After planting a sapling, we expect it to start growing and start bearing fruit or beautiful flowers, if decorative. We wait a year or two and the tree doesn’t die, but it doesn’t grow, well, not even 0.4inch (1cm)!
Many people follow the old tradition of taking an ax in hand and whispering around the “unsuccessful” seedling, “Another season, your song is done”. Put down the ax and reflect, blame the sapling or the gardener?
Let’s try to understand why this is happening and why the trees are not giving growth? Literally – point to point. Not only that, let’s try to remedy the situation.
But first, we need to define what is normal growth? Of course, this varies from culture to culture in different climates and depends greatly on the species.
However, an average growth of 12-27inch (30-70 cm) per season is considered normal for stone fruits (apples, pears). In drupes (plums, cherries, apricots) it can be much more – up to 3.3foot (1 meter).
The gardener has buried the root neck
The root neck is the place where the topmost roots start to grow. Here is the topmost roots where it start to grow. You should not bury it too deep, 0.4-0.8inch (1-2cm) is fine. What happens if you go deeper?
The bark is not used to living underground and will inevitably start to rot and deteriorate. Sap flow and nutrient transport will be disturbed. The plant will not grow fast enough to survive!
Sometimes this incorrect planting is carried out by inexperienced gardeners, and sometimes it is caused by not preparing the planting hole beforehand.
If you plant your seedlings in a large hole and then fill it with the right soil mixture, the mixture will gradually settle and drag your seedlings down. Prepare the planting hole in advance and fill it at least one month before planting the seedlings.
How do I fix it? In the case of young seedlings, dig and transplant them correctly. If transplanting is difficult, then rake the soil on the trunk to the right depth and do it regularly, once a year.
By the way, it is not good to plant too high. The upper thick main roots are drying out in the ground in summer and can be subject to freezing in winter.
The variety is not suitable for the region where it is grown.
Naturally, if you get a southern seedling and plant it in the middle zone, then the seedling, to put it mildly, will be very uncomfortable until it dries completely. Of course, it is also possible to insulate, but that is another topic and another rule.
Also, don’t think that “northern” seedlings will be happy in your southern climate. The famous apple tree variety from the south suffers from the heat, which he is not used to.
Therefore, only buy seedlings of released varieties from local nurseries and plant them locally.
Incompatible or incompatible grafting and rootstocks.
This is a fairly common mistake. The budding gardener revels in the fact that he or she is good at grafting and starts grafting everything he or she can onto anything.
Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes they are grafted onto apple trees but are completely rejected by the rootstock, and sometimes they don’t grow even after years of “standing”. The advice here is to either trial and error or to research rootstock and graft compatibility.
Planting in the wrong place
For example, the site is in a low-lying area where water and cold air are constantly accumulating. Either on your plot, where groundwater is close by, or, under a thin layer of soil: rocks. Let me remind you that tree roots are constantly in water and simply suffocate and decay. Roots, like people, need air.
How to solve it? The first step is to find out at what depth the apex of groundwater is, and on that basis choose seedlings. It is likely to be suitable to raise seedlings on low-growing rootstocks, which have shallow root systems. A more expensive method is to build hills at least one meter high and plant trees on them.
In the case of rocks, where there is a fertile layer on a bayonet shovel, there is no other way than to cut out a large planting pit of 1 cubic meter and fill it with imported fertilized soil. Yes, sooner or later the roots will hit the rocks, but 1 cubic meter of fertile soil is quite good enough. By the way, this is exactly what was done in the Apsheronsky Peninsula and Crimea.
If your plot has heavy soil and you buy container seedlings, then pay attention to large planting pits. Otherwise, what will you get? Seedlings in containers growing in comfortable conditions in a light, loose soil mixture, most likely peat-based.
The roots sprout easily in all directions, with ease. When confronted with your soil, they may say NO. and not go on to grow where they should, but still, stay in the volume of the container and twist into rings.
There is even a term called “seedling autotrophs” – roots that do develop and grow on their own in a limited space.
Another option is poor, sandy soil. It has few nutrients, little to no nutrition, and contains no water at all. So again – large planting pits and imported fertile soil, regular and frequent feeding and watering. You can try planting small seedlings on seed rhizomes, which have deep root systems, and, perhaps, such plants will be harder.
Another problem with sandy soil – in winter, if there is no precipitation and frost, there is a high probability of root freezing, which guarantees insufficient growth. Therefore, it is obligatory to moisturize and water before winter (and perhaps repeat it during the winter thaw) and cover with a thick layer of planting ring.
Lack of any nutrients
As we all know, nitrogen is the reason for the vigorous growth of shoots and leaves, and a lack of nitrogen will inhibit the development of the plant. But a lack of phosphorus can also reduce growth and make it shaky.
By the way, the pH of the soil can sometimes prevent the absorption of a certain element. Therefore, it is best to have the soil analyzed chemically and, depending on the results, to fertilize it regularly with one or more fertilizers and preparations.
Do not think that the chemical elements in the soil work by themselves. No, they actively interact with each other, sometimes strengthening (synergizing), sometimes weakening, or even blocking each other altogether.
In general, it is important to understand that it is not the number of chemical elements that is important, but the correct balance between them. Meso- and micronutrients in fertilizers are very important, and not in the form of sulfates, but in the form of chelates that are easily absorbed by plants. Yes, too much chemical fertilizer is not good!
Root pests and diseases
If you don’t have any of the above reasons and the seedling is not growing or developing, dig it up and check the root system, the clue may be there.
It could be the larvae of the May beetle that just “foolishly” ate the roots, or it could be some disease that caused the roots to rot and die. Such roots should be cut back to live roots and treated with a fungicide. Nowadays there are even rooting agents with added fungicides.
Of course, after such treatment and transplanting, the process will continue. If the seedling is mature and difficult to dig out, try watering the soil under the seedling with special preparations for larvae and diseases.
There are also slightly exotic options as to why the tree does not give growth.
A sapling is planted where the same plant died earlier.
Exactly the same. You do not want to plant an apple tree where it died. Stand back. Experts talk about the toxins that accumulate in the soil and can poison the life of young plants.
There is a term called “allelopathy” which means incompatibility and “bad” influences between plants. Just like humans and animals, plants can protect their space and territory by secreting different substances. Sometimes, these substances inhibit the growth of everything around them.
A typical example is a walnut. Its leaves contain juglone, a substance that enters the ground with precipitation and makes life unbearable for other plants. Not even weeds refuse to grow under the walnut. Indeed, equivalence is an understudied issue, and you may have your own observations about the positive and negative effects between plants.
Competing with each other
Competition among plants is quite intense. Some of this competition we can see. For example, a tree with a wide and dense canopy catches all the light from the plants below it. You shouldn’t expect them to grow well (unless, of course, these plants are shade-tolerant).
But underground competition is hidden from our eyes. If two plants are planted next to each other with their root systems at the same level of the soil, it may happen that the more active plant braids its passive neighbor and will take all the “food” and water with it.
A typical variant is the birch tree with its surface and widely spreading roots. All surface-rooted plants planted under birch trees require regular watering. The birch tree draws all the water out and leaves its neighbors with dry food. If something with deep tap roots grows next to the birch, it is a completely different story, they are not in competition with each other.
Now, go to your “seedling brake” and analyze what is wrong with this list. Or If you have your own way, please feel free to write it in the comments.