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I planted a container-grown Gray Oak tree in my yard last weekend, and it isn't looking very happy so far. Its leaves are turning yellow and then brown around the edges. The Gray Oak is supposed to be evergreen in my climate (Northern New Mexico, zone 7B, heavy clay soil, 7 inches of annual rainfall) so these color changes are not expected and and I'm wondering what I did wrong and/or how I can perk it up.

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Here's what I did:

  • Dug a square hole of equal depth to the rootball and three times as wide.
  • Poured hydrogen peroxide on the sides and bottom of the hole to loosen the extremely hard heavy clay soil (specifically recommended by the nursery)
  • Washed away the hydrogen peroxide with the hose.
  • Manually separated the roots of the tree, since it was extremely root-bound in its container.
  • Planted the tree with separated roots in the hole and backfilled the hole with native soil.
  • Sprinkled a humic acid-based soil amendment on the top of the bare soil.
  • Built a mulch basin wider than the current radius of the branches.
  • When the top inch of soil is dry, I flood the mulch basin with a very slow trickle of water for 8 hours to ensure that it penetrates deeply into the soil.

Despite this, the leaves are turning yellow and brown and falling off.

What did I do wrong, and what can I do to perk it up?

  • Hydrogen peroxide! Really? Why would they recommend that? – kevinsky Oct 11 '15 at 23:06
  • It's a foaming agent; it seeps into the soil in liquid form and creates micropores as it expands into a foam, loosening it. It's pretty cool, actually. My soil is like concrete, so I can see the logic. – iLikeDirt Oct 11 '15 at 23:17
  • No matter what you do, there's going to be some transplant shock. I see a lot of happy green leaves, and a few yellowed and dying ones. That happened to my oak first year I put it in. The plant survived and is quite happy now. – Wayfaring Stranger Oct 28 '15 at 0:25
  • Hydrogen peroxide is fine. Some people add it to their bonsai to help get oxygen to the roots. Was the tree in more shade and moved to a sunnier spot? I agree with the transplant shock... it will perk up. – nportelli Oct 28 '15 at 14:05
  • Yes, in the nursery there was more shade and it's planted on the western side of my house. My intention is to use it as a shade tree, in fact. – iLikeDirt Oct 28 '15 at 14:28
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I grew the Gray oak in question from seed at my production nursery in Los Lunas and I've grown over 100,000 native oak trees of the Southwest over the years. I also have Gray Oak - Quercus grisea in my private arboretum in Los Lunas called the Arboretum Tome. The soils of the arboretum were originally a Saline, Sodic Alkaline Clay with a pH as high as 9.2. I corrected the site using innovative molecular biology that stimulate the bio-geo-chemical process of soil development over the past 28 years. Today the site has one of the largest oak species collections in the Southwest and the largest of Southwestern Native oaks and the soils have the highest Re-Active Carbon levels measured by the USDA NRCS. The one variable that may still be a limiting factor is the soils biological need for protein which includes calories and Nitrogen needed by the Soils Terrestrial Biosphere and eventually the tree. This is why I have my Trees That Please staff tell our customers to use both the TerraPro and the Protein Crumblies as companion items.

As for the Hydrogen peroxide, the effect on the soil structure at the soil interphase zone is only temporary, but long enough for plant roots to pass through that zone. As far as universities studying this kind of stuff. Good Luck as not much of the innovations of science come from universities.

  • Hi Micheal! Thanks for posting. Did I do anything wrong in my planting of this lovely tree you grew? I'd hate to kill it. The leaves are turning brown and falling off. – iLikeDirt Oct 28 '15 at 0:13
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I emailed this company...their answer was excellent.

Soilsecrets@aol.com 10:34 AM (1 hour ago)

to me, victor, treesthatplease, yeseniah8, laura, anna, wes Hi Sharon,

Victor from Trees That Please forwarded to me your email concerning the use of hydrogen peroxide in tree planting. Your comment about the damage to the soil microbiology is very good and worth addressing. I think I'll have our office manager Laura post this onto our blogs of both company's for all our readers and I'm also sharing this transmittal with other staff members of my company's.

So why would I suggest using this product? Here's my answer. For many years the nursery industry and the landscape construction industry have struggled with tree and shrub plantings that result in call backs, dead trees and added expense and less profit to the company.

