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I just bought and planted an October Glory maple sapling with a trunk about 1.5" in diameter. I did everything the nursery worker told me to while transplanting it:

  • I dug a hole twice as wide as the plastic tub it came in.
  • I removed it from the plastic tub and sliced the edges of the attached roots/soil with a box cutter every 90°.
  • I used a mix of 50% soil from digging out the hole, 30% good topsoil, and 20% mulch to fill in around the roots.
  • Before planting, I tilled a circle of about 10' in diameter around where I planted the tree.
  • I mulched the tilled area, and made sure not to pile up mulch around the trunk of the tree.
  • I've been watering the surrounding area well once a week for two weeks now.

The tree had plenty of green leaves and looked very healthy when I planted it. However, the leaves turned brown, shriveled up and fell off this week. They didn't turn the bright red that they're supposed to. Other trees in the area are just barely starting to lose leaves - most of them are still in the process of changing color. Should I be worried that my tree is dying, or am I just paranoid?

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I believe "yoda's" answer pretty much covers what you're seeing, experiencing... Can you please define "20% mulch" ie What materiel did you use? Also, can you please expand on "I mulched the tilled area, and made sure not to pile up mulch around the trunk of the tree." ie What materiel did you use and is any of that material touching the trunk? –  Mike Perry Oct 9 '11 at 16:37
    
For "general" tree planting info refer here. For "general" tree watering info refer here. For "general" tree mulch (compost) info refer here & here –  Mike Perry Oct 9 '11 at 16:41
    
I used this bagged mulch. No, none of the mulch is touching the trunk. –  Doresoom Oct 11 '11 at 14:37
    
And the nursery worker told you to mix 20% mulch into your back-fill material? Did they say why (give a reason for doing so)? I'm just genuinely interested... –  Mike Perry Oct 11 '11 at 15:43
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I think he mentioned something about increase soil drainage, avoiding root rot. It's been a few weeks now, so I'm not 100% sure that I'm recalling all details of the conversation correctly. –  Doresoom Oct 11 '11 at 16:03

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is just classic 'transplant shock'. While undesirable, it is also unavoidable when transplanting plants/trees from a nursery to your home. From what you've described, you've taken the right steps to reduce shock. However, there are external factors beyond your control, such as the humidity and environment in the area where the sapling was grown (if it has a 1.5" thick trunk, it's at least 1-2 years old), its feeding and watering schedule there, etc.

For now, I would suggest that you water more regularly. While it's true that trees (established) require deep watering once a week, younger trees and saplings require a slightly more frequent schedule. I'd recommend at least twice a week at your current watering level, or thrice a week if you can reduce the amount of water (Perhaps someone who has grown maples can chime in on this and suggest something more appropriate if this isn't).

After you've taken steps to minimize the shock, the only other thing that you can do now is to wait. Have patience; sometimes trees take a lot longer to recover and you just have to wait it out. The critical thing right now is to realize that your sapling might not produce any more fresh leaves, but this doesn't necessarily mean it is dead. It just had a very abrupt and short Fall.

Since it's already into Fall now, do not try to fertilize it or try to boost new growth or prune it. For all you know, it could've just dropped its leaves early and started hibernating. If you prod it to produce fresh growth, it won't be ready for the winter, which is much worse than transplant shock.

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I'll switch to watering 2-3 times a week then. Thanks for the advice. –  Doresoom Oct 11 '11 at 14:38

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