So, what do all of these tree pictures have in common? In my past Extension days, I made a few tree calls and this is what I found. These business and homeowners wanted to know what was wrong with their trees? Was it a disease or an insect? I had to be the bearer of bad news and let them know that these trees were not planted correctly!
If you look at the base of a tree, there should be a flare or the tree’s root collar should be above the ground. If you look at the base of a tree and it goes directly into the ground, it is planted too deeply (like the last 4 pictures). Also, remember to remove any burlap or wire baskets before planting a tree. If a tree is planted incorrectly, it may survive several years; however, eventually, it will gradually start to decline. Tree decline intinsifies during time of stress like last year's weather (extreme wet, then dry) or other problems such as cars driving on roots or construction near roots. Tree decline may look like the last 3 pictures in this blog.
Another problem that I have encountered is girdling roots (Look at the first 3 pictures). In some instances, if you look near the base of a declining tree, you can see roots growing in a circular pattern. But, in other cases, you can’t see any signs of strangling or girdling roots. When planting a tree, make sure roots are not winding around and spread them out in a wide hole. If a tree has girdling roots, naturally this will choke the tree and not allow nutrients to properly flow up into a tree. Strangling roots will also cause a gradual decline of a tree.
So, please plant a tree this spring, but do it correctly! There is nothing much you can do for a tree in decline due to incorrect planting!
Here is a great factsheet to use as a guide: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/winnebago/downloads/706.pdf