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Common mistakes people make that kill trees in eastern Idaho

In the Garden

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This may sound like a sad or morbid gardening article title, but it’s better to know what mistakes cause tree death than to not know and repeat the mistake yourself.

It may seem like common sense but, let’s start out with a “given” when planting and growing trees.

Do not plant a tree in our area that has a naturally “low” or “no” chance of survival. There are trees we would love to have in our back yards, but they do not realistically grow here due to either soil ph, winter weather, or some other climatic condition we have.

For example, we cannot grow sugar maples, and we wish we could because of their beautiful fall color, but our soil has a high ph and sugar maples need a more acidic ph to survive.

Another example is placing a wind sensitive tree in a location where it will be ultimately injured by strong breezes.

Select a tree based off its proven track record of success in the local area. If other people in the surrounding area have it planted and they are successfully growing, then your chance of success is higher and can result in less long term death loss.

A common mistake leading to tree death is poor planting techniques, which may not manifest itself for years to come.

Many trees are planted too deep, resulting in bark rot and a slow death. Plant your trees at the same soil depth that they were planted in the pot, or if you are buying them bare root, then at the same soil depth as where they were grown in the field previously.

Stake them correctly, and protect them from vole or other rodent damage. Voles kill the tree by girdling the bottom right around the base (eating the bark), which stops water from being pulled up from the ground to the branches and ultimately kills the tree.

Use hardware cloth, plastic wrap, or fine wire mesh around the bottom of the tree to help reduce their damage levels. Don’t put it around the bottom too tight as it can damage the tree as the tree grows. It also helps to remove any grass or vegetation that is growing around the bottom of the tree, as that is the cover or habitat the rodents need to hide and not get eaten by predators.

Too often trees are planted and left without any support, and have a small root system compared to what is above ground. This can lead to crooked trees, and which ultimately fail to root into the surrounding soil, and are “wiggly” in the soil rather than firmly established and rooted in.

For fruit trees, poor planting can result in trees that lack enough stability to support a large fruit load.

In addition to good staking procedures, spreading the roots on bare root trees correctly will help the tree become stable and study in our environment. Properly preparing the root ball on potted trees at the time of planting is even more critical. If not done properly, a potted tree will stay root bound and will not root out successfully. A root bound tree may live for 5 to 10 years, but their life span is cut short due to their inability to pull up needed water and have anchorage in the ground.

Other very common issues causing tree death are lawn mower or weed wacker damage, which occurs when a tree is accidentally cut or hit at the base by equipment and loses some bark, which then impairs the uptake of water and nutrients from the roots.

You should also protect trees from southwest injury, also called sunscald, on the southwest side of your tree. You can either wrap the lower half of the tree with a protective plastic wrap or paint the main trunk with a mixture of half water, and half indoor latex white paint. Do not use an oil based paint or outdoor paint. It needs to be watered down to the half water / half paint concoction, and most times will have to be repainted in the fall annually or every other year depending on how it peels.

If you have further tree questions, feel free to contact Lance at (208) 624-3102.