How can you encourage vigorous growth?

jowall(Z6 Nashville TN)May 8, 2012

I have planted several trees - a few last fall, and a few this spring. Two of the trees I planted last fall were multi-trunks sweet bay magnolias, they were probably 5-6 feet tall (largest trunk was probably 1 - 1.5 inch caliper).

Both trees are doing fine. One sweet bay had one of its smaller trunks extend vertically at least 3 feet since planting. It grew fast... mostly over the winter and then some more this spring.

The other looks - oh about the same as when I planted it - doing fine, mind you - just hasn't really exploded like the other one.

So... I'd love to encourage similar growth in all my trees - that dramatic vertical extension.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

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Adequate watering and sunlight are the two biggest factors.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 7:21AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

time is all you have ...

they are growing.. vigorously.. UNDERGROUND... growing the requisite root mass.. to grow the tree above ...

i dont know what more you want..

if you are fixated on fast vigorous growth ... in one season.. i suggest you plant some annuals.. to focus on with your eyes.. while your trees grow where your eyes cant see..

it does not surprise me that shrubs will grow faster ...

IMHO ... in any regular fertile soil.. they do not need to be fed...but a little of this or that wont hurt..

but you will not get aggressive growth.. until you have those roots...


    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 7:51AM
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Magnolia's fare poorly with excessive fertilizer. Fast growing, sure....but the growth tends to be weak, suffers from winter kill, and causes next spring's flowers to open in the late summer & fall instead looking pretty unsightly and gnarled.
If it's not growing vigorously on it's own, it has not yet developed the root system to support such growth.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 10:30AM
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by buying a more vigorous growing cultivar. Some cultivars grow faster than the species.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 10:29AM
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Ken: I am curious as to why you do not advocate the use of fertilizers for trees / shrubs. My "new" construction home has absolutely terrible soil ( I think ). Plants don't look lush and nice. A neighbor who uses the services of a local arborist fertilizes her trees once a year. The contrast is just obvious, between her trees and everything else in the neighborhood.

Are you assuming that everyone is planting in well drained good soils? I am not an arborist. Just looking to understand the merits of using fertilizers for tress since I was thinking of doing the same. Applying a once yearly treatment to help root growth would hurt, would it?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 2:33PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Similar circumstances as you. Subdivision is 6 or so years old, and if you want it to grow, you have to fertilize it. With that said, if you work to improve your, the need will decrease over time. I don't try to have a perfect lawn, use pesticides that don't persist, mulch everything back into the lawn, don't worry about ants etc as they help to aerate the soil. After 5 years, it's is immensely improved. I also fertilize the grass, but being a warm season grass, so if I wait to fertilize the grass and trees at the same time, the trees have much done before the grass is ready to go. This is especially true of Sugar Maples and a few others that have a short growth period.

Other thing to remember is the right balance of nutrients is important. Plus there is a good chance you may be lacking 1 or more nutrients in the poor soil of a new subdivision. So get that soil test done.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 3:11PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

Ken: I am curious as to why you do not advocate the use of fertilizers for trees / shrubs. My "new" construction home has absolutely terrible soil ( I think ). Plants don't look lush and nice.

==>>> words mean things..

trees do NOT need to be 'fed' .. period ...

what you need to do is improve your soil .. and not just for your trees ... and you are NOT doing that.. by throwing handfuls of fertilizer around ...

there is a world of difference between YOU NEEDING A GOOD SOIL .. and the thought that plants need to be fed .. like children ...

my comments are meant to make you conceptualize such ... and to help you understand how to attack your problem ... which is to build a good fertile soil .. and that starts with a soil test.. any amendments suggested therein .... and tons of compost ...

trees will grow in soil-less cracks in pavement.. which i would suggest is poorer soil that yours ... its not about the plants ...

its about the soil ...

make any sense???


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 3:34PM
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Hi Ken:

Totally understand your point but still didn't get the WHY trees should not be fertilized! Bad for them? Kills them? Harmful to the environment e.t.c? Would take truck loads of compost and perhaps years to change the soil on a early large property, no? Not against using natural methods at all. Actually thinking of getting a whole load of compost for the first time ever for my flower beds. But again, what is the reason for not fertilizing trees?

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 3:47PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

WHY trees should not be fertilized! Bad for them? Kills them? Harmful to the environment e.t.c?

