Douglas Fir Tree Seedlings Dying Or Stunted

Question From: Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Q: We planted 25 Douglas Fir seedlings 9 years ago on prairie land in western South Dakota. They were County extension service purchased with 12" roots and tops of 6". Four plants have survived into 2016. Eighteen fir were first year kills from locust and three have since died from whatever. My question is growth rate. The four survivors are less than knee height. They have stout, healthy, good color but are all tiny plants. Shouldn't they be taller? I have fertilized in April the last few years, sprinkled 20-10-5 below their short drip line. Our Ponderosa and Austrian pines plantings have done very well. All Scot pine have died. The soil is clayish. Plants are watered by nature except twice a summer by us or more frequently in droughts. Thanks for your advice.

A: Gregg, I do not have the expertise to advise you on specifics as I am not a certified arborist, however I do believe you have picked the wrong tree to plant. Firs do best in moist acidic soils in areas with high moisture content. That ain't the prairie land in western South Dakota. Think Washington state and Oregon. They are also slow growers. Fertilizing them, especially in times of drought, probably does more harm than good. I suggest you look for other options. Best And Happy Yardening, Nancy