Red Oak Transplant Shock

Asked June 6, 2014, 1:06 PM EDT

I planted a 3.5" caliper red oak in spring of 2012 before it leafed out. It leafed out perfectly that spring. In 2013, a late frost killed emerging leaves. It still managed to eventually leaf out thinly, but throughout the tree. The leaves all appeared healthy, though the leaves seemed to drop earlier that fall than the nearby Autumn Blaze maples or better established pin oaks. In 2014, only the lower branches have leafed out, but with more leaves than the previous year. There are a couple main branches with leaves at the mid level, along with buds breaking along the leader at mid level. It is now June 6, and there are no leaves to be seen in the upper third of the tree. In fact, I don't see buds either. Could the upper third of the tree leaf out later, possibly recover next year (after a year with no leaves), or is this portion of the tree dead? Can I expect a shoot from the mid level of the tree to grow and replace the leader?
The tree is located in zone 6, planted in heavy clay soil. The tree was purchased and installed by a reputable local nursery, and was balled and burlaped.
My experience with transplant shock tells me that it will take 3 - 4 years before a 2.5" tree will fully leaf out again (in my yard). But, I've not seen entire portions of trees be bare of buds or leaves during this period. Is this normal transplant shock, or a sign that my oak has faltered?

Oakland County Michigan

4 Responses

Check the branches that are not leafing out for viability. Scrape back a small section of the branch and examine the woody tisue below the bark Live wood should be white to pale green and supple. Dead wood is tan to brown and brittle. If the branches are still alive I would wait to see if they leaf out later this summer. Dead branches should be pruned off. It is unlikely the branches will recover if they do not leaf out this year. A 3.5" caliper tree is a fairly good size tree and may not have established itself adequately in the native soil especially if the burlap was not removed from the root ball. To minimize transplant shock, it is better to plant smaller trees since their root balls are not as compromised as a larger specimen. Amending backful soil when planting is not recommended. Trees should be mulched and regularly watered.

Thanks for your response.
Ill see if I can get a closer look with a step ladder tomorrow.
I found a pic I happened to take at this exact time in 2013. It was just starting to leaf out, though it was scattered throughout the tree.

The first pic is from June 2013. The second pic is early June 2014

After reviewing your photo I think your tree will be just fine. It looks like there is 25% or less dieback which is probably due to transplant shock or possibly winter injury from last winter. Oak trees should not be pruned between March 31 and October 31. Keep the tree well watered during this summer. If the branches have not leafed out by the end of October, prune them off after November 1st.