Black gum--failure to thrive

maywren(z9FL)March 11, 2008

Hi Gardners:

This one is a challenge, I think.

Three years ago I purchased a black gum tree (Nyssa silvatica) from an excellent tree farm in my area of N. Florida. It was about 8 feet tall in a 50 gal. pot. I followed best practices for its transplantation--digging a planting hole twice the diameter of the rootball, leaving an inch of the root ball above the ground level, and mulching. The extension service said not to enrich the soil, so I did not.

The site is moist but not wet, and I irrigate when the soil gets dry. The soil is sandy, but black with organic material. I fertilize with a slow release fertilizer in the fall. The planting site is also open to the sky and gets what I would call ample slightly filtered sun.

Nonetheless the tree does not thrive. It has put on new twigs and gets leaves every year, but it has not grown substantially since I planted it. Other trees I planted at the same time (live oaks) have almost doubled in size.

I know black gums like acid; should I try to boost the acid content of the soil. Should I mulch deeper. Does the soil need to be wetter?

What would you do to help this tree? Your help is very much appreciated.

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Sometimes trees are slow to get going.

1st year they sleep
2nd year they creep
3rd year they leap

I have some that are just sort of sitting there not doing much. Hoping they're establishing their roots.

Planted 3 Nyssa Aquatica in creeklets and they're growing noticeably.
That surprised me because kept reading Nyssas are slow.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 8:17PM
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treeguy123(AL 7b)

Blackgums naturally grow slow to moderate. On average 7 to 14 inches a year once established well in the ground after several years. You've done every thing correct, but if I were you I might try cutting out the fertilizer because sometimes it can do more harm than good. Black Tupelo strongly prefers moist, well-drained, rich, deep, acidic soils, but adapts well to dry, average, alkaline soils, but with reduced growth vigor and lighter-colored or chlorotic leaves. Remove the grass and make the mulch area 5 to 10 feet wide,the wider the better (If I were you I would make it 10 feet). Mulch with organic material such as decomposed or shredded leaves and pine straw. Make most of it pine straw to naturally add acidity to the soil. Since you have sandy soil make the mulch 4 inches deep but no deeper and keep it 2 to 3 inches away from the trunk to keep the bark dry. You will have to add more material every year or two as it breaks down, but it's great because it will add nutrients and make the soil even richer. Blackgum is moderately resistant to salt in the air, so as long as you do not live right near the beach it should be ok from the salt.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 10:36PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I've read that oak leaves have a very acidic effect on soil, too, and since well rotted oak leaves form a moist mat, they make a very good moisture retentive mulch, at least for me.
My n. aquatica has grown enormously, cascadians, more so than any other plant I've ordered, from about ?2' to about 7' in one year. It's now growing in a low, wet area at the bottom of the hollow, standing in water right now.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 10:55PM
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Sherry, please post pictures of your Nyssa aquatica! I haven't seen many. Your growth rate is very inspiring!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 11:52PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

I think Nyssa sylvatica (as others have said) grow quite slowly. This is not a tree that grows quickly in the least bit, but it will be there for a while and it will look awesome doing it. If you do want a quicker growing tree then Black gum (N. Sylvatica) is the best choice.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 12:22AM
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Thank all of you for your very helpful feedback. I'm definitely going to extend and deepen the mulch as Treeguy suggests and will use pine straw and ground up oak leaves.

What surprised me about the planting site (I don't know how it happened), but two volunteer weeping Yaupon hollies came up near the Nyssa, and they're now taller than it is.

What do you think about moving the tree? A person on another forum recommended that, but I've read that black gum's don't like to be transplanted.

Again, many thanks to you all.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 5:53PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

"If you do want a quicker growing tree then Black gum (N. Sylvatica) is the best choice."

when i wrote that i meant to say "isn't" the best choice. But good luck a beauty of a tree!

Black gums have long tap roots and don't like to be transplanted so I wouldn't recommend it. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 10:14PM
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treeguy123(AL 7b)

I would leave it, once they start to growing roots they are hard to transplant. The Yaupon hollies likely grew faster because they sprouted from seed which most trees can grow faster because they are established right away when they sprout. Also Yaupon hollies grow medium to fast. The Blackgum since it's naturally a slow grower it probably takes awhile for it to establish fully in the ground, and with the extra care you will be giving it should do even better. Blackgums are a real nice tree having nice fall color, shiny leaves, seeds for birds, and also they can live over 700 years in age.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 11:43PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Cascadians wanted to see a picture of my n. aquatica. It was late to leaf out, but then all nyssas are that way, at least here. It grew a lot in height last year, but it stayed skinny - I hope it fattens up a bit this year!


    Bookmark   April 5, 2008 at 6:28PM
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Sherry, that's beautiful! Your leaves are fatter than mine. My 3 haven't even begun to bud let alone put out leaves. Not sure one of them is even alive anymore. Yours has a nice form. Mine are skinny also. That picture looks like it will develop into a lovely tree.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2008 at 8:02PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

Boy it sure is living up to its name aquatica. You've got quite the deluge going on there? Good to see after such a bad summer last year.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2008 at 11:49PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

There's been plenty of rain here this year. We got only a little below our yearly average last year, didn't have nearly the drought the middle and upper South experienced, and with almost 23" of rain so far this year, we'll probably exceed the yearly average of 65" this year.
I'm finding a lot more seedling trees coming up naturally this spring than I've found in the previous two springs since the hurricane, especially dogwood seedlings, which I didn't find any of until this year. Maybe the good rain has something to do with that.
I made a 13 second video of the stream at the bottom of the hollow - I love the sound it makes!


    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 1:26AM
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