August 7, 2010

1 - Several problems can cause a tree to die after only a few years.

Yard and Garden - August 7, 2010


I had a golden rain tree planted in my front yard during the fall three years ago. It is in a very sunny western exposure that gets sun pretty much all day. It was about 8-9 ft. tall when planted. It had been doing great until this spring. It leafed out and right after we had a bad wind storm, then it got very cold. The leaves all shriveled and dropped eventually. I have always checked the water content of the soil around the tree and have watered it regularly as the season demands.

Now it is growing shoots from the base of the tree with the rest of the tree looking totally dead. I scraped the bark a bit and it seems to be somewhat green. The ends of the branches though are brittle.

Can you give me any hints about its future, or its problems just from this explanation? Does the fact that it has suckers mean it still has a chance? Should I leave it in the ground until next spring? Should I cut the suckers again, as I have already cut them once and they have grown back?

- Constance K.


It is impossible to positively identify the cause of problems your tree is experiencing; however, I can suggest some possible causes. The late spring storm is one possible cause. Many trees were injured by this springs' surprise storm, but I have not seen any as severely injured as you have described. It is possible that this is the cause, but there are other things to consider.

Was the tree left in a container when it was planted? Some trees are in fiber pots that are supposed to decompose, but often fail to do so quickly enough in our New Mexico soils and environment. Some are planted with chicken wire and burlap around their roots. If these materials are not removed at the time of planting, they can cause problems after a few years. These are other possible causes for the symptoms you have described.

Was the tree planted in a low area that held water this winter? Water around the base of a tree during the winter can crush and damage the base of the tree if the water freezes at night. The proper conditions for this problem are rare in New Mexico, but did exist in many parts of New Mexico last winter. Water remaining around the base of the tree, keeping the soil soggy for prolonged periods of time can also cause problems.

While it is not possible to confidently identify the cause of the problems, it does seem from the description that the tree is severely damaged. You can allow one of the sprouts at the base of the tree to grow and replace the tree, but this sprout may produce a tree that can become hazardous after a few years. If the tree is near the house, street, driveway, or other area with much traffic, it may be best to replace the tree. Keep in mind the potential causes for this problem if you do plant another tree so that you can avoid them.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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