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How to be a good neighbor to trees
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Trees make good neighbors. They provide shade, cooling, beauty and sometimes fruit or nuts. Sometimes we forget them until something goes wrong. Trees are big and strong, but not indestructible. Lately, I’ve received a number of calls and concerns in the office regarding these gentle giants.


I just moved a tree (or shrub) and it is wilted badly. What should I do?

This will probably be one of those answers you do not want to hear. Summer is not a good time to move trees and shrubs. Actually, there is no good time to move plants. We need to plan ahead and plant them where they will be until they die.

Once a plant is well established, the roots extend far beyond the canopy of the plant. Moving plants cuts off these roots and the plant has difficulty recovering. Moving plants is like performing open heart surgery on them. The only difference is that we often cannot put them in ICU until they recover.

If you must move a plant, fall and winter are the best times. Fall is also the best time to plant woody shrubs and trees. When moving shrubs or trees, first cut down into the soil in a circle around the plant to a depth of 12 inches. Cut out around the plant as though you were going to move the plant immediately. Cut out a root ball as large as you can safely move. Wait 45 days and then move the plant. This method reduces the size of the root ball before transplanting and should help the plant to survive.


My tree looks like fall has come early. What should I do?

Trees respond to stress by losing leaves. The problem is not usually an insect or disease. Stresses like drought followed by wet soils weaken the tree. The tree is no longer able to support all the leaves it has. In an effort to survive and continue growth, the tree purposely loses some of its leaves.

Although this sounds ominous, it is a naturally occurring process. The main thing we can do for the tree is to remove any stress it is experiencing.

Some stresses are due to weather. Last year’s drought killed many tree roots. Trees may require several years to recover from this injury. You may say, “But I watered my trees!” That can be good, if done properly. Trees require infrequent, deep watering to develop good healthy roots. Healthy roots lead to healthy trees.

When the soil dries out, water with 1 inch of water once a week. Watering every day or every other day can actually damage or kill trees. Water lawns and shrubs with ¾-inch of water once every five to seven days. Water flowers and vegetables twice a week with ½-inch of water each time.


We have plenty of water this year. Why are my trees dying?

Wet soils may damage trees. We have experienced drought for the last four years. As we return to a more normal rainfall pattern, we may notice that some areas are actually wetter than we realized. If we cannot redirect water away from these areas, we may have to replant the tree.

Create raised beds in wet areas and then plant into these beds. Never plant a tree deeper than it originally grew. Select trees that can withstand wet soils to plant in moist areas. A few trees for wet areas include Carolina silver bell, magnolia, red maple, river birch, water oak and live oak.

Do not dig around trees, pile soil on their roots, drive over their roots or cut off exposed roots. You may want to remove all the grass around a tree and replace it with mulch. The roots are the most important part of the tree – protect them!


Richard Evans is with the Bryan County Extension Office and can be reached at or 912-653-2231.

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