Q: I took a three-week vacation in February, and when I returned, my 25-year-old fig tree had been eaten all the way around the trunk about 18 inches off the ground. I put Elmer’s glue and tree wrap on to save it, and it leafed out and produced great figs. What will happen to this tree? What should I do?
A: If rabbits ate the trunk of this tree in a complete circle around the trunk, it’s a goner. Let it sucker from the bottom and start a new tree from the suckers. The suckers will produce a main crop of figs next year, and in two years it will be back in production.
Rabbits usually go for smaller diameter wood during the wintertime when there’s nothing else to eat. Where rabbits are a problem, remove the limbs from about 2 feet off the ground and protect the trunk with chicken wire.
Use a 3-foot-long piece of chicken wire that is 2 feet in width and encircle the trunk with it. That helps keep the rabbits at bay.
How soon the tree will die depends on how deeply the rabbit ate. There are two thin cylinders of wood just under the bark responsible for taking water up the tree, called the xylem, and the other for moving sugars from leaves to the roots for storage, phloem.
If the rabbit ate through both completely, the tree will die next year. If the rabbit ate only the outer cylinder, then it will take about three or four years to die.
Figs are usually grown on their own roots, so suckers growing from the trunk or roots will be true to the type of fig tree. The suckers will produce fruit identical to the fruit you’ve been harvesting for 25 years.
Select one to three of the strongest suckers and remove the others. These suckers will form the new tree, and they will grow rapidly because of the surviving extensive root system.
Q: I have a mature palm tree that dropped seeds onto my lawn. Now I have hundreds of palm shoots growing out of the grass. I’ve tried weed-and-feed products, but they don’t kill them. Can you give me any suggestions?
A: Palm seeds can live in dry soil for a long time. When they finally get water, they all germinate at once. Keep your lawn thick and dense by mowing high, water regularly and fertilize it four times a year. Seeds that fall into it have less chance of getting established.
Try mowing palm seedlings. If the seeds come from a palm that doesn’t sucker from the base, there is a good chance that mowing will kill the palm seedlings. Many palms have a single, central bud at the top of its trunk, and once it’s killed or removed, the palm dies.
I know the task is daunting, but palm seedlings pull from the soil easiest immediately after an irrigation and when they are about 12 inches tall.
As a last resort, try lawn weed killers that contain dicamba (Banvel) or triclopyr (Garlon) as part of the ingredients on the label. Both these weed killers control weeds that become woody. Use the highest rate permissible on the label. Mow the lawn first and then apply the weed killer.
Q: I am growing a tomato variety called Better Bush, and the fruit is splitting. What causes this and how can I prevent it?
A: The usual reason for splitting of tomato fruit is not having a consistent amount of water in the soil. The fruit stops expanding in size, and then a surge of irrigation water wets the soil, causing the fruit to swell, and the skin splits.
Some varieties of tomatoes are more prone toward fruit splitting than others. Try covering the soil lightly with mulch so the soil doesn’t dry out rapidly during hot weather.
I wouldn’t use wood chips for this because they don’t break down easily in the soil unless they are very small. I don’t like straw either because it doesn’t break down easily as well and it’s expensive.
I like animal bedding, pine shavings, used for large animals like horses and even rabbits or guinea pigs. Farm supply stores usually carry it, and the larger plastic bags of it go a long way.
Apply a thin layer on the surface of the soil about ¼ inch deep. It doesn’t need to be deep. Keep the sun from shining directly on the soil surface and prevent some of that moisture from leaving the soil rapidly.
Q: I have been growing tomatoes, mostly Celebrity, in the same raised bed for 25 years with great luck. This year the fruit is mottled red and yellow in color instead of all red. What could be the problem?
A: First, don’t grow tomatoes or any vegetables in the same spots year after year. You are just asking for trouble. Sooner or later you will be faced with plant diseases that will build up in the soil and cause problems. Most of the problems are from diseases building up in the soil, but there can be a buildup of insect problems too.
When the fruit has a mottled color, I usually start thinking of virus problems. Several viruses can cause this kind of discoloration of the fruit. It’s safe to eat.
Make sure a smoker is not handling these plants without washing his or her hands. One virus disease, called tobacco mosaic virus, can be spread among plants by smokers not keeping their hands clean.
Virus diseases can be spread throughout the soil and found in compost piles. Don’t compost tomato diseases from fruit or the plants. Many important tomato diseases are not killed by composting and will spread when applied to the soil.
The second precaution is the lack of crop rotation, moving plants to new locations every year in the same raised bed or a new raised bed. Growing vegetables in a three- to five-year rotational cycle reduces disease and insect problems.
Try growing vegetables in containers as part of your crop rotation cycle. If the soil becomes contaminated, it can be eliminated, the container sanitized, and new soil can be added. Growing vegetables in containers is a helpful way to reduce disease and insect problems in the garden.
Q: I have palm trees with artificial turf around them and no breather tubes in the soil. I was told that the soil is not getting oxygen to the roots, so their roots are suffocating. Could this be a problem?
A: It’s true that plant roots can suffocate if air doesn’t reach the roots. I’m not sure that “breather tubes” are your best solution for the poor performance of palm trees. Root suffocation can be from watering frequently and the filling the soil with water so often that the roots drown, or it could be from a lack of soil amendments to keep the soil fluffy and loaded with air.
Make sure your palm tree is getting enough water and this water is not applied too often. Palms use about the same amount of water as any other tree. Apply this water to the soil surface to a distance about 6 feet from the trunk.
If more drip emitters have not been added since it was planted, then you might have already found the culprit. Add more emitters so that water is applied a greater distance from the trunk.
Q: My oleanders are growing very tall, but the stems are top heavy and leaning with a naked lower half. I want more shoots and more growth in the bottom half, so they look more like a bush and cover my block wall.
A: Oleander will usually grow suckers at the base. Look for these suckers, and that’s an indicator that you can cut back this plant severely and get it to grow from the base.
Once you have cut back all the limbs to within 2 or 3 inches of the soil, it will sucker and grow from the base.
Bob Morris is a horticulture expert and professor emeritus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Visit his blog at xtremehorticulture.blogspot.com. Send questions to Extremehort@aol.com.