==>> doing what is NOT necessary is called POLLUTION ... whether chemical or organic ....

and.. being a cheapskate.. i hate wasting money ...

have a soil test done.. and amend the soil accordingly.. since its requisite ... and be done with it ..

its like.. literally.. field of dream.. build it [the soil] .. and they will come .. [not throw a barbeque.. and hope a bunch of old guys will walk out of the corn....] ..

focus man .. woman.. child.. if you have a soil problem.. fix the soil problem..

otherwise. water your transplanted trees/shrubs/conifers .. and then ignore them.. THEY ARE NOT CHILDREN ... who NEED to be fed ...

also .. if a tree is at least twice as big under as above ground.. and you fert your lawn.. the tree is getting more than enough of whatever it needs ... you do not then have to feed the trees in addition to what it is getting from the lawn.. even if its just decaying clippings ....

if you have enough adult beverage.. and get away from the consumerism of having to buy something for an inanimate tree ... you should start to see .. they really dont need much ..

and the last argument.. is about whose needs ... if YOU NEED to feed them.. because it makes you happy ... then fulfill YOUR need.. just dont tell me THEY [the trees] NEED IT ... just dont overdo it .. a little of this or that never hurt anything ...


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 5:18PM
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Job 1 for new transplants is to regrow roots, which have largely been lost in the digging process, no matter the method. Studies show time and again..and again, that plants regenerate root systems fastest in a low nitrogen environment.

So the neighbor's trees may well look better than some others in the neighborhood, but I'll warrant they're not really doing better, just putting on more top growth.

Now for the twist: Nitrogen fertilizer will increase the amount of foliage for that growing season. And that increased foliage will send chemical messages to the roots to grow. So in that sense, N fertilizer will eventually also boost root growth. But there's a lag period, and in the life of very young transplants, that period is critical for simple survival. For these reasons, we've pretty much gotten away from fertilizing new transplants. A little bit, which of course means different things to different people, is probably not going to do them any damage. But repeatedly going for that top growth boost sure can.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 5:44PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

I have an Autumn Fantasy Maple that has grown to ~6" caliper in four years, and is providing shade. I fertilize in March as the soil is so crappy. The Neighbor across the street, does not fertilize, and has two Autumn Fantasy Maple planted about a week later but slightly smaller. Those trees have perhaps 2" caliper, and are a fraction the size of my tree and producing no useful shade. We both have the same crappy worked over subdivision soil to begin with. I have followed my previous post, they have done little. Other yards where the trees aren't fertilized have barely grown, or died. While those in fertilized yards are doing well. Point being that you can not make generalizations. You have to keep your head in what is going on, and understand what your doing and why. In my circumstances, the fertilizer IS required, along with soil management. It also sounds as though vacquah is facing similar circumstance, and I know John who posts on here is as well, due to new construction. The purpose of fertilization it is to provide OPTIMUM conditions for plant health and growth, just as a farmers do. Difference is I'm growing trees for my yard so that I can have shade against the intense southern sun instead of growing some row crop. But just like farmers, too much fertilizer can cause problems (i.e. burn, disease, stunting, insect problems, abnormal and weak growth). Key is optimum, so that plant health is not compromised from too much or too little of any particular nutrient. For that purpose I will continue to strive to achieve with fertilizer, water, pruning, soil management, and anything else I can think of and apply in a thoughtful way. It simply is not simple, and each circumstance is different.


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 5:48PM
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The thing about fertilizer is that is causes fish to die. When it rains fertilizer will runoff into ponds, streams, lakes, and rivers. The process is slow but it has a big impact. Once the fertilizer hits bodies of water is causes algae blooms (Those green mats of vegetation floating in ponds). Then winter comes and the algae dies settling to the bottom. The following spring, Bacteria start eating the dead algae and start breeding like rabbits. In doing so they use up all the oxygen in the water. Before you know it you have a bunch of dead floating fish. Death by suffocation.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 7:54PM
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You hit the nail on the head. The evidence in my neighborhood supports the observations in yours too. For instance, the county planted some trees beyond my property line and then totally abandoned them - i.e no fertilization e.t.c as folks recommend here - well, all but one died within 3 years! The one that survived was doing so poorly. Here is the kicker - the company that fertilizes my neighbors trees mistakenly fertilized the surviving one because it was close to her border - voila! Seems more vibrant this spring!.

Also, everyone else in the neighborhood has their trees doing poorly except the one who fertilizes. I understand the first step is to sample the soil ( which I am going to do asap) but my impression is that every circumstance is different and certainly just leaving the trees in my case has done nothing. Can't count the number of trees I have ripped out due to extremely poor growth in the past 4 years. Also if the soil test reveals, say nitrogen deficiency, what solutions will they recommend besides treatment with some nitrogen boosting element, including fertilizers?

I am not looking to do it because it simply makes me happy. Can't understand the assertion that trees will grow anywhere. Seriously doubt that. I can perhaps say they will grow anywhere if the sol condition is optimum, which is not in my case.

Good discussion.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 8:32PM
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The biggest factor in your county planted trees lack of success is most likely proper watering during establishment ;)


    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 8:54PM
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Oh yes! I see Arktrees mentioned I am in new construction, too. I did have my soil tested. I was "below optimum" in two elements and above in one other. Unfortunately, before I could contact the local extension service with my results, my wi---- *ahem*... someone threw them in the trash by accident. Don't let that happen to you ;)


ps - I actually contacted the extension service today they mailed a copy of the results to me this afternoon... lucky for her!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 9:04PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I have a fairly decent topsoil that is sandy loam and never use fertilizer or amendments for trees and shrubs. But I always topdress or mulch them with compost after planting, and keep watered regularly if it doesn't rain for up to 2 years depending on the original size of the plant (the bigger it is when planted, the longer I will pamper it). Then will also follow up with a mulch of leaves or wood chips to preserve moisture.

