Improving growth of a Black Gum tree

Asked June 15, 2020, 12:32 PM EDT

I planted my Black Gum tree about 4 years ago. I don’t think it has grown at all. It is 40 inches tall. What can I do to get it to grow?

Baltimore County Maryland

4 Responses

Your black gum leaves should not be reddish. This tree looks stressed. We do not see a disease or insect issue, which points to a cultural/environmental problem.

We do see that the tree appears to be planted deeply. This can slowly kill a tree. A tree trunk should not go straight into the soil like a lollipop stick. The flare of a tree, where it widens before going into the soil, should be visible. Even if you planted it at the same depth it was in its container, it could have settled after planting or been planted too deeply in the container in which it came.

Pull away the mulch and soil around the base until you see the flare. Keep it clear. Mulch should never be more that 2-3" deep and never touch the base of a plant. Keep it back a few inches.

If you have not been watering it during droughts, do so.

It does not appear to have established well. If the roots were not teased out so that they radiated away from the trunk when it was planted, they may be just going around in circles. Also, if the planting hole was not very wide, roots may have hit the side of the hole (especially if the soil is clay) and just stopped or started circling.

If you don't see better growth after exposing the flare and watering, in a month you may want to try pulling it up to see what's going on. If it pulls up easily, then the roots have not extended out into the soil. Improve the hole and tease out the roots. If it is difficult to pull, then stop (you don't want to break the roots and apparently they have moved properly into the surrounding soil.)

Ellen

A year ago I worked around the edge of the mulch circle with a heavy 6 foot iron bar to try to pry it up for transplanting. It felt anchored in the center and didn't want to budge. I was afraid of breaking the tap root so I left it. I've planted quite a few trees and I try to put the base above ground. This may have settled more than I thought it would.
I bought this several years ago from a place that occasionally labels their plants wrong. Looking at the new photo, does it look like a black gum to you? Also, should I fertilize it and what with?
Thank you for your help!

It does look like a black gum.

Is is possible the pH is too high? It likes 5-6. Get a soil test done, as a pH too high would prevent it from absorbing nutrients. Search 'soil testing' on our website for how to do it. We recommend using the University of Delaware lab.

You can fertilize. Try a soluble one, one time, such as Mir-Acid. A couple of gallons. See if that helps the color.

A layer of compost in the fall is always good. Here's how to fertilize trees: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/fertilizing-trees-and-shrubs Fertilizer is like vitamins, not medicine. It only helps if there is a deficiency.

Ellen

It does look like a black gum.

Is is possible the pH is too high? It likes 5-6. Get a soil test done, as a pH too high would prevent it from absorbing nutrients. Search 'soil testing' on our website for how to do it. We recommend using the University of Delaware lab.

You can fertilize. Try a soluble one, one time, such as Mir-Acid. A couple of gallons. See if that helps the color.

A layer of compost in the fall is always good. Here's how to fertilize trees: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/fertilizing-trees-and-shrubs Fertilizer is like vitamins, not medicine. It only helps if there is a deficiency.

Ellen