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Home & Garden: Landscapes must follow planting standards to ensure tree health

Curt Swift
CURT’S CORNER
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Twine is shown embedded around the base of a pine tree.
Curt Swift |

F ive years ago a yard was landscaped with Austrian pine, ash, other trees as well as shrubs. Just recently the owners had to remove an Austrian pine, which was infested with borers.

When samples were taken in for diagnosis they were told they were watering too much, and borers attacked and killed the tree. When I was called in to evaluate the problem and provide recommendations, another Austrian pine in their landscape looked to be in serious trouble. Half the needles on the lower portion of the tree were very dry and brittle, while the needles on the upper half of the tree appeared healthy. The problem seemed to be the tree’s inability to take up water from the soil, yet the trees had been watered on a regular and frequent basis, so lack of soil moisture was not the problem. If overwatering had been the problem the inner needles would have responded accordingly. The main clue the owners provided as to the cause was the symptoms on these trees seemed to appear overnight.

When a root system is compromised, the tree will continue to live using the stored energy and water supplied in the trunk, needles and buds. When those supplies are depleted, the tree undergoes a rapid decline ending in death.



Upon evaluation of the trees I discovered the twine around the base of the trees used to hold the burlap and basket in place had not been removed when the trees were planted five years ago. The base of the tree continued to enlarge in diameter; the twine cut into it and was finally buried in the bark, cutting off sugar produced in the needles from reaching and keeping the roots alive. When the roots died from lack of nourishment, the tree was doomed. Not removing the twine resulted in strangulation of the tree.

The pine tree cut down by the owners had been invaded by borers, but this was secondary to the death of the roots. This type of boring insect is seldom found attacking healthy trees; the tree in question was already either dead or dying when this insect attacked. Sadly, digging down to the twine and cutting it out of the trunk tissue may not save the remaining trees on their property.



There are instances when the property owner is not able to be present when trees are installed. Even if they are not on site, they expect the landscaper to follow professional industry standards. This summer I had a situation where a landscaper started to plant trees much too deeply. This was possibly the same landscaper. When I asked him to plant the trees higher, he told me doing that would invalidate the guarantee. His guarantee was for one year, yet trees often survive the first year even when planted improperly. That was the case with the trees strangled by twine; they survived for five years. The landscapers guarantee has expired.

I have been on some sites where trees have snapped off at ground level due to the strangulation effect of either an encircling root or from twine left around the base of the tree. Encircling roots are more common when trees are planted too deeply. Landscapers and others in the horticultural industry cannot guarantee 100-percent survival of the trees, shrubs and lawns they install. They can however guarantee the planting is done in accordance with professional industry standards. The landscaper who installed these trees failed to meet those standards.

GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu or call 970-778-7866.


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