Plants that Perform Poorly

The phone rings several times a day with questions people have regarding the status of newly planted – and established plantings. It may be a simple question – but some take a little longer to give advice on. The article Leif published in the
June 2nd – Northfield News shares some of these problems and concerns.

“Each growing season I field a wide variety of calls about concerns people have with poorly performing plants, or plants that look sick or unsightly. About half the time through a little question and answer exchange, it is possible to get enough information to conclude that the perceived problem is not serious and that in many cases a good remedy or patience, will result in a plant that begins to perform as hoped.

In other situations, it appears that serious problems probably exist. For some of these plants, decisive action or a major undertaking may turn the tide towards good health. In some cases, it is soon apparent that the plant in question is nearly or already dead, and that the best plan is to prepare for a suitable replacement, perhaps with a plant that better fits the site condition.

Lately a lot of calls are about leaves with brown spots, holes, frayed edges and an appearance that might make you think the plant is wilting. Most of these conditions resulted from the violent winds on the weekend of May 5th and 6th, just when unfolding leaves were at their most tender condition. Two days of pounding winds frayed or cracked thin leaf tissue and within a few days, cells near these cracks browned out, and then on the next hot windy days, the brown areas mostly disappear as dead leaf tissue turned to powder and vanished with the wind. The good news is that leaf tattering is not fatal. The affected leaves will look bad for the rest of the season, but new leaves on the ends of rapidly growing shoots have a good chance of fully forming without leaf tattering, if winds are merely brisk, but not violent during the 1-2 week period that each leaf needs to reach a full size and full thickness.

Plants that have really thick leaves are usually resistant to leaf tattering. So too for plants that are sheltered from the full brunt of the wind. If your site is really windy, you may want to consult your favorite nursery professional for guidance on which varieties will stand up best to tough wind, and which to avoid.

Another concern expressed recently is trees that are growing at a slow rate. Many times the cause is poor drainage and chronically waterlogged soil in the root zone. Another big contributor to slow growth is grass growing right up to the trunk. When allowed to grow in the area within 3 feet of the tree trunk, even grass that is mowed short is a ferocious competitor with the tree for water and nutrients. An added danger is that when grass is growing tight to the tree trunk overly aggressively string trimmer use may cut into the thin bark of a fairly young tree. I’ve seen countless trees that have been almost completely girdled by string trimmers and ruined.

Hail damage is another big issue this spring. The only thing to do is to trim off damaged twigs, branches or bark and moderately fertilize once a month in April, May, June and July. With dead tissue gone, the available fertilizer will enable the plant to quickly fill in the gaps in one or two growing seasons.

Birds of all kinds are feeding heavily right now in order to feed their young. Last evening, I saw a small finch land on a branch of a tree a few feet from our deck. A couple of seconds later, another bird almost the same size landed next to the first, and the first bird fed the second, putting something right into the young one’s beak. The young bird was almost as big as the parent, and could fly well, but was still learning how to gather its own food, and still relying on “Mom and Pop”.

This week the hummingbirds have been very busy at our two feeders. They must have nests of hungry little ones nearby. This coincides nicely with the annual flowers that are now producing good numbers of blossoms due to the favorable conditions for rapid establishment we’ve enjoyed during May. Mild temps and no killing frost have our annual beds looking very nice for early June. The hummingbirds certainly like the extra flowers.”