This year has experienced times of excess moisture in much of Missouri. While it’s great to see good rainfall again after last summer’s drought, too much rain certainly leads to its own set of problems.
I have been getting many calls from homeowners who are experiencing the loss of young trees and shrubs. While there are certainly diseases that can cause this, many times the problem is not a pathogen at all, but environment.
When you transplant a tree or shrub, much if not most of the root system is left behind in the nursery. This means that the plant must grow another root system. During this critical time, too much or too little water can spell disaster.
One mistake that many people make when planting trees and shrubs is to make what they consider a perfect bed for the roots to grow in. When they dig the planting hole, they mix in lots of organic matter such as peat moss for the new plant to grow in.
While this might sound like a good idea, if the soil is a clay type soil, please resist this temptation. What happens in a time of heavy rainfall, is that the peat moss or other organic matter soak up moisture like a sponge. Because it is surrounded by a heavier clay soil, the water can’t drain off, and you end up with a soup bowl, so to speak.
Roots need a mixture of both air and water, and few plants will grow where there is a high amount of water. In this case, the plant is drowning.
If you have a very sandy soil, you might get by with this approach, although there still could be problems. Some plants, however, really like lots of organic matter, and instructions from the nursery may tell you to add a mixture of peat moss and soil. Blueberries are a good example of this. The key here if you use this approach is to plant on a really high raised bed. If the plant remains high above the surrounding soil level, any excess rainfall can drain off and the plant will be much better off.
University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.
Tim Baker is a professional and horticulture specialist with the University of Missouri Extension.