The main culprit was the soil zone of discontinuity caused by the texture and structure difference of the soil inside the planting site with that of the native soil. This barrier is called the soil interface zone, which causes water, oxygen and roots difficulty crossing. The garden books teach us to dig and prepare the $100 hole for the $10 tree by mixing all kinds of goodies into the backfill, including peat moss, straw, commercial soil builders, etc. However I've learned in my three decade long career as a nurseryman and grower of hundreds of thousands of trees, that this causes the zone of discontinuity to get worse and not better. Starting back in the mid 80's I began a study of solutions to this problem and did many trials using different techniques. This is when I stumbled upon the use of hydrogen peroxide which worked to break down that barrier. Granted the product would kill any soil microbe it comes into contact with and as the owner of the most significant soil ecology company on the planet, Soil Secrets, I'm always cognizant of helping the soils terrestrial biosphere and not damaging it. So we studied this problem by doing soil assays of the soil being impacted by the hydrogen peroxide, which is that 1/8" to 1/4" zone that the peroxide fluffs up. What we discover is that the effervescent reaction causes the soil interface barrier to go away, resulting in the roots of the plant, water and oxygen now being able to cross from the backfill soil into the native soil. While there is a tiny kill zone caused by the treatment, that zone is not significant compared to the microbiology that's native to the backfill soil that was dug out the hole in the first place. Plus, we always recommend without exception the use of our TerraPro product which includes molecular biology that will rapidly inoculate and establish on the site. Bottomline, when trees and shrubs are planted using this technique, the roots can grow beyond the planting site hole and we have the opportunity to have success on purpose rather than success by accident. When our Soil Secrets protocol of TerraPro and Protein Crumblies are included we see even better success.

Michael Martin Meléndrez Managing Member of Soil Secrets LLC 505 550-3246 www.soilsecrets.com

  • Very interesting response, thanks for posting it Stormy - I guess this is a technique specifically useful in xeriscape situations, but I can't find any further reference to the use of hydrogen peroxide other than Dirt Doctor. But then I'm not a xeriscape specialist, being more used to damp! – Bamboo Oct 27 '15 at 20:03
  • I'll note that I did in fact apply their TerraPro and Protein Crumblies products. – iLikeDirt Oct 27 '15 at 21:27
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    I don't want to sound like a killjoy but until I see a research paper from a university or similar then this idea is just hearsay. – kevinsky Oct 27 '15 at 21:32
  • Oh Kevinsky...damn, this is the absolute correct thing to say!! I just got this from the 'horses' mouth and this company seems to have credibility. Ask Bamboo! NEVER EVER BELIEVE ANYTHING, ever. BE a killjoy, unpopular! I wish more people would be this way...grins. I am so very serious. I was blown away by this...application. The MAIN POINT is this is only used IF one goes crazy amending the soil to plant a tree. I feel like soil with like soil where trees are concerned. This treatment as far as I can decipher is ONLY necessary when amending the soil while planting a tree. – stormy Oct 31 '15 at 1:18
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Hydrogen peroxide (if that bubbling stuff works) would not be a permanent solution. This stuff is like bleach...kills bacteria. Don't want to be doing that. Never, ever heard of this so please send the site you got this information from. Otherwise, the good news is that this dissipates quickly but the bad news is this killed all the good bacteria necessary to uptake certain chemicals and did NOTHING to improve your soil. So you need to work on increasing bacteria and get organic matter (decomposed) into your soil for air, feeding and nurturing bacteria (and other organisms).

Good news is that you can do this just by dumping DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER on top of your soil. This will provide weed suppression, feed your soil organisms and make any soil better!! This is the only THE ONLY way to improve soil!! The micro and macro organisms come up, eat this stuff IF IT IS DECOMPOSED, go back into the soil profile and poop it out. They do all the mixing FOR YOU.

I think you might be watering a bit too much. Clay IS GOOD SOIL! Holds water and chemicals longer. To improve any soil you have to add DECOMPOSED ORGANIC MATTER. That bark mulch you are using helps to slow evaporation but the decomposer organisms will suck up Nitrogen to decompose. I'd scrap it off and put it somewhere else. Sounds like you did well with planting especially opening the root ball! But I'd love to know that this tree isn't planted so low that the bark of the trunk is under the soil! Where the soil and tree meet should be at the line between the roots and the bark of the trunk. Even planted 1/4" too deep will get moisture in the bark and cambium, promoting bacteria that will ruin the vascular system (right under the thin bark layer)...essentially girdling and killing your tree. No mulch, no rocks and no soil should touch the bark of your tree.

Your tree has gone through a bit of stress acclimating to it's new home. That will cause leaves to yellow, brown and fall off the tree. I see a bit of edge-deterioration that might be from salts in your water. Are you using tap water? City water? Or are you on a private well. When did you fertilize and with what?

I'd dig down and wait to water until at least the top 4 inches is dry instead of the 1". Check your water supply to see that it isn't softened by salts. A bit of pruning this winter would be a good thing if you know what you are doing. Otherwise, we can help with that as well.

  • Thanks for the detailed answer. Here are the nursery's planning instructions: treesthatplease.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/… – iLikeDirt Oct 12 '15 at 13:10
  • Interesting - those planting instructions, including the use of hydrogen peroxide, marry up almost exactly with those published by the Dirt Doctor in the Organic Advice Library... – Bamboo Oct 12 '15 at 16:58
  • I replaced the mulch with compost but it's looking even worse. – iLikeDirt Oct 18 '15 at 0:44
  • Really?!! Hydrogen peroxide is advised by Dirt Doctor...sigh. Welp, gotta go check this out, thanks Bamboo! Too weird. It has got to be tough on bacteria. Just can't see how this could lighten soil AT ALL. Maybe for a few seconds as the foaming continues, but but...never stop learning... – stormy Oct 18 '15 at 19:22

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