Subpar Planting & the Loss of a Chestnut


Some of you may remember my blog, Return of the American Chestnut. After waiting 3 years, my diligence paid off with a harvest of tasty nuts. I was glad to share my bounty with my friend and colleague Jim Cortese of Knoxville, TN. Like me, he had never tasted an American chestnut.

But if you were waiting to sample the goods for yourself, I’m sorry to report to you; there will be no harvest this year. It takes two trees to produce nuts (cross-pollinate), and one recently gave up the ghost (2). Last year, I could see large, girdling roots at the base of this tree begin to choke (girdle) it to death. Something you don’t ever see when the root flares are visible. When a tree is planted properly. Why didn’t I say something? Physical girdling usually takes a few years. And I have learned, through decades of diagnosing trees, I have to wait for the owner/manager to approach me.

I had hoped to take photos this spring and profile these trees on a new blog. Maybe someone would see it and address my concern? But physical girdling was not the only issue. Root rot (possibly phytothoria) moved up into the butt (note bark cracking & separation; red arrows), and has biologically girdled this abused orphan. If physical girdling were the main culprit, we would expect to see bulging above the girdle. Both types of girdling are directly related to condition of nursery stock, planting and post planting maintenance, entirely avoidable and often correctable (if you don’t wait too late).

Some trees are able to overcome these shortcomings by growing roots across the ground; such as this red maple (3). Roots. Those  inconvenient appendages we keeping tripping over, and running into with our mower. Is this something we really want?

Almost all installed Upstate trees are planted too deep and in too small of a planting hole (too narrow). A scourge I have  trumpeted in lectures and on my website for years ( Millions die due to subpar planting.  Not by amateurs (this you would expect), but by some the largest, most highly-esteemed ‘professionals’ in the landscaping industry. This is not unique to the Upstate. It’s an epidemic that plagues a nation!

The American Chestnut Foundation has worked tirelessly for decades to bring back the chestnut ( We finally have a hybrid that may one day replace our great loss. But we will have to do our part. We will have to plant properly. We will have to recognize an ailing tree, before it’s too late (if not, employ someone who can).

I understand it’s a highly competitive business. Somehow, we find ourselves in this perennial rut of substandard planting. The one who does more goes out of business. But we have to start somewhere. Education alone doesn’t seem to be quelling this rising  tide. What about offering a second proposal, where you install the trees properly? Let the owner decide. Properly. What a novel  concept!

BTW, as a professional courtesy, I did notified the manager and the landscaper this spring. Not surprisingly, my concern fell on deaf ears. So I appeal to you, John and Joan Q. Public. Let’s become informed and demand our nurseries carry useable stock  (, and our landscapers plant properly ( This is our city. This is our Upstate. This is our nation.

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