Serviceberry Transplant Problem

(Question)

Hi there — About 2 weeks ago, I transplanted a pretty mature (7 years in same spot) service berry from my back yard to the front because it had outgrown the spot we initially planted it in.

I don’t think it’s dead now, but I’m not sure it’s dying. Most of the leaves have turned bright red, though they haven’t dropped off; and some of them, especially at the outer extremities, remain green.

Is this aggressive “die-back” — ie, can I expect it to recover next year, or is it close to dead? I have been watering it daily, and mulched when it first went in. I will confess I did not get as much of the root ball as I would have liked, and I did have to sever a tap root to get it out of the ground.

If it has a chance of survival, I will be patient; but if it’s likely to be dead, I may as well replace it sooner, not later. Many thanks, MW

 

(Answer)

Your mature serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is likely experiencing what is known as “transplant shock” which occurs when a plant is moved and begins the process of adapting to its new location.  It is very common for leaf die-back to occur, because the newly transplanted tree’s root system must re-establish itself, and while it does so it is unable to supply sufficient nutrients to the leaves.  This is a highly stressful condition for trees, and it does make them more susceptible to damage from pests and diseases, as well as drought. Even trees with fibrous root systems, such as the serviceberry, can struggle when their root systems are not prepared for transplanting.

Most experts recommend that if you plan to transplant in the spring, you should prepare the root system the previous autumn, once the tree is dormant, by root pruning – that is, by cutting down in a circle the size of the root ball you will be removing and severing the roots, thus allowing the remaining pruned roots to grow more branches in a confined area.  Cutting the taproot is necessary, of course, and should not cause the tree to die if you have cut it off at a depth of at least 9 inches.  Here is a link to a website that gives a very detailed description of the steps to follow in transplanting trees:  http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/shrubs/hgic1055.html

You have done exactly the right thing in watering and mulching your transplanted tree.   Fertilization is not advised.  For more information about caring for newly transplanted trees, here is a link to some useful advice:  http://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-and-plant-advice/horticulture-care/caring-new-transplants

It is worth giving your transplanted serviceberry a chance to recover and thrive by continuing to care for it throughout the summer.