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Frequently Asked Questions

Abbreviations you will see in this section are:


ASA - American Society of Agronomy


ANSI - American National Standards Institute


ANSI A 300 - Arboricultural standards in the USA


dbh - diameter at breast height


ISA - International Society of Arboriculture


NPK - Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium - the 3 common types of elemental nutrients in fertilizers    


The answers to these questions are not based on the personal opinions of Nolde and Associates.  They are based on a large body of research evidence produced by university and government research studies.

Q. What is the main reason that newly planted trees die in a few years?


A.  Improper planting! The ANSI A300 planting standards are very specific about the proper methods to be used when planting a new tree and should be followed. 


Q.   Is it correct that a nurseryman warns that the rootball of a tree should never be disturbed prior to putting it in the planting pit? 


A.  No! Research has shown that the top layer of a tree rootball must be inspected and should be removed to find the first-order root, which will become the first large support root of a tree. It should be found and exposed at the surface of the root ball. Any soil on the bottom and sides of the root ball that does not contain any roots should be removed to allow faster access by the feeder roots to enter the surrounding soil into which it is placed. This speeds up root anchorage in the soil.


Q.  What types of things can kill a tree if it is not planted properly?


Here are just a few things:

        1.  Root girdling

        2.  Root rot

        3.  Weak plant anchoring

        4.  Windthrow

        5.  Over-fertilization

        6.  Under or overwatering

Q.  What is root girdling on a tree?


A. Root girdling is a condition that occurs when tree roots grow in a circular fashion around the stem of a tree either on the surface of the soil or underneath the soil within the root ball. It generally begins in the nursery where the tree was propagated and if it is not corrected by the landscaper who planted the tree. This is the main reason for carefully examining the exterior and interior of the root ball. 


Q.  What is root rot on a tree?


A.  Root rot is a generic term used to describe a number of pathogenic diseases caused by soil-borne fungal pathogens. These fungal pathogens are present as spores in most soils and infect tree roots when the conditions are favorable for them. There are numerous species of these pathogens but they are often treatable if found in time.  Much of the decay in standing trees started as a root rot pathogen infection. Prevent it by properly planting the tree and be careful not to injure the tree.

Q.  How do trees anchor themselves in a planting hole?


A. Bear in mind that the soil a tree is grown in at a nursery is almost always different from the soil where it is eventually planted and will spend the rest of its life.  Roots will often want to remain in the nursery soil, which is an easy growing medium. This promotes root girdling. To limit this risk remove as much of the nursery soil as possible even if it means planting the tree bare root. Then plant the tree as a bare root tree in a more shallow hole. Doing so invites the tree roots to explore the surrounding native soil for water and nutrients. This results in a much faster anchorage of the tree roots in the surrounding soil.

Q.  What is windthrow?


A. This is the term used by arborists to explain that a tree collapsed in a storm. Several factors cause windthrow. They include the force (speed ) of the wind, the force of gusts, how the tree was previously pruned, how well the tree is anchored in the soil, and how wet the soil is.  


Q.  Should newly planted trees be fertilized?


A. No!  Research has proven that fertilizing young trees at planting has no effect on the growth of the tree. In fact, the nutrients in the common commercial fertilizer (NPK) actually becomes a food source for root rot pathogens. Fertilizer stimulates the growth of branches and leaf structures, not roots.  Roots are the most important structures on a tree during its first year after planting and most soils already have an ample supply for a young tree.


Q.  How often should a newly planted tree be watered?


A. Immediately after planting the rootball of a tree should be watered and thereafter if there is no rain. The best method of determining soil moisture in the rootball and the need for watering is by using a good quality soil moisture meter that can measure from the surface of the rootball down to the bottom of it.  The soil should be moist and never wet. Don’t just pick a day each week to water without considering the weather and the soil moisture content in the root ball.  Wet rootballs invite root rot.

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