Green thumbs up
To the losses that unite us and open
discussion that helps us beat them.
From commoner to botanical garden
horticulturist, we all lose some of what we plant. Knowing that
can't make up for the time, money and hope lost when a treasured
plant dies, yet it is good to know that we're not alone in
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Talk may make everyone's loss, everyone's gain
We recently listened to the directors
of some of the country's top botanical gardens publicly discussing
loss rates as matters of fact. (This as they participated in a
panel discussion at a conference.)
So what difference is there between
the guy next door who planted this hedge, and the pros?
Maybe it's success rate --
that the top guns don't lose so many of the arbs in a new
Surprisingly, although big losses are
not common in botanical gardens, they do happen. We've seen it, and
heard stories, such as from one garden's horticulturist whose very
large project started off with a 33% loss rate.
Closer to the mark: That the pros are
less likely than Average Ann or Andy to experience such a loss
twice. To grow like the pros, figure out why plants failed, then
replant only once you've changed the underlying causes.
Back to those poor arbs
Which is why we've been conducting a
serial investigation of these arborvitae deaths. The hedge is not
the property of anyone we know or have yet managed to meet on the
walks that take granddaughter Elizabeth and Janet past this
property. So far we've gathered information without benefit of
We can see that the gardener made
a valiant effort to keep the plants watered, with over 100' of hose
feeding a soaker hose at the shrubs' base. Even at our first
encounter, during the driest, hottest part of this summer, the soil
was cool and moist there. The plant label people probably deserve
some credit there.
The grass growing right up to the root
balls may have had more impact than one would suspect. Grass is an
extremely determined and able competitor for water. Weed grasses
such as quack grass even conduct a chemical warfare. Yet we expect
grass to slow an arb's growth, not prevent or stop it entirely.
Higher on our list of likely causes of
death is planting depth. Sadly, this would probably not have been
something the gardener knew to look for. It's not common knowledge
-- although we're trying to get the word out, and so are others! --
that trees and shrubs are very likely to come to the gardener
already too deep in their pots or root balls. Not only would the
average person not know to look for that, they probably would think
we exaggerate to say that three or four inches
too deep can mean death to roots.
So far we've only been able to poke
around at the base of the failed plants. What we see there are
branches sticking up out of the ground. Not a good sign.
Below, left: The needles and small
branches at the base are not dry brown but gray and flexible,
indicating they died with water inside. That points away from
drought and says "find other causes."
Below, right: It's a visually
confusing scene at the base of the trunk, so we traced what we see
to point it out to you. Main trunk is sketched in white, branches
in purple. The small branch Janet's tugging on goes not to the
trunk but into the ground at a distance from the trunk (arrow marks
the gap between branch and trunk). Judging that angle into the
ground, the branch might be attached several inches below grade.
The root flares may be an inch or two deeper than that and if so
there is a lot of soil smothering the roots and a root ball cut so
low that it may have had very little viable root when
When we do meet the gardener and ask
permission to excavate, we'll update this to tell you what we
Above: Here is why a tree planted too
deep (left) will lose so many more roots when it's dug for sale,
than one planted at the right level (right).
Which brings us to another
boy, do we need Sponsors! This illustration comes from our
magazine, Janet & Steven give you
Trees, sales of which provide essential operating fees for
GardenAtoZ.com. Yet the magazine also has a great deal of pivotal
information we could dearly use here on the website... if only you
would Sponsor us we can start posting some
of that magazine ahead of time!