The Consequences of Leaving The Wire Baskets on Field-Grown Trees

Story by Rawson Services Editor / March 21, 2016

Charleston is a city of grand trees and well-designed gardens. When the azaleas begin to flower under canopies of Live Oaks each spring, we are drawn back into our gardens and parks to enjoy the long growing season of the Lowcountry.

Live Oaks, Crape Myrtles, Ligustrums and Dogwoods are some of the trees and shrubs that create the lush Charleston landscape we all enjoy, but when they are transplanted from a container, it may take years before they form a well-developed canopy or hedge. When a more mature landscape is desired, field-grown trees and shrubs can be transplanted into a landscape. Commonly known as “balled-and-burlapped” plants, trees are dug from the ground at a nursery and the root ball is covered with burlap and a wire cage. This allows the tree to be transported without the roots drying out

Sometimes, when these trees are planted in a landscape, the burlap, wire cage and strapping are left on the roots rather than being removed. Leaving these materials on the roots is detrimental to the long-term health of the tree.

Depending on the material used, wire baskets can last up to 30 years without breaking down. As the tree roots grow and expand, they are often girdled by the wire basket. This restricts the vascular flow of water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves and the tree begins to slowly decline. Young tender roots cannot penetrate the burlap casing and the roots begin to circle rather than expand into the surrounding soil.

Trees that have not had the burlap and cage removed do not anchor properly into the ground and are more prone to blowing over in high winds. In an area like Charleston, where hurricanes are tropical storms are expected each year, this is a major concern. Trees without good anchoring roots that grow deep into the soil profile are less vigorous and a hazard to property and people.

It may take several years before the effects of improper planting are evident. The most common symptom is tip dieback. When the leaves do not grow all the way to the tips of the branches, it is an indication that there is stress on the root system. If the roots are being girdled by the wire basket, they do not have the ability to transport water all the way to the tips of the highest branches.

As the injury continues, symptoms include branch dieback, leaf yellowing, increased susceptibility to borers, late leaf emergence in the spring and early fall coloration in autumn.

Damage from an improperly planted tree or shrub can be corrected if the problem is addressed before there is major branch dieback. The soil surrounding the plant should be excavated to expose the wire basket to remove as much of the basket as possible, especially from the top half of the root ball.

The roots should be examined for decay and girdling roots. Any damaged or circling roots should be carefully excised to prevent further damage.

Trees that are damaged from root girdling respond well to an organic root stimulant to aid in recovery. Rawson Services uses a product that is formulated specifically for compromised root systems. This organic fertilizer is designed to improve the speed of recovery by stimulating root growth and reversing mineral deficiencies. It is an ideal treatment for Charleston soils because it does not have any phosphorus (3-0-20) and it works even in high pH soils. This Plant Health Care product assists with plant recovery created by improper planting.

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