Fastigiata blue spruce

Asked October 23, 2016, 4:18 PM EDT

I planted this tree about a month ago and in the last week noticed these branches have turned brown. I was watering about every week unless it rained. It's planted on the side of the hill so I had to "bank" the soil on the one side where you see the rocks. I mulched it with about 2" of mulch. What is wrong with it?

Minnesota trees and shrubs diagnosis of plant problems blue spruce browning horticulture

1 Response

Thank you for your question. It appears to be suffering from transplant stress.

I am going to assume this plant was purchased in a container as this would be most likely be the at this time of year. From the picture you sent, it appears the hole you dug was too small for this tree. Holes should be dug at least twice as wide as the rootball. If the roots were tightly packed from being in the container, they should have been loosened before planting. I can't quite tell from the picture, but the tree should have been planted at a depth so the root flare shows above the soil surface. Here's an Extension publication with diagrams:

Also, you'll want to remove the turfgrass and make the mulch ring much larger (about 6 feet in diameter) to protect roots and reduce competition for water and nutrients from the turfgrass. The grass will ultimately die from being shaded as the tree grows larger anyway, but you'll want to give the tree the best possible start by reducing competition from the grass.

At this point, you should remove the grass and extend the mulch ring. It's great that you have watered the tree through its first month - continue to do that as long as you can this fall and start again in the spring. Note too that compacted clay soil will prevent water from percolating through the soil, and sandy soil will drain quickly. You'll just want to be aware of this was you water and adjust your watering accordingly. Here's some good publications on watering trees both established and newly planted:

Feel free to respond with more questions.