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TEXAS GARDENING: Start with new, lively trees to save years of time

TEXAS GARDENING: Start with new, lively trees to save years of time

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Dear Neil: We planted two peach trees almost three years ago. We lost one the first year. The other one almost died the following year when we let it get too dry, but we tried to be more consistent with our watering this year. Can it be saved?

A: Technically, yes. But, practically, you would be much better off starting with new, vigorous trees. It would take several years to reshape this tree and by then you would have lost a great deal of time. In looking at your photograph closely, it also looks like something has stripped the bark off the one branch. I don’t know if that’s by rubbing or if perhaps deer have grazed on it, but that doesn’t bode well for its survival. I really would recommend starting over and giving your new trees the best possible care. Remember that you must cut new peach trees back to 22 to 24 inches from the ground at the time of planting. It doesn’t appear that that was done with this tree. That allows you to develop the proper scaffold branching system. There is good information online from Texas A&M.

Dear Neil: We have a Monterrey oak that was planted more than 20 years ago. It normally loses its leaves in late winter, but for the past couple of years it has been dropping a lot of leaves in the fall. Someone told us to water it around the drip line to prevent that from happening. It seemed to help last year, but this year there has been a great deal of leaf drop in spite of our watering. There are spots on the leaves when they fall. Do you have any suggestions?

A: I looked at the tree overall. It doesn’t look like there is any problem with the trunk of the tree as best I can see in your photograph. The root flare is at the surface of the soil. That’s the way we would want it. The leaf spotting in one of your other photos looks minor. I would wonder if the narrow distance of soil exposure might be contributing. There is a great deal of concrete covering the root system. Normally, moisture collects beneath concrete. However, this fall’s drought may have been severe enough to cause the problems you’re seeing. This species can handle drought, so let’s reserve judgment until spring. At that point, if needed, you might want to involve a certified arborist if you detect any further problems.

Dear Neil: Why do some horticulturists say that fall is a good time to plant trees, but you say that it needs to be done in December and January while they are dormant? If I were to do it now, they would have green leaves. When I’ve done that in the past, I’ve lost almost all of the trees. What am I missing?

A: Be careful! There’s a confusion of wording. When I refer to December and January and the dormant season, I’m talking about “transplanting” trees. That means actually digging them with a loss of roots in the process. That must be done while they are dormant, hence the winter months. By comparison, when we talk about “planting” new trees, most horticulturists (me included) are talking about buying trees at the nursery, almost always trees that are growing in containers. Those trees have all of their roots intact so that they will never know that they have been moved. They can actually be planted at any season, 12 months a year. Fall planting, however, gets you past the heat of summer and gives the new plants six or seven months to establish new roots before the hot weather returns.

Dear Neil: When do I plant gladiolus bulbs? If not now, when, and how and where do I store them?

A: Gladiolus corms (not really bulbs) are planted in spring. They should be dug in fall. Shake the soil off the corms gently and cut the foliage a couple of inches above the corms. Let them dry for two or three weeks in the garage, then remove the dried-up old corms that are at the bases of the new corms. Discard any cormels (tiny corms that have formed alongside) or use them for propagation. Store the corms in old nylon stockings over the winter in a well-ventilated location at 40-45 degrees F.

Dear Neil: We have wasp galls on our oaks. Do we need to treat them?

A: There is no insecticide that will either prevent nor cure the adult insects or the galls that form as a result of their stinging the leaves. Luckily, they do no significant damage to the trees. There is no call to action.

Dear Neil: My black-eyed Susans and Autumn Fire sedums are struggling. First, deer ate the blooms. Now, something is eating the tops. I’m considering trashing them and starting over. Any suggestions?

A: You need to figure out how you will handle the deer situation first. They are likely to eat almost anything you plant as a replacement. If you’re able to discourage the deer, then I would leave these in place and be ready with a high-nitrogen fertilizer as soon as warm weather returns in early spring. These plants still have good roots, and they should be able to grow rapidly next year. You could apply Sevin dust to stop whatever is feeding on them currently if you’re sure those pests are still active.

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

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