Garden Detective

Garden detective: Ginkgo suffers from low spot

There’s something wrong with our 3- year-old ginkgo tree. The leaves have never fully developed. They stay sort of curled and about a quarter of normal size. It was a variety that is known for its golden orange color in fall. I live in Arden Park, with clay soil, but I did dig a good-sized hole and used good soil and compost mix. I dug down deep in the soil; it was not real wet, but on wet side. Any tips? I am thinking about moving the tree, but not sure when I should do that.

– Rick Rayburn, Sacramento

According to UC master gardener Fran Clarke, ginkgo trees prefer loose, well-drained soil. But with careful planting, they can tolerate less than ideal conditions.

Ginkgo ( Ginkgo biloba) trees are very unusual. Considered a living fossil, they date back more than 250 million years and are considered the oldest surviving tree species on earth. The name gingko means “silver apricot.”

Your ginkgo may be a victim of standing water. A tree should not be planted in a low area, where water may drain or stand.

When transplanting a tree, the Sacramento Tree Foundation recommends digging a 4-foot-wide hole with a pedestal of undisturbed soil in the center. Watch an online video at to view a tree planting demonstration.

After loosening the root ball, place the tree in the center so the top of root ball is above grade. Fill the planting hole with the original backfill, but do not place any soil on the root ball.

It is important that the tree be planted high and that different soil, compost or other soil amendments not be added to the planting hole. You supplied a photo of the tree in question and it shows that the tree is planted in a low area. The entire hole with the tree appears to have sunk as the amended soil compacted.

The very small leaves and lack of growth in three years indicates that the tree roots are damaged from constant moisture and lack of oxygen in the soil.

You have nothing to lose by replanting the tree in a higher location.

Another tip to help a tree grow is to remove the stakes as soon as possible, usually within a year.