Beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk') looking sad... why?

Adam PolakMay 11, 2012

Hey all,

I've searched as much of the archives as I can to get an answer for my Beech tree but I couldn't get to what I really need to know. So...

In April I purchased and planted a Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk' to replace a rather pathetic Butternut that had only been there since October 2011. The Beech (my first) was B&B (I've always been happier with potted trees) and nicely dormant.

I planted it after the heat wave had ended, and it didn't break bud until after the frost of Easter, so it avoided all that jazz.

It has leafed out, but is now looking rather sad. The spot it is in sunk slightly after planting so the crown is below grade by about 2'. The soil itself is a mix of loamy clay & organic matter & a touch of sand.

I had no reason to worry until we had a day of thunderstorms and I got up in the morning to see the base standing in water, about an inch of it. I purposely went to work and didn't bother to get rid of the water to see if it was still there when I came home that night, which it was not. Apparently it was gone about 5 hours after I left the house.

I looked at the tree a few nights later, and it looked really sad and wilted. I went away for 5 days and was convinced it was dead, but upon my return it was still alive. The shoots had extended a bit, but still pointing downward.

The tree looks better in the morning when it is cool, but in the evening it looks a little pathetic, and the stems are soft. It is just REALLY taking its time leafing out.

My concern is really more of a 'peace of mind' kind of thing. Especially from those of you who have been growing European Beech cultivars. They are all over my neighborhood, mainly Dawyk Purple and gold, tri-color, coppers, etc. They seem to do just fine, no matter where they are planted, they love the climate and yearly precipitation.

But they are all totally leafed out and looking like mid July trees, while mine is stuck in late April status (and it is May 11 today...)

Our climate... southwestern Ontario, USDA zone 5B/6A, same heat as the Detoit area and northern Ohio. Lots of thunderstorms in summer and lake effect snow in winter. The soil is predictably soggy in February-March as winter is ending. The soil everywhere is clay-loam, some clay is very tight, other places it is crumbly and fine, with a layer of sand beneath the clay. The earth is very rich.

So... am I nuts or is the tree just slow because it was B&B this Spring. Like I said it's my first B&B. I know Beech hate wet feet but the earth is not soggy, just takes a few hours to drain away excessive rain.

Any advice? Should I mound soil up near the base (but keep it away from the crown/trunk)? I can't move it, at this stage it would kill it as the root mass nearly fell apart when it was planted. Even if it was planted at grade, it is still the same soil as everywhere else here, and the other Beech trees do exceptionally well....

Just wondering if I've done something wrong or if I done everything right..? Are Beech always like this after planting from B&B?

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Adam Polak

Sorry that the photos didn't load into the post... just copy & paste in a new window. Thanks for any advice!!

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden photos

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 8:03PM
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Adam Polak

Sorry all, the tree sank 2" not 2'

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 8:09PM
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"I can't move it, at this stage it would kill it as the root mass nearly fell apart when it was planted"

This doesn't sound right. I sometimes purchase tree stock (both B & B and container) from an organisation who is privy to varieties not common in the trade. They sell only once a year and sometimes I think they jump the gun selling stock before it's ready to go, or don't really prepare some of their stock's root systems for the balling process. Most of them have survived, but it puts them off to a precarious start for a homeowner. What it amounts to is like digging them yourself out of the wild. There are standards set up for sales of nursery stock, and one of them has to do with holding stock for adequate rooting. Was it a reputable nursery, a box store? These aren't the most quickest trees in the world to establish and start sizing to begin with.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 6:10AM
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Adam Polak

Truthfully when I placed the tree in the hole, I removed as much of the burlap as possible along with cutting away most of the wire cage that had kept everything together. I'm guessing that the tree had only been in that state for less than a year.

The root mass WAS together, but I didn't see any new roots coming out of the substrate they'd planted it in, and it appeared at one point that the substrate would crumble and fall away if I continued to position/reposition the tree.

How durable the root mass really was, I have no idea as it was my first B & B and I was really trying to play it safe.

The nursery that I purchased it from is one of the most reliable in the area, it's a huge operation and they grow about 80% of the stock they offer for sale. I've never had a doubt about the quality.

I looked at the leaves and stems last night in the dark, and they difintely perk up a bit at night, slowly, SLOWLY unfurling as each day goes by (while its friends in the neighborhood are full and leafy and stunning).

I guess at this point I'm concerned about the earth it is planted in, but if I can take a cue from the rest of the trees around us, patience will hopefully pay off. I'm guessing that most Beech trees look crummy in their first year.

I'd like to continue supplementing the tree with a transplant fertilizer but I don't want to add to the moisture content in the soil, so maybe waiting for some good stretch of dry weather is best? Unlikely in my neck of the woods :)

    Bookmark   May 12, 2012 at 9:10AM
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If indeed your tree is starving for oxygen, which it does sound like your tree may be experiencing the bathtub effect due to the organic matter added to the backfill, and you don't want to move the tree, one can water a newly planted tree with a three percent solution of hydrogen peroxide. This puts oxygen to the soil and water, it is not strong enough to do any real damage to the microflora that provide nutrients to the roots. You buy hydrogen peroxide at a much stronger level and in bulk, and you dilute it down. You're not supposed to fertilize a newly planted tree without a soil test first to determine just exactly what and if any alterations to the chemistry of the soil are called for. A slightly lean soil can actually encourage root growth, which initially is all you're trying to do for that tree, get settled in and established. In addition, one can make a hole near the tree that is deeper than the root ball in order to assist in drainage if that's the problem. One time I dug a chanell all the way around a newly planted and troubled tree. But nowadays, I try to avoid the scenario altogether if I want to amend the soil that I'm planting in, and plant in a mound of native soil I get from a different part of the yard. That's the only safe way I've noted of adding organic material to the soil that the tree is planted in, and not cause a serious drainage problem. The trunk collar, or root flare, in addition, needs to be exposed to air, not covered with soil or mulch. Extremely imporant. It's often about twice the diameter of the actual trunk, so you'll know when you find it. Roots need water, and they need air. That is why it is somewhat of an art, to not water too frequently, but enough to where the tree doesn't dehydrate. It sounds contradictory, water plus air, but it's a cycle that the soil goes through between near dryness to being moist again. An amended hole can disrupt this normal cycle by not draining fast enough. It's critical at this juncture not to overwater or underwater your tree. The more trees you kill, the better you get at planting trees, I've noted. I suspect your tree is struggling and might not make it, so one tries to make a learning experience out of it. Then again, it might overcome. Best Wishes.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 10:02AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

in PBucket.. use the HTML code.. not the IMG code.. and on preview.. it should show right where you typed ...

i see lush fast growth.. that can not support itself .. which will stiffen and straighten ... and frankly think you are worrying too much ...

presuming its a red beech.. its got the right color...

i didnt see the pic on deeply planted ... too lazy ...

and beech are extremely sllloowww for me.. compared to other trees ...

when it loses its leaves in fall.. there is NO REASON.. you can not dig it up.. and plant it at the right height ...

I THINK.. your only problem.. beyond that.. is your 'expectation' .. rather than some failure on the part of this plant .... its alive.. what more do you need this soon after planting????

just extend the grass free area.. lower the soil.. and install some bricks.. to make a tree well ... to keep the soil off the trunk ... something like at the link ... AS A TEMPORARY FIX.. until you can lift it properly in DORMANCY ...


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   May 13, 2012 at 10:59AM
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