Homegrown: Rocky Mountain firs

We have a Rocky Mountain fir in our backyard. It’s about 16 years old and 15–20 feet high.

The needles are turning rusty and falling off, especially on the south side of the tree. I wonder if it is diseased or stressed from the winter.

Our neighbor across the alley to the south has a long-needled pine tree that is dying ... I hope it isn’t catching. I’d appreciate any suggestions about our beautiful Rocky Mountain fir.

— Myra

Well, there may be a couple things going on.

The first thing is happening to evergreen trees all over the Grand Valley right now.

Evergreen trees (mostly pine and a few spruce) are showing brown needles either on a side of the tree — usually south or west — or at the very top shoot of the tree. This is mostly just a needle burn, a desiccation of the tissue.

The situation is usually caused by a combination of cold weather, snow cover and some bright western Colorado sunshine.  The damage is usually limited to the needles. The stems and buds are still green and viable. You can go out and double check by nicking the bark of an affected stem if you want to climb up in the tree.

A live shoot will be green and moist under the bark. If it’s dry and brown, then I’m afraid it’s dead.

I’d hang in there and wait to see what happens as the new growth pushes out. At that point, there may be some trimming out of some shoots, but more than likely, you’ll just have dead needles dropping off and the new growth should cover that up quickly.

The second thing that may be going on is related but somewhat different.

If you do in fact have a native fir, then it may be a reaction of the tree to the same environmental conditions.

Fir aren’t very common here in the Grand Valley because our native fir (concolor fir and subalpine fir) don’t really thrive in our hot and dry climate. The cold this winter didn’t bother them, but they would have been a bit under stress going into the winter. The weather we had might have pushed them over the edge.

I recently purchased two bluestem joint ephedra from you. The soil they were potted in appeared to be peat.

How should I plant them in my Redlands soil? Wash off the peat? Cross my fingers and hope that the interface between peat and Redlands soil will allow water to move?

— Donna

Don’t wash that soil off of the roots! They’re planted in that mix to facilitate growing the plant in a pot that is a completely different world than growing it in the ground.

What you want to do is to dig the planting hole a bit wider and mix a bit of decomposed organic matter with it (I like to use Soil Pep).

The roots will readily penetrate that mix and grow out into the surrounding soil of your yard.

I am taking out some rock surrounding our current yard and we would like to plant grass seed its place. What time of year is most appropriate to do so? Can we do this spring?

—  BrDonna

Spring is a great time to do this.

Most people wait to plant grass seed until they have ditch water to keep it irrigated. If the weather turns cold (heaven forbid!), the seed may take a bit longer to germinate.

Just maintain even soil moisture and it will be fine.

Also, take advantage of the opportunity by amending the soil well before you plant by rototilling in a good amount of decomposed organic matter.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, 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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