Everything planted along the back fence line is dead or dies.
We have tried to plant trees along the back fence line several times in the last 2 years, about 10-12 foot away from the fence to give them room to grow. The grass has been brown and dead there for a couple of years, but we didn't think anything of it until we started planting trees and not one of them has lived more than a few months before dying off. Where do we go to find out what is wrong with the soil there? Not sure if the housing developer treated the soil on his side of the fence and it leached through to our side or what is happening. Any suggestions?
Yes, it’s possible to have a soil test done. But, in order to detect which herbicide (weed killer) or other chemical might have been added to the soil, you must specify which one to test for.
But you can determine if herbicides are in soil with the Radish Test. Here, after you plant radish seeds, if the seedlings are distorted, or the seeds don’t sprout, it’s possible that residual herbicide is in the soil. (The catch, though, is that you’ll need to moisten the soil well prior to planting, then continue watering until the seeds sprout.)
So, that brings us to why the trees died within a few months after planting.
The most frequent reasons trees fail within months are two: (1) Water (too much or too little) and/or (2) how the tree was planted.
These publications contain the details you need for success:
a.) “New Tree Planting” - http://www.treesaregood.com/portals/0/docs/treecare/New_TreePlanting.pdf
b.) “Watering newly planted trees and shrubs” - https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/watering-new-trees-shrubs/
If it’s impossible to provide consistent irrigation during the first 2 years, plant the trees in the fall, after rainfall has thoroughly moistened the soil. Then, make certain each rootball is thoroughly moist and settle the backfill soil in the planting holes with copious amounts of water. Next, allow nature to take over.
The very first step, though, is to choose trees which can survive in the site. Even drought-tolerant kinds must receive supplemental water the first 2 years to help them establish a sturdy root system. If irrigation is unavailable, consider rigging a temporary water line.