New Dying Trees and Saving Trees

New Trees Dying? Trying to Save a Dying Tree? Read on!

If you have planted a bunch of new trees, there are a few things to be aware of. Learn from our mistakes and how to take care of new trees! This will be saving trees and prevent a dying tree.

The Beginning

I had quite an experience dealing with caring for new planted trees over the last three years and I wanted to share this with anyone who may be interested. Hopefully, those reading can learn something from my situation.

It started when we first moved into our new home and wanted some privacy around the home. We settled with the Dark Niagra American Arborvitae trees due to its durability, ease of care and was wide and tall enough to create the look we desired.

Our Tree Selections

The Niagra Arborvitae spreads 5-8 feet wide and grows up to 20-25 feet tall. The Dark American Arborvitae are considered good hedge plants to create tall, and dense privacy screens. The Arborvitaes should grow 2-3 inches per year.

It was economically feasible since we needed about 25. We ordered the 9 to 10 footers and they ran about $225 each.

It was one of the warmer weeks in February and the temperature was in the low-to-mid 30 degrees.  We were convinced by our landscaper that the ground was thawed enough to do some digging.

First Tree Planting – January (Year 1)

With Spring still a few months away, our yard was bare and we were anxious so we put trust in our landscaper. He told us that he’s planted trees in this weather condition before with no issues. After 8 hours or so, the trees were in the ground accompanied with surrounding mulch and they looked great.

We were left with the advice of staying consistent with the watering schedule.

Trees should be watered weekly during the first year to help develop a deep root system. Please water each tree with a garden hose and soak them for 3 minutes each twice weekly.

Trees began to turn yellow/brown – May to June (Year 1)

When the start of summer came around, we noticed some yellowing in the leaves and then eventually browning. We reached out to our landscaper for advice and he suggested that we increase our watering after stopping by to take a look at the situation. It was alarming that the new trees were dying already.

We were watering the trees daily, twice a day for a month and leaving 2-3 minutes or regular water flow for each tree. Once a month past, we reduced it to 3 times a week and then another month, we would be at once a week.

With the new advice, I extended the duration to 3-4 minutes and back to 3 times a week. Within the new 3-4 weeks, the trees didn’t get any better and started to turn brown and thin out.

Adjustments to be Made for Dying Tree

At that point I knew I had to make some adjustment so I scaled back to once a week thinking that we may be over watering and wanted to see how the trees responded over the next few weeks. On days when it did rain, we did not water the the trees.

However, the conditions of the trees were worsening and we had to seek other opinions. Saving the trees was our top priority.

Explanation from other Landscapers who evaluated the trees condition believes it could have been any of the following:

  • Tree burns from exposing the tree to excessive wind during transport. The trees should be covered with tarp to prevent exposure to heavy wind.
  • Browning is normal for this type of tree in the fall months. We quickly eliminated this theory because the trees were thinning, more leaves were turning brown and not being revived.
  • The trees were planted incorrectly, and the air pockets caused rotting tree roots.

All we know was that the Arborvitae should be very hardy and easy to care for and what we were experience was not normal. All the other landscapers recommended that the trees would not last and should be replaced in the fall.

Saving Trees Attempt- June to October (Year 1)

Watering these trees did not help.

Aside from adjusting the watering schedule, here were some of the things we’ve done in attempt to revive the dying trees over the next 5 months.

Opening the burlap at the root of the trees and mulch

Make sure the burlaps are open. We expanded them and also removed any mulch surrounding the trunk by 12 inches.  Then continued with the watering as scheduled.

A burlap is the fabric wrapped around the bottom of the tree. It helps contain the roots and soil for easy transport. The balled burlap also allow for containing moisture.

Drip Hose and Water bags – slowing down the water flow

We tried to revive the trees by installing a drip irrigation system. A water hose can cause too much water output, and water bags are more effective.  

After a few weeks of consistent watering using the drip hose, the trees have not improved so we decided to try the water bags since the hose broke. We have seen a few trees around the neighborhood with the water bags and decide to try them out for a few more weeks and as you would imagine, the trees continue to deteriorate.

Water Bags vs Irrigation Soaker Hose

I have found both to be effective methods of watering trees. Though I would favor the water bags more since there are some that can hold up to 15 gallons and once filled up, you can leave unsupervised. However, it would require some creativity if the tree is on a downward hill, you’ll need some rocks to keep it from rolling down.

The one upside for using the soaker hose is that it’s flexible and you can manipulate it’s placement much more easier than the water bags. You just need to make sure you get one that is long enough for your needs. Also, if the hose is not leveled, the end of the hose may not get enough or any water to treat the trees. This is something to be cautious about.

Overall, water bags are a bit more expensive but I find the water bags more durable but less aesthetically pleasing. Based on this information, hopefully it can help you decide which to go with.


We added some fertilizers to the root of each tree, attempting to eliminate that the ground was not in very good condition. This appeared to prolonged the inevitable for the trees. About 4-5 weeks after, the trees continue to on it’s way down. There were a few trees which have appeared to have reached the end of its life with ALL the branches wilted and brown.

Replacing the Dying Trees – Early November (Year 1)

The trees have a one year warranty from the nursery. Most Nursery may not warrant the trees unless picked up in certain months (Sept or Oct).   

