Gray wet dirt?

Asked June 12, 2018, 9:38 PM EDT

I recently planted a serviceberry tree in the same location of an old cherry tree. I had the old tree stump ground. I also removed all of the wood chips and added fresh dirt before planting the serviceberry. Now, the serviceberry's leaves are turning yellow-orange and the liriope (that is planted around the tree) is also turning yellow. After examining the dirt, I noticed that the dirt was dense, gray, wet, and smelled. How can I get my dirt tested? Should I move the tree or will I be able to fix the dirt situation?

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

A basic soil test will give you pH, liming, and nutrient deficiencies. It will not give you information on any type of decline.

It sounds like you may be dealing with several issues.
If you used top soil to plant the tree, it is not regulated in MD. It should not be full of rocks, no ammonia smell, and is a dark crumbly texture.

When a stump is ground out some of the wood chips and sawdust may still be in the soil. Any fresh wood chips can tie up plant nutrients, especially nitrogen. This can account for the yellowing. It is a good idea to let the wood chips sit and decompose for about a year. Then you can use them as mulch.

Also, if the soil is clay and you added topsoil to the planting hole only this can create a 'bathtub effect'. Water sits in the planting hole and drowns the tree. The surrounding clay (which doesn't drain well) won't let the rain out.

At this point, we recommend that you lift the tree and find another location. Do not use the same planting hole. See our publication on planting tips for trees and look at planting procedures and care after planting. You do not need to use organic amendments unless this is mixed in across the eventual root zone of the tree.
Also, see our website on the planting process and a video