leaf problem

Asked August 2, 2016, 3:15 PM EDT

I learned about this particular tree and bought some to plant. I wanted fast growing trees since I removed the ones that were here when I bought it, which were apple trees, because I hated cleaning up after them every year. These are Hybrid Poplars. I learned that they are a very fast growing tree and can grow just about anywhere. Old cottonwoods are everywhere around here. Well, the prob I'm having is that everyone of them has lost leaves after transplanting and the leaves that stayed have started to deteriorate or whatever you want to call it, I've attached the pictures showing them. Let me know if you don't get them. 99% of the trees were just 12" tall except the big one is 10'. The first 6 I planted were 12" ones and lost their leaves and branches. All but one of them are trying to regrow after it happened. 1 completely died. They were all perfect when I planted them but lost all the big leaves and many of the mids also which they do when nutrition is low of course. By the pics, what is a common cause of this problem which includes the deterioration of the leaves that are left now also? The problem begins to happen within a couple of days after they are transplanted into the ground. The roots don't even get started yet. Would my towns water cause it? I'm watering them with city water of course when first planted. Ive done soil tests which look up to par now after adding chemicals. Nitrogen was very low but I've gotten it and the phosphorus up to what they need to be. Are there any further tests I need to do? I'm just stumped as to what it can be. If you need any other info let me know. Hybrid Poplars grow very fast just about anywhere but mine are having the hardest time imaginable getting started. I hope you can tell me exactly what is wrong. Thanks!!

Meade County South Dakota trees and shrubs horticulture

5 Responses

Yes, Hybrid poplars are fast growing but unfortunately this in turn may cause other problems, that is, they are also short lived and somewhat susceptible to pests and diseases.

You didn't say where you obtained your trees or when or how they were planted. And given all that you told me II cannot exactly say what is wrong. I will make some observations and give you information on the tree and its requirements.

The leaves show signs of drought stress. See paragraph on drought below excerpted from Dr. Ball's tree pest alerts July 27, 2016.
Symptoms of drought injury on trees A dry summer is not only stressful for people, pets and livestock, but for our trees and other vegetation. Trees require a tremendous amount of water to meet their functional needs and long term shortages can influence growth and survival. Trees signal their water deficit through a number of symptoms. The most common changes in appearance are:  Lighter green to yellow-green foliage  Leaf scorch around the margins  Wilting leaves  Leaves dropping prematurely.

You mentioned that you amended the soil; generally it is best to plant them in the native soil that exists in the place they are planted. The amendments and fertilizer may have caused additional stress beyond the transplanting stress. Trees, especially those in a lawn, usually do not need extra fertilizer.

You didn't mention the soil pH. Our SD soils are mainly alkaline and the poplars prefer less alkalinity.

Hybrid poplars prefer:
Soils and Soil Texture - Clay loams to sandy loams. Soil pH - 5.5 to 7.5. Less tolerant of high pH or salinity than does cottonwood. Windbreak Suitability Groups - 1, 2.
Cold Hardiness USDA Zone 3.
Water Requirements: a moist site. Will not tolerate drought on upland sites. Less tolerant of moisture stress than is cottonwood. High water table required on coarse-textured soils.

You mentioned that some of you trees were starting to regrow; I suggest that you give them only water following Dr. Ball's suggestions in the paragraphs below and give them a chance to respond.
Trees require water during the summer and the general rule-of-thumb is they need about one inch of water per week. Unfortunately, rains are not that dependable in South Dakota and we can get three inches one day and nothing for the next two months. Ideally this amount of water is provided to the tree every week, rather than double or triple the amount every two or three weeks. The water should also be applied slowly so that it soaks into the ground rather than runs off. The area to be watered should be from the trunk to a distance out equal to about half the height. While tree roots often extend as far out as the tree is tall, the majority of roots are closer to the trunk. (Dr. Ball, 7/27/16)

I could not exactly say what your tree problem is, but I have tried to help you understand a bit about the trees and the care required. I hope this is helpful and that your trees revive and grow.


Thanks for responding. :) Wow, only 1 inch of water per week sounds almost like no water at all.

They were all transplanted out of their containers into my yard under 2 months ago. As I stated also, they started having the problems losing leaves within the week after transplanting them. The roots hadn't even begun getting into my soil out of their soil yet of course. I didn't test nor add anything to the soil until after all this began to happen.

(if it is working correctly) the ph=alkaline 7.5. The fluid is so green to start with so I don't see how it can get so much lighter like the charts show.

I bought the big tree from Menards here in town. The small ones online.

I just now have talked to a local nursery and showed him the same pics I sent you.

Did you see those? See the leaf deterioration? The immediate leaf dropping couldn't have been from lack of water because they received plenty every day. What do overwatering symptoms look like? I have undergound sprinklers and was using a hose also if I didn't use them.

He believes, which I never even thought about, what looks like the leaf deterioration part was caused by hail tearing them first. We have had major hail happening over and over within the last month. I had never thought about that but that could very highly be the problem with that part. But then again, might not.

So, that should give you further info if it helps. Remember, the leaf loss began within only a week after planting them. I attached pics again just in case you didn't see the others. Thank You again for responding. ;)





Yes, if you had hail some of the damage could certainly be started with the hail. Over watering also produces brown deteriorating leaves. Your additional information is helpful, and yes I can view your pictures. The 1" a week has to do with established trees, which yours are not as you explained above. Following planting proper watering is particularly important for new trees, whether they are seedlings in a new windbreak or a tree just planted in a yard. A seedling is going to need between a pint and quart of water per day while a newly planted tree will need about 2 to 3 gallons per day at this time. This amount could be what you are providing, do you have a way of measuring? Another consideration is the depth of planting. Many people plant their trees too deep. Once upon a time trees placed in a container were done by hand, not any longer. If the trees were grafted, find the graft, that bump on the lower trunk of the tree above the first roots. That graft should be above the soil. If there is no graft then the proper planting depth is soil level 1" above the first or top root. Soil should slope away from the tree and mulch applied around the tree but a 6" diameter at least away from the trunk. Mulching will be helpful in maintaining proper moisture.
Your trees do not appear to have insect damage. Where in Meade County are you located. If you are close to Spearfish I might be able to do a site visit. You now have more information on planting and watering new trees and more to check. It is not easy, but perhaps we are making headway toward understanding the problem.

Hi Sue, sorry I forgot to respond to you on the last one. I'm in Black Hawk.

Hmm, I went out this morning and looked at the trees again which I've done almost every day and one of the first ones that I planted quite a while ago, 2 ft tall, was trying to come back but lost half of it's remainiing leaves last night. That's strange. There are only a couple of the top leaves remaining so it's pretty much gone.

For now, so far, the other tiny trees are still striving, knock on wood.

That 10'er is very slow recovering but trying. All the large leaves are gone. The thing that has to be looked at is that it's been around 2 1/2 months on the big one and to me, it should be coming back good by now. It does have a year warranty so if it does not start growing very good next spring I get my money back.

I'm amazed because the one that is doing the best recovering had lost everything except the trunk at first. No leaves nor branches left. I totally felt it would not recover. It is back to how it was when I first planted it now. The main trunk on it is only 4" tall and it regrew the new stem up 8" from that with good leaves.

I wish could figure out what is causing the problems. :(


Keep on doing what you are doing because you are seeing improvement; that is progress. Good luck