Was my spruce tree planted too deep?

Asked August 27, 2015, 2:50 PM EDT

I think that a 15-year-old spruce in our yard was planted too deep. It does not flare out at the bottom, and the trunk is the same diameter from ground level to 4 ft. up. Its needles are fading green and sparse, but it does have a little new growth. There are two healthy spruces on either side of it. They all are at least 20 ft. tall and about 12 feet apart. What can be done to help it?

Douglas County Colorado trees and shrubs spruce trees

3 Responses

This is a tough problem. Below are the recommendations from Colorado Master Gardener Notes approved by Colorado State University.

Established Trees Planted Too Deep

The lack of a visible root flare is an indication of planting too deep (or that soil has been added over the root system). If the root flare is not visible, check for trunk circling/girdling roots. Circling/girdling roots may be several inches below ground.

Circling roots not embedded into the trunk should be cut and removed. For girdling roots putting pressure on the trunk, cut and remove the root without causing injury to the trunk. The tree will likely recover without any long-term effects.

For girdling roots embedded into the trunk, cut the root without causing injury to the trunk, if possible. However, do not remove the girdling root section if it is embedded into the trunk, as this opens the trunk to decay and the trunk will be structurally weak. The tree may or may not survive; only time will tell.

Good luck with this!

I don't see any circling or girdling roots around the base of the tree. I dug down a couple of inches and can see large roots extending away from trunk. Should I leave them exposed so oxygen can get to roots?
Should I water it or give it fertilizer? How frequently should it be watered? How do I know if it has some kind of borer? I have received many opinions from tree people. I'm trying to figure out how to send you pix.

Hi Marylou,

It is great that there are no girdling roots! Also good that you see new growth.

Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do to mitigate the situation of a tree that was planted too deep. You can leave the roots slightly uncovered, as long as that does not interfere with the other trees, or leave the tree in question in a sort of pit that might let water pond. Of course, do not pile up a lot of extra mulch or soil on top of the roots. Established trees do not need extra fertilizer; there are plenty of minerals in our native soils, and the salts in the fertilizer will just add more stress to a tree that is already having problems.

As you probably are aware, we have had some bad weather that has been hard on local trees, even the evergreens. The sudden freeze last November, and the Mother's Day snowstorm last May, both caused extra stress on all trees, and killed a lot of buds and needles. This might have affected a stressed tree harder than the other trees.

In general, just treat the tree the same as you treat the other ones, since they seem to be doing fine. Do some watering in dry spells and in the autumn to prepare for winter. Hopefully the tree will survive, but prepare yourself to replace it if it goes into serious decline.

Good luck with your poor spruce!