Saturday, August 4th, 2007...11:56 am

Dying Topiary


TheGardenLady received this question from Jina:

I have 2 potted spiral trees that I purchased and planted myself 2 summers ago. They have survived extremely cold winters. I have feed and pruned them each spring. I recently noticed some brown limbs and looks like dying. I’m not sure what I have done wrong, and would love some advice on how to care for them back to full recovery. Thanks for your help!

TheGardenLady does not know what type of tree you purchased that is spiraled. Usually the decorative potted spiral trees have been pruned to make it look like a spiral. This kind of pruning is not natural and can cause stress to the tree that was spiraled.
TheGardenLady does not know where you purchased your spiral tree. Trees often do not die immediately when you bring them home. Sometimes it can take a few years before the home gardener sees that the tree is dying.  That is why it is preferable to purchase trees in reputable nurseries – nurseries where the employees know the best way of caring for their merchandise. You might pay more for the plant but it is worth it to get a healthy plant. You can also ask questions when purchasing; for example, you can ask what their policy of return is should the tree die. And you can always return to the nursery where you bought the trees to ask more questions about the trees. Some of the chains that have inexpensive plants buy them cheaply and just water them. They have no idea how to really maintain those plants, so a buyer doesn’t realize that he/she is getting inferior merchandise.  Then when the buyer plants the tree, it might look like it is surviving for a few years only to start dying in the third year.  So you might not have done anything wrong. You might have bought  weak, unhealthy trees.  
Many times to get a “guarantee” that a tree will survive, the nursery will want to plant the tree. Trees that are balled or have wires holding the roots have to have the material holding the roots removed or the tree can die. Or if the tree was not planted in a big enough hole for the root to expand this can cause the tree to struggle. 
Also, because we are having such unusual weather patterns, extremely cold days interspersed with warm days in the winter or extremely hot days interspersed with cool days or too much rain or too much drought, the tree might be having too much stress. Or your tree might have been planted close to pollutants like those from cars on a busy street. Environmental problems like these can cause numerous problems that stress the trees and cause them to die.
Your trees might have a disease but without seeing the trees, it is difficult to diagnose the problem.  You should always cut out the dead or dying branches.
You say that you are feeding the trees. Are you giving them enough water? Young trees need lots of water. You should mulch the trees to retain moisture and add nutrients to the soil. Use only a few inches of mulch around the tree; don’t pile it too high or it can kill the tree.  And don’t let the mulch touch the trunk.   Read this about mulching.

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