If additional fertilizer were warranted, you could consider an organic fertilizer that was slow release with little chance of over-fertlizing. I often use a seaweed solution for seedlings and sometimes transplants to give the roots a good start (supposedly feeds the soil micro-organisms).

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 2:57AM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

I did not make clear that I'm fertilizing "established" trees. The soil test came back shockingly low in virtually all nutrients. I use multiple fertilizers to try to cover all aspects. I stop fertilizing the lawn by mid summer so that nutrients are depleted by fall to reduce any possible runoff. I restrict Phosphorus as it's one of the big run off culprits. And I also work to support the soil biology. Every circumstance is different, and must be tailored too. However, certainly in many instances fertilization is required for reasonable results.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 7:15AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

ark.. are you in the business of growing these trees for profit???

if so.. you are doing it from a scientific perspective ... and all the power to you.. time is money ...

but i just dont see a corollary to the homeowner ... w/o them knowing and using the science ....

i agree with jon.. the city/county failure was lack of PROPER AFTERCARE .... probably a gift to bro-in-law the tree guy.. with no budget for aftercare ... lol .. and to think.. they can buy them again from him ... to replace the ones he killed the first time ...


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 11:57AM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Not in the business, just need shade that the summer sun is fierce in the south, so I want them to grow at their optimum rate. Also as stated, they basically just do not grow in my soil without help *btw there is reasons the soil is so poor, but that is a somewhat involved explaination). But also, I want my trees to be as healthy as possible. For those, I am willing to spend what amounts to about $60/yr, and be YEARS ahead on the shade. Extra cooling costs due to lack of shade will FAR outstrip that amount of money. Many homeowners live in newer homes with these problems. Also, most subdivisions have very little actual topsoil left. The construction company will sell as much of it as they can. Result is almost all new construction has very poor soil. All these things affect average homeowner, financially, appeal, and just feel like home. Not to mention we are getting a great many song birds, months etc. now. With this considered, if done from a scientific perspective, why would you not?

Oh, and I agree with John also on the lack of aftercare.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 2:18PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

It's not that the trees in your neighborhood weren't fertilized. It is that they weren't watered. All the trees in the forest weren't fertilized by a yard service, and most likely your neighborhood was once a forest. So i'm sure it's conducive to tree growth.

The first year they sleep, the next year they creep and the third year they leap! Also, your trees did not grow fast in the winter. They were dormant.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 12:05AM
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chills71(Zone 6b Mi)

I'm that guy whose plants are growing so much better than all of yours... *grin*

My biggest secrets are watering and mulch (which helps maintain even moisture and eliminates competition from weeds and other plants which would steal the water).

I fertilize very sparingly and generally only things which are in containers or which I need to live their lives in a single year (vegetable garden things).

sometimes some of my plants grow slowly too. My first thought is usually: water or light, not NPK.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 12:19PM
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Vigorous growth- you eliminate root competition. Who needs a damn lawn, how about mulch from sidewalk to doorstep? You mulch over everything, get rid of that damn grass, and grow a tree that was designed for that soil. You don't worry about fertilizer, the tree is already in it's optimum environment.

My main man here in town, Howard, in twenty-five years has grown his ginkgo tree to the same size as the largest one in Dallas which is seventy-five years old. I can post a link of photos of both trees if anyone doubts it...He did it with Garrett juice, and never once put any synthetic ferilizer's a soil food and it helps develop ROOTS...

When I look at a tree, and Howard tought me this, my focus is totally on root development, the above ground part of the tree is a lot less relevant...roots vs. top growth, it's the classic tale of the chicken and the egg...and for the last time, the chicken comes from the egg...the tree comes from the roots... in fact, the very first chicken hatched from the egg of a mutant lizard...the egg came first, the chicken later...

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 2:10PM
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Over here they have started fertilizing in some woods to make the timber trees grow faster. I guess it pays off, they would not do it otherwise. But some of the fertilizer surely goes with rain water into the rivers and lakes

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 3:59PM
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Glad that chicken/egg thing is cleared up! I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there are totally legit. uses for fertilizers in tree growth. Like the plantation trees, being grown specifically for fiber production-NPK will aid in that goal.

Usually, the trees in our yards are on a different program. Yes, we'd like to get them to a size where they start offering shade as soon as possible, but beyond that, they tend to grow plenty fast enough. While I don't recommend fertilizing brand-new transplants, a little judicious use of the old NPK on a well-established young tree can indeed boost its growth, once it's at that stage where top growth is its thing. Moderation in all things seems to be the operational word here.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 6:17PM
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