New Trees Planted

The trees were planted higher and the burlap was removed. This ensured any watering would reach the roots.

We only watered the trees for the first two weeks before the grounds were frozen. Then waited until late March to pick back up with watering. I made sure the ground wasn’t frozen and the ball root was getting plenty of water.

After a month, I started to scale back from daily watering (1x a day) to three times a week (1x each time) and then after another month, down to once a week until the end of Summer. The new trees responded well after this and was able to survive the first year with no additional watering maintenance after 6-7 months.

Lessons Learned for the New Trees (Year 2 and 3)

After the second year, the trees required less frequent watering.  The trees have been growing fast and steady at 3 inches over the last two years. Later in the fall, pruning the trees will help the trees grow wider since it already has good height. 

More New Tree Additions

Working with our new landscaper, 8 additional Siberian Spruce Trees were installed in July and is doing well after 2 years.  We spoken to the new landscaper who we hired to install the Siberian trees and informed them of our experience. The difference is the amount of patience they took to properly put them into the ground.

Siberian Spruce Trees ready to be planted.
Siberian Spruce Trees

Final Thoughts

I personally believe the reason why the trees did not do well was do to one or more  reasons:

  • While the weather was warm, the ground might have been frozen. It was still in the late winter months with a few warm days.  The landscaper were possibly rushing to get the job done. This could also result in air pockets around the roots and lead to root rot.
  • The ground was froze when watering the trees. The Landscaper insisted we keep this up during the winter months, and I think this wasn’t the best idea. With the trees were likely in hibernation mode until the grounds warm up again. If they were indeed in hibernation, it would have been best to water them right before the winter season hits so it has enough moisture in the roots to last in the winter.
  • Soil was not in great condition due to many rocks creating more challenges. The hole dug might not have been nice enough for the tree to sit in and allowed for air pockets to form. 
  • Over-watering or under-watering is a possibility. There could have been water sitting in the root ball and kept contained by the burlap bag.
  • The burlap around the tree was not completely loosen, and the water could not get all the way down to the roots.
  • The mulch was took close to the trunk and the trees were not getting enough water since it’s absorbed by the mulch.

Second Time is the Charm

With more knowledge, we were able to  have success with the new set of trees. The Arborvitaes and Spruce trees are well and thriving two years later.

It is very important to do your homework, even though your landscaper might give you advice, you have to be sure and know what you’re getting yourself into. You might end up with a tree that requires a lot of maintenance or may too big for your home, or even mistaken the browning of the leaves for something else. Arborvitaes are known to brown a bit during the winter and comes back to full green in the warmer weather.

Final word of advice

You should find a reputable landscaper, shop around and if possible work with a landscaper that will offer warranty for your trees! This is not always available, the second landscaper who installed our Spruce trees did not offer any warranty and out of the 8 trees, only 7 survived and we had to chalk it up. They however offered to remove the tree for free.

Any comments, thoughts, questions or suggestions are welcome below! Hopefully this was insightful and happy tree planting!

Information that might be useful to you

Prune the tree

This is useful if there are any broken, dead, or diseased limbs on the tree. It’s best to hold off pruning any tree in the first growing season. Pruning the tree would also promote it to grow wider that season, though not taller. This is good if you are looking to create more coverage.

Watering the New Tree

It’s very important that there’s enough water to penetrate the roots. In the first year, keep a steady schedule until the roots establishes in the soil. The watering schedule should take into consideration the existing weather conditions. Last thing you want is to water on the day following a heavy rain storm resulting in over-watering.

  • Using your garden hose for about 30 seconds at regular steady flow should be sufficient.
  • If you dig about 2 inches below the dirt, your fingers should be moist. If not, it may be time for some watering.

Consider Adding Mulch

Mulch can help keep moisture in and weeds out.  Ideally 1-3 inches of mulch around the trunk should be sufficient. However, keep the mulch at least 12 inches away from the trunk to avoid any trunk rotting.

Air pockets

To address air pocket situations, remove the top level dirt soil and back fill where the hole is. Air pockets can result in rotted roots.

Best time to plant new trees 

When it’s 4-6 weeks before the ground is frozen. Late Summer/Early Fall is ideal.

Useful Items

1) Fertilizers

Bayer Advanced 701700 12 Month Tree and Shrub Protect and Feed Granules, 4-Pound

Save a dying tree using the tree and shrub.

Miracle-Gro Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes – 12 PK

Plant food spikes can help a tree grow healthy.

2) Drip Hose

Teknor Apex Apex, 1030-100, Soil Soaker Hose, 100-Feet – 1115920

Drip hose are great for watering trees.

Swan Products MGSPA38050CC Miracle-GRO Soaker System Customizable Hose with Push on Fittings, 50′ x 3/8″, Black

Soaker system such as this can help with watering trees.

3) Water bags

Treegator Jr. Pro Slow Release Watering Bag for Trees and Shrubs

Water bags are great for watering trees.

Treegator Original Slow Release Watering Bag for Trees

Another option for thinner trees.

4) Mulch

MIGHTY109 Bold Black Wood Chip Mulch (42 Quarts!)

Mulch can help keep the ground moist. 

Scotts 88402440 2 Cu Ft Sierra Red Nature Scapes Color Enhanced Mulch

Having color mulch will heighten the environment.

Other Useful Articles

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