Cedrus Atlantica Glauca Fastigiata Not Well

Discussion in 'HortForum' started by jmlamberti, Oct 22, 2005.

  1. jmlamberti

    jmlamberti Member

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    In March of this year a 7' Cedrus Atlantica Glauca Fastigiata, which I believe is a.k.a. a Blue Atlas Cedar, was planted in the front of my house (about five feet from the foundation) in Long Island, New York. The tree is next to a sprinkler head which I believe saved it from our very dry summer. The tree looked beautiful up until about a week ago when our period of drought ended. We had rain for 8 days straight. My wife and I left for a trip to Canada and returned on the last day of this rainy period. As I opened the door to the house I looked over and noticed some of the needles were turning almost a chocolate brown and there were blue/blue green needles around the tree on the mulch.

    A few weeks later and there is adequate moisture now where the other newly planted bushes are loving it, but more and more needles are falling off the Blue Atlas. I feel helpless and do not want to do anything without professional advice. At first I hoped that it was shedding its needles for winter needles. But I feel like I am watching an angel lose its wings, feather by feather. I read some postings that gave me some hope where other trees came back in the spring after losing their needles. However, if there is something I can do to help this baby along, I am open to advice.

    I have been checking the tree for evidence of mites or holes and have not seen anything. The limbs are flexible still and the last inches of needles all the way at the tip top of the tree are green and young. I would say that about 65 percent of the needles still remain on the tree. But if you put just a little bit of pressure on them they come off. We have an Alberta Spruce that was transplanted and some of the needles turned brown on one side but eventually it pulled itself together and is doing well now. Can this be from too much water all of a sudden after a period of very little water where it actually did very well?
     
  2. Dee M.

    Dee M. Active Member 10 Years

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    This spring in the Pacific Northwest many people had problems with their Weeping Blue Atlas Cedars too. It was a very wet spring so there is that in common with your situation. After researching the problem my best guess is that it was some kind of botrytis, a fungus disease. I am not positive, you could sent a sample into your local extension service to have them test it. If you find out for sure what it is let me know. I do think you are on the right track about the weather change having some thing to do with it. They need well drained soil so if it isn't that could be a problem too. The other good possibility is that it is still adjusting to it's new location. Another possibility is that it's just a bad plant, for instance if it was balled and burlaped maybe too many roots were cut off. I would talk to the place you bought it to see what they think. A good quality nursery can give you some good advice that would be more local. Bring in a sample to them to look at.
     
  3. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Dig next to the cedar and look at soil, including original soil ball. You may discover an unexpected soil moisture problem.

    The spruce probably had mites, dwarf Alberta spruce is a notorious pest magnet.
     
  4. jmlamberti

    jmlamberti Member

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    I pulled back the mulch and was able to dig a few inches down with my hand next to the root ball. The soil is in fact damp and clumpy. Definately appears to be a moisture problem in the soil. I am keeping the mulch pulled back from the trunk. We reached a point in the calendar when the sun does not reach this side of the house much during the day, so this will take a while to return to normal. The root ball is dryer than the surrounding soil.

    I would rather do something than leave the future of this plant to chance. Is there anything I can try to increase its probabilities of surviving, or would any type of interference add to the trauma?
     
  5. Dee M.

    Dee M. Active Member 10 Years

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    The first thing to do is decide if it's a disease or cultural problem, like the site isn't good for it. Of course it might still be a transplanting problem, if that is the cause it would be better to leave it up to chance and see if it makes it there. I'm glad you pulled back the mulch, and don't fertilize it now, it would be best to just leave it alone. As a very last resort you could dig it up and put it back in a pot. Put it in a protected place for the winter and don't let the root ball freeze or let it get too wet or dry. Then you could plant it in a better drained site next spring or build a large raised berm in the original site if you think the soil was to blame. Did it put on new growth in the spring? Did you see any new roots coming out of the old root ball when you looked at it? If you did, that is a good sign.
     
  6. jmlamberti

    jmlamberti Member

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    It was very healthy looking from the time it was planted up until the cooler and rainy weather a week and a half ago. I did not look at the root ball after it was initially planted. There is more rain in the forecast this week and I fear this plant is going to get kicked while it is down, and we will most likely have the effects of Wilma in a few days on top of this.

