to the foliar spray.

My Osakazuki is in full sun -- I've heard they can do well there. We planted 1 1/2 weeks ago. It is looking pretty sad right now. The leaves are burnt and turning red. I'm sure the temperature swings and wind of late haven't helped.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 6:37PM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

I think one of the important things about the bulb augur that bpgreen mentioned is that it creates a hole without compacting the ground around it, so the iron can more easily get distributed in the surrounding soil. Back when I had the sick Bloodgood JM, I made holes for soil sulfur application, but I did it wrong -- I stuck a metal rod in the ground and just churned it around to open up a hole, but that compacts the soil around the hole, which inhibits the flow of the nutrients you put in the hole. That was not the way to do it.

I've been thinking this week about another tree problem I'm having -- I have a Kwanzan Cherry (a flowering cherry -- not fruit producing) that is not doing well, and I've read that they are sensitive to poor drainage. I have a neighbor with one doing extremely well, but his is planted in a large berm or mound, which would make the drainage a lot better. Many of us in Utah have clay soil that doesn't drain well. If any of you are planting sensitive trees, besides the soil amendments mentioned by others, I would suggest building up the planting area as well, so the root ball isn't completely down in the heavy, poor-draining clay.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 11:40AM
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Stevation makes an excellent point about the need for creating a hole without further compacting the soil. One of the reasons chlorosis is such a problem here is the poor drainage.

I found a good publication from CO State U. If you're interested in the other pubs listed at the bottom, substitute the number of that pub for the 223 in the url I'm linking.

Here is a link that might be useful: Colo State pub on chlorosis

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 2:20AM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

BP - I put the Medicaps in that maple, and it's made a HUGE improvement in just the past two weeks! It already had new leaves coming out, and they were looking a little pale, but they were still small, so I figured if I got the Medicaps inserted quickly (as you advised), it would probably feed those leaves as they filled out a little more. It did, and the tree is looking better than it ever did. Nice, deep green leaves and the leaves are bigger than they were last year when it was sick.

I'm still not sure if some of the improvement came from injecting the EDDHA iron into the soil last year, but I'm inclined to think it was mostly the Medicaps, since it was still looking a little pale before inserting them.

Now, the question is: how to keep this chlorosis from returning in a couple years when these medicaps have been depleted? The area it's in has two inches of fine compost as a mulch on top of a breathable weed barrier fabric. It was the best way I could think of to kill all the darn weeds in that spot last year. So, my organic matter isn't going to work down into the soil there, unless I remove the fabric. Do you think that's what I should do?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 6:01PM
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That's great news about the medicaps. I nevr had much luck with them. I think I always waited until it was too late for them to do any good. I think the iron you put in last year is all gone by now, so I think the greening is all due to the medicaps. I think the fact that the leaves were pale before lends some credence to that.

I think I'd be inclined to remove the weed barrier since it has done its job and is now acting as a barrier keeping the compost from moving down. If the weed barrier is designed to break down over time, you can leave it there. Another thing to consider is that as the tree grows, it will be getting water and nutrients from farther away. I saw a diagram once that showed where trees get their nutrients, and nearly all came from the dripline (give or take a little in either direction. I used sulfur a few years ago, then started spreading compost at the dripline every time I get a batch finished. Using Starbucks grounds for the main source of N and leaves, shredded branches and shredded paper as the C, I can usually get compost in about three weeks or so through the summer. I also spread the coffee grounds directly on the lawn (including under the tree) except when it's hot out (it smells) and when the lawn is snow covered. I think the compost and coffee grounds have made more of a difference than the sulfur. The only thing is that I don't think I can ever let up. I will constantly need to keep adding organic matter. I keep considering calling a tree service and asking for a load of shredded trees to topdress the entire lawn, but I'm a little afraid of how much I'd get--I'm afraid I'd get too much to be able to spread by myself, and don't have anyplace I could store the rest.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2007 at 6:21PM
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