Container Tree Not Doing Well

MLWJRJune 6, 2014

I recently purchased a Zelkova Serrata Variegata tree to plant in a large container on my rooftop deck in Chicago. The tree was completely dormant. When I planted it from a container it was extremely rootbound and I tried to break the roots up but then thought maybe I shouldnt do that because I was afraid I would damage them.
The tree took forever but finally some buds began to leaf. They lasted for a while now the leaves are all dying and falling off. There are still alot of buds left but they are just leafing out and then dying.

I have been watering it regularly but not overwatering. I planted it in mix of 2-1 potting soil to compost. It has been in this pot for around 2 months.

Could it be rootbound? Should I dig it up now and score the roots? Is it too late? The tree itself looks healthy othe than the leaves dying...

Help !

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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Wasn't it rootbound when you got it? If it was then, it certainly is now.

How are you fertilizing it?


    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 10:51AM
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Yes it was rootbound for sure. I may dig it up and try to fix that. I havent fertilized it yet. Would the compost I planted it with be enough or should I add more?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 12:14PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

It could be a couple things. Potting soil and compost sounds like a recipe for anaerobic muck. The compost is almost definitely not enough nutrients. But I don't feel like wading into the container medium debate right now except to say that you probably need more air space in the medium.

Let's talk about those roots. Container culture produces pretty awful root systems. I go through a lot of wholesale nursery stock and even the best growers produce pretty awful root systems. They are generally pretty good about moving stock out and potting up. But even so I can usually cut into a root ball of a #15 and find the #5 ball and even the #1 ball, and almost without fail the root flare is buried. Now if the wholesale stock is this bad, retail stock is far far worse. I have been to some retail nurseries where I have seen the same trees in the same pots for years. I wouldn't use those trees if you paid me. You are probably going to have to do soe serious root work on that tree. Cut out all the girdling roots and j roots. Get rid of the mat at the bottom, just saw that off first. I would bareroot it completely and put it in a container with a good well drained container medium with a bit of CRF.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 4:29PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I agree that the potting mix itself won't supply enough nutrients to the tree. I would start fertilizing immediately, and then correct the root-issue when the timing is optimum.


    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 5:10PM
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Dig down to the root zone and check the moisture level of the mix. Is it just moist like it should be? Or is it overly wet?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 11:26PM
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The nursery took the tree back becase it never "leafed" after the winter :) Now I am the proud owner of a paper bark maple. the roots were much more open on that one....

The potting mix doesnt really seem like muck. it's fairly light. if I start to see any issues with this one I will replant with something lighter...

Hopefully this will start to grow as well as my cherry tree

    Bookmark   June 26, 2014 at 2:15PM
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