    I have fresh topsoil and can build a small burm to help with drainage (maybe up to four inches) up to the base of the trunk on top of the already moist soil. Is this a good idea?
     
  7. Dee M.

    Dee M. Active Member 10 Years

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    I'm not quite sure what you mean, but a 4 inch high berm wouldn't be big enough. To make a berm you would have to dig up the root ball and raise the whole plant. I'd say the berm would have to be at least 18 inches above the existing soil level, higher would be better, and even then it might not be enough because it will get to be a good size plant. It should be many feet wide too. And are you sure the drainage is to blame? If you search the internet there are simple tests like digging a hole, filling it with water and timing how long it takes it to drain out that you can do to get a good idea of your drainage. I'm not saying the berm would be an easy thing to make. Being a gardener who likes to work with the conditions that I have, and being somewhat lazy, I would see if it makes it there or move it. My general rule if a plant dies in a certain location and I have my heart set on that plant in that place, I will try one more time. If it dies a second time I just give up. I don't have many conifers that insist on good drainage in my garden for exactly that reason.
     
  8. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    If the original rootball is repelling water - not a rare occurrence - that could be it right there. Balled in burlap stock is often grown on fine-textured soils that hold together well after the plants are dug. If the soil in the new site is a different texture the original rootball may not remoisten well, even when the soil around it is damp. It is the same problem that may arise with amending of planting holes, movement of water within the soil being affected by changes in soil texture.
     
  9. Dee M.

    Dee M. Active Member 10 Years

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    I agree, the first thing to do is to determine the cause. Dig down carefully and look at the roots before you decide anything.

    Ron B., I am interested in your opinion on berms in general and in the case of a large tree in particular. The roots will get so big is it just really impractical? How big would it have to be? What happens when the roots reach the bottom of the bermed up soil? Would they just try and grow sideways making the tree not well anchored and prone to falling over?
     
  10. Ron B

    Ron B Paragon of Plants 10 Years

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    Yes: you'd think the berm/raised bed would have to be big enough to accomodate the entire potential root system. Maybe how it often works out is that the crown of the large shrub or tree being above the poorly drained soil is adequate. Our largest native trees are often close to streams or on bottomlands where surely the roots have long since extended into quite damp conditions.

    Regarding trapping water around the plant with soil, Whitcomb, Establishment and Maintenance of Landscape Plants 1987(1991) edition says

    "Mound the remaining soil into a dike or berm to hold water around the tree where rainfall can be limiting and soils are fair to good. In heavy soils it is advisable to break the dike to avoid excess water and suffocation of roots during wet weather, yet the dikes can readily be repaired to facilitate watering during dry weather. In areas of frequent rainfall and heavy soils, it is better to plant shallow or create berms to drain excess water away and avoid root suffocation."
     
  11. Dee M.

    Dee M. Active Member 10 Years

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    Thank you Ron B., it's good to know that even getting the crown up higher can be of help. Maybe I'll build a berm and rock garden some day.

    On the subject of conifers and transplanting, I'll tell you about my Hollywood Juniper, container grown. I bought it last summer and waited till fall to plant it. It was fine all that time, but by early that next summer it had died. I talked to the nursery I got it from, not expecting a refund but just because I wanted to know what I did wrong. They said to bring in the plant and they would replace it because all the Hollywood Junipers they had gotten from a particular grower had died within a year, they had questioned the grower but never got a straight answer so they were apologizing to customers and replacing them [ from a different grower ]. So you never know, it might not have been your fault at all. I brought in the dead plant and they gave me a new one. I hope it can tolerate my heavy soil.
     
  12. jmlamberti

    jmlamberti Member

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    I appreciate both your suggestions. My cousin is a landscaper and planted the Blue Atlas. I finally had a chance to talk to him last night and he is coming by to take a look this weekend. In case you are interested, I will take pictures and post them to this thread.
     
  13. Dee M.

    Dee M. Active Member 10 Years

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    Do let us know how it turns out, I am interested.
     

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