Dear Neil: We planted several East Palatka hollies at our property in East Texas in October. Two are struggling. Could this be due to too much water? How can we save them?
A: East Palatkas are hybrids out of the American holly line. That means they require acidic soils. Since you planted them in East Texas where American hollies grow natively, that part should be fine. For the most part, folks in the western 80 percent of Texas won’t do well with this plant. I don’t think it could be from too much water, since nothing else in your photo indicates that. It might be just the opposite — that this plant got too dry one or more times over the winter or early spring before the rains set in. I would suggest applying a high-nitrogen lawn fertilizer and keeping all of the plants moist at all times through the summer.
Dear Neil: I have a huge, old red oak that is hurting. The tree people worked with it and it helped, but I can’t afford $200 to treat it regularly. It is dropping limbs all along, although it still does have lots of healthy branches. Is there anything I can water into the soil that will help it get back to good health?
A: I do not know without seeing the tree. Like all living beings, even oaks have life expectancies. If it’s as big as I’m imagining, it may be reaching the point of decline. A veteran tree expert would be able to tell you whether that’s the case with your tree. As a matter of safety, you probably ought to have them back out again. Be sure they carry the credentials of “certified arborist,” and ask if they feel it is in a downward decline. At that point you may have some serious decisions to make relative to costs and risks of keeping the tree around.
Dear Neil: Do Forest Pansy redbuds produce fertile seeds? We get lots of seedlings beneath our other native redbuds, but what few pods form on the Forest Pansies don’t seem to have seeds.
A: That’s a great question. I’ve seen the hundreds of pods on native redbuds that you’re describing, and not nearly so many on Forest Pansies. And I’ve never seen a seedling beneath a Forest Pansy. I don’t believe that it’s sterile, but apparently it’s not highly fertile, either. I spent some time trying to find out online and hit dead-ends. I’m sorry that I don’t have the final answer.
Dear Neil: I know it’s only a matter of time before this tree either breaks or dies, but what would cause this kind of hollowed trunk?
A: It had some kind of internal decay. Probably there was a stub from a limb that either broke or was pruned improperly where you see the collar of bark forming. It couldn’t heal in time, and the xylem (internal wood) of the trunk rotted away. Hopefully this tree isn’t where it’s going to hit anything or hurt anyone when it finally falls.
Dear Neil: I am in a housing development where there used to be oil wells. Salt from the wells ran out onto the ground and left high salinity in the soil. Grass won’t grow, and there is a white crust on top of the soil. I’ve tried aeration and gypsum, but the problem persists. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Gypsum is what is normally recommended to replace sodium in soils like yours. If you have used that without success, I need to turn you over to the pros. Contact your county’s AgriLife Extension office and work with them as well as their Texas A&M cohorts at the Soil Testing Laboratory. They will be able to run tests on your soil and prescribe the best steps to remedy the situation. They’ll be able to walk alongside you to get things back on track. This requires someone with a really good background in soil chemistry.
Dear Neil: I saved my caladiums in my vegetable storage bin this winter. I planted them out this spring, and they started to grow. However, they don’t have any color — just green. I am so disappointed. Do others have this problem? What can I do to get color into the caladiums?
A: Caladiums need a good bit of sunlight (morning sun, afternoon shade) to develop their best color. You’ll want to avoid nitrogen as well. It tends to cause them to “go all green.” Beyond that, I don’t have any other suggestions. For what it’s worth, most folks don’t go to the trouble of trying to save caladium tubers more than once. The plants diminish in size with the passing years, and they don’t always survive the winters. It’s usually more satisfying to buy new tubers each spring.
Dear Neil: I water my hibiscus almost every day. It is wilting frequently. It has a lot of flowers, but many of its leaves are turning yellow. What is going on?
A: It sounds like it’s getting too dry. Hibiscus plants use a lot of water. We also tend to grow them in pots that are too small for the plants. Consider repotting it into a larger container. Of course, you could also plant it directly into the ground if you were willing to lose it come winter.
Dear Neil: A beaver cut down this lovely oak tree. It is starting to sprout. Can it ever make a lovely tree again?
A: Perhaps. Allow those side shoots to grow the rest of this year. Select the one that is the straightest, with the narrowest angle to the trunk, and train it to be the new trunk. Cut the old stump down just above it. As the new shoot develops into a trunk it will gradually absorb the crook into the new trunk until, 10 or 15 years from now, you won’t be able to tell there was ever a problem.
If you’d like Neil Sperry’s help with a plant question, drop him a note in care of The Eagle, P.O. Box 3000, Bryan, Texas 77805. Or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.