Water controls sago palm’s size

Q: I planted a sago palm in a planter, near our front (north) doorway, several years ago. I think it is getting too big for that area. I am wondering where to put this sago palm. In the ground? Keep it in a container and trim it up like tree? It was so happy in the semi sun area. I sent a picture.

A: It’s a very nice looking sago palm. Newsletter subscribers will see your sago.

There is a touch of yellow in the fronds and the plant looks very luxurious. Be careful of overwatering. If you reduce your watering a bit, I think your sago palm will stay smaller and more reserved, and get darker green in color.

Sago palm, although it’s not really a palm, does develop a trunk like a palm as it ages. By removing longer fronds at the bottom , you will start to see its trunklike base. Prune the fronds to within about one-half inch of the trunk. You will decrease the diameter of your sago by removing these longer fronds .

Play around with the number of fronds that you remove. If you happen to remove more than you like, they will grow back from the central bud and fill in the canopy again making it fuller. In this way you can adjust the size of your plant to fit your container, within reason.

By being more conservative in your watering and fertilizer applications you may be able to eventually decrease the diameter of the plant as it continues to grow from its central bud the top .

Put your plant in an area that looks good to you and play around with its size and try to make it fit into that area. Horticulture is getting plants to do what you want them to do, not necessarily what they want to do.

Q: I am about ready to transplant 12 large full-grown blue agave plants. I must do this now since the current owner wants them out ASAP. Any advice or precautions I should take?

A: When you dig them out, take as much of the root system as you can. Put them into a shaded spot out of direct sunlight and give the roots a chance to heal for two to three days before replanting them.

Select a location in a warm microclimate since they get damaged starting around 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix about one-third compost with two-thirds native soil and water them in thoroughly, adding soil to where you see voids around the roots. Make sure they are planted the same depth as they were in the soil they were taken from.

If you want to sustain their growth, water in a shallow basin around the plants about every two weeks or put them on drip irrigation with the same irrigation frequency. If you are planning to make tequila, they are usually harvested around their eighth year.

Q: We have a fig tree in our front yard but all of the ripe fruits have ants inside. How can we prevent this problem?

A: If the tree has figs with an opening in the bottom, which is called the eye, and the eye is large enough, ants will go in through the eye. If the eye is very small (closed), the ants have a tougher time. But some type of ants can get through the skin. If the fruit is bird pecked (which will be the case if you don’t harvest every other day when they are coming in), then, of course, they will be in the fruit.

The best method might be to control the ant s in the ground with bait (Amdro) or use Tanglefoot on the trunk to stop them. Tanglefoot would be the organic approach. If branches are touching, ants can and will climb the neighboring tree and use it as a bridge to your fig tree. You can also spray the soil around the trunk with an approved insecticide, but this would just be a deterrent.

Q: Our African sumac tree, which faces west, is really looking brown this summer; there are lots of dead leaves and dead-looking branches. Is this normal? It has been thriving in previous years. It was planted by our builder’s landscapers in 2006. It even made it through the 8 inches of snow we had a few years ago . It is on our irrigation system with three 1.5-gallon emitters. We’re on a six-day cycle now, which we’re running in the early morning for two hours. The rest of the plants and trees are doing OK with this amount of water. I’ve attached pictures.

A: One of the pictures shows it growing in rock mulch. If this is the case, then you could have a watering and heat-related problem. Make sure the tree is getting enough water and that it is not watered daily.

Watering for trees should be deep and less often than for a lawn or shallow-rooted flowers or vegetables. We at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Orchard in North Las Vegas are watering three times a week on woody plants that are not desert trees. African sumac is not a desert tree; it can handle high temperatures but not a lack of soil moisture. A tree that size is probably going to require about 30 gallons or so each time it is watered.

Compute the amount of water you are giving it by multiplying the number of emitters by the gallons per hour they emit times the number of hours or fraction of an hour they run .

You can run a hose around its base once a week when it is hot in addition to the drip system and see if you get a response from the tree in about three weeks. If so and you have been hand watering, then your answer is not enough water per application.

Q: I recently learned from a Pahrump master gardener about making a builder’s lime paste (lime mixed with water) on tree trunks to protect against our desert heat. Is that OK? Isn’t builder’s lime kind of harsh on the trees?

A: You can accomplish the same thing with white latex paint. Many years ago orchardists protected their trees from sunburn by using whitewash. The whitewash, when applied to limbs and trunks exposed to direct sunlight, would reduce the heat damage to the tree in the protected areas.

Sunburn damage promotes attack and destruction of fruit trees by wood-boring insects that we frequently call borers. White latex paint is simpler to use then mixing your own whitewash. Dilute white or any light-colored latex paint with an equal amount of water and apply it to the trunk and limbs that might be exposed to high-intensity sunlight.

Bob Morris is an associate professor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Direct gardening questions to the master gardener hot line at 257-5555 or contact Morris by e-mail at morrisr@unce.unr.edu.

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