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I have a few trees on my property which are at least five years old (sorry I don't know the kinds yet). Compared to other trees in neighboring lots, planted at the same age at the same time, they are notably stunted, short, and devoid of many branches. They are alive and well, with new growth and green leaves, but are not growing taller and branching.

I suspect a soil problem, but it could also be due to a history of underwatering.

What steps can I take to turn these trees around, and help them grow properly? (Or is the damage done and it's too late?)

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I should note that by "soil problem" I mean hard-packed, dry soil. I don't know the pH or drainage characteristics. –  JYelton Jun 8 '11 at 20:36
    
Did you plant them or are you new to the property? Have they been pruned? (Which would explain short & lacking branches!) –  bstpierre Jun 9 '11 at 18:04
    
@bstpierre The stunted ones were on the property when I bought it. If they were pruned, I'd argue it was overdone. One of them is barely 7' tall. –  JYelton Jun 9 '11 at 20:55

1 Answer 1

up vote 12 down vote accepted

If you think it's a soil issue, then one possibility is to begin an aggressive campaign of mulching the soil around the trunks to build it. Get a bunch of organic matter, hay from your local hardware or garden store works fine, and spread it around underneath the tree about a foot deep. On top of that spread some composted manure and cover the whole thing with wood mulch (not the treated kind, the kind that is meant to rot). Do that a few years in a row and you'll have much healthier soil and probably a healthier tree.

You can also try companion plantings around the base of the trees. The local community orchard I volunteer at has comfrey and garlic planted in the mulch around each of the fruit trees. The comfrey is a dynamic accumulator, it reaches deep into the soil and pulls nutrients up to the top soil. It grows very aggressively and you can chop it down almost to stubs several times a season and spread the leaves on the ground beneath the tree to add to the mulch. It will add a lot of nutrients to the soil. I've never tried this, this is just what the folks at the orchard tell me. The garlic is just to ward off various pests. It's a deterrent to rabbits and various insects, I believe.

Look up sheet mulching (here's one good article), there are a whole bunch of techniques for composting in place to build the soil.

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