Homegrown Column June 20, 2009

Over the past 20 years, I’ve had three weeping mulberries. I’m guessing they’re of different varieties. The first was and is still gorgeous. The second was a spindly type, very slow-growing. The third, (which strongly resembles the robustness of the first) is 4 years old. As its “woke up” from winter this year, it seems to have many dead brittle limbs mostly on the inside.
Throughout summer I trim the limbs from my pebbled ground cover. We also have a water softener (domestic irrigation). Would the cutting or the salt be causing the dead limbs? Or is the tree dying? It’s full and green otherwise. Do I simply break off the dry brittle limbs? Is this common? This is the first year that I’ve noticed this.
— Anne

Actually, for the past 25 or 30 years you probably only saw one variety of weeping mulberry (Chaparral).

I don’t know why your second mulberry was so spindly. When that happens, it usually involves something in the soil or watering that the plant isn’t happy about.

Anyway, what’s going on with the mulberry you have now is probably nothing more than the interior twigs getting shaded out and the tree is abandoning them.

This is a common thing we see in a lot of different plants. Interior, shaded branches are weaker than their cousins out on the fringes that get the light, and they eventually die off. People often don’t even notice this process since those dead twigs are hidden by the foliage of the plant as it fills out in the spring and summer.

If this is what’s happening with your plant, there’s nothing wrong, use some pruning shears to just cut off those dead branches.

This may be a bit more noticeable on your mulberry since it tends to break bud later than most other plants and doesn’t have the full foliage yet to hide them.

How do we care for a newly planted cutleaf sumac (rhus typhina “Laciniata”)? It didn’t come with a tag on care, etc. Any help would be great. Thanks for all you do for all of us.
— Connie

The care is really nothing that unusual. The main thing is watering.

You want to be sure to soak the soil in the rootball of the plant and the surrounding soil very thoroughly when you water, but allow the soil to dry slightly before soaking it again.

Now, I’m afraid I can’t give you a specific watering schedule. There’s a lot that goes into how often a plant needs water.

Certainly temperature has a lot to do with it but also the humidity, the wind, what type of soil the plant is growing in, the exposure, is it on a slope, mulch layers, etc.

The best thing to do is to determine your own watering schedule. You want to water your sumac deeply but infrequently.

The first thing to do is to make sure that the plant is soaked well when you water. I like to see the water penetrate 12–18 inches into the soil.

To determine this, dig down and check to see how deeply the water went the day after you watered.

Next, make sure the soil has a chance to dry out slightly before soaking it again. If the soil stays too soggy (easy to do in heavy clays), the roots suffocate and die off.

Dig down 3–5 inches and feel the soil. There should be some moisture there (if there isn’t, it’s too dry and you need to water more frequently), but some significant dryness as well.

Mona, one of my salespeople, said to let it get to the consistency of unbaked pie dough and I think that’s a pretty good analogy.

Do some digging around in the soil to see for yourself what’s going on down there.

We have some information sheets called Garden Guides that you can access online. The guides should give you the basics of caring for your new plant. The address for the one on shrubs is http://www.bookcliffgardens.com/answercenter/pg-shrubs.htm.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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