Less water, lots of compost will help new tree


Q: My husband went out a couple of weeks ago and picked up a Pink Lady apple. I it planted they way you recommended and I have mulched the ground except for the 6 inches next to the trunk. I have it securely staked and I am watering by hand every day. What’s next? Food? Or what to make it do well?

A: I would not water daily but probably every two or three days. If you are doing it by hand, you should put a moat around it about 4 feet wide and 4 inches deep. Fill the moat twice when watering.

If you have drip irrigation going to it, you should still hand water the first couple of weeks before you transition to your drip irrigation. This will help settle the soil around the roots, remove any air pockets and moisten the soil outside the root system. After transitioning to drip, you will not need the moat unless you use the adjustable drip emitters.

If you added plenty of compost to the soil when planting, it probably will not need anything else applied to the soil this season. If you were skimpy with the compost in the planting hole, then add a fertilizer application now or no later than about mid-June. If you are an organic grower, use a compost addition to the irrigation moat or compost tea as a fertilizer source.

However, if organic sources are not that important to you, then you could try using some liquid fertilizers, such as Miracle-Gro or a similar product. Dilute this fertilizer into a 5-gallon bucket and use the 5-gallon fertilizer solution for one of your waterings in the moat. If you do not have a moat, try some fertilizer stakes pounded in next to the drip emitters.

You will remove the stakes at leaf fall this winter. Staking to stabilize the roots during one season of growth is all that is necessary.

If you have rabbits in the area, you will probably need to add protection in the form of a cage around the tree. This will require chicken wire that is 2 feet wide with 1-inch hex openings or smaller. Cut a piece 3 feet long and wrap it around the tree into a cylinder, tying the ends together to keep the cylinder from coming apart.

Bury the bottom a few inches below the mulch and stake it to the ground. This helps keep rabbits from going under the cage.

You can prune lightly any time but removal of larger pieces of the tree structure should be done in the winter. It is too late to remove large wood from the tree. If you do, you run the risk of sunburn damage to the trunk or limbs.

Some pruning you can do now includes removing small limbs that are broken, weak or competing with other branches. If there are branches growing directly above another branch, remove the weakest or less desirable of the two.

If there is one branch growing into another branch, remove or cut back the one that is interfering. If there are branches that are growing straight up or straight down, remove these. These are all cuts you can do now. Removal of branches is usually preferred instead of just cutting them back.

Q: Our bottle tree branches are getting dried and one side of the branches died two years ago. I am enclosing photos of the tree. Can you tell what is wrong with this tree? We love this tree very much. Is there any way to keep the tree from dying?

A: There are two main problems that can develop on a bottle tree; those are sunscald on the smooth branches and trunk if it is put into very intense sunlight and root death because of too much or too frequent watering.

We also must remember that their smooth green trunk and limbs get brown and furrowed with age so there is a natural progression from green and smooth to brown and furrowed. This must not be confused with brown and dead or dying.

Some of the pictures you sent seem to show much of the dead parts of the limbs are on the upper surfaces, which kind of points to sunburning. This can lead to limb dieback.

It is important for this tree to maintain a full canopy to shade the limbs. Most of this type of damage would be facing the most intense sunlight, which is on the limb’s upper sides, particularly on the south and west sides of the tree. If someone got in there and pruned them improperly, this could cause a lack of shading and sunburn with limb dieback.

The other possibility is root rot because of frequent irrigations and not letting the soil dry out between irrigations. This plant comes from semiarid (but not necessarily desert) regions of Australia. They will tolerate lawns but the soil must drain quickly.

All you can do now is remove dead limbs, keep it watered adequately but not excessively and fertilize once a year in the early spring. Surface wood mulches will help as well.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas and professor emeritus for the University of Nevada. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com.