GARDENER'S MAILBAG

Replace mountain laurel with shorter shrubs

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, May 4, 2016

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Dear Neil: What could the problem be with my one mountain laurel? They were twins until recently. I know they don’t like boggy soil, but if anything, the one on the right has better drainage. I can’t afford to replace one of that size. What suggestions do you have?

Waterlogged soils definitely can kill mountain laurels, but I’m going to take your word that the affected plant would not have had that issue.

In looking at your two photographs, I notice in the closer photo that there is decay in the trunk near the ground line. You can see the white fungal growth if you look closely at your photo.

Whether this is a primary infection (invading wood that was previously healthy) or secondary (invading tissue that was damaged by mechanical injury, improper pruning, etc.) is what I can’t tell. In fact, I haven’t found anything online that describes any type of fungus that affects mountain laurels, although I lost several branches in similar fashion in one of my own plants.

You could send a sample to the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Texas A&M, College Station, for culture and identification of any pathogen that might be present. However, I don’t believe you will be able to turn this plant around.

If it were my plant, and if I eventually lost it, I would not try to replace it with another mountain laurel. I would use a cluster of shorter shrubs such as dwarf hollies, Italian jasmine (difficult to find) or one of the mid-sized abelias, and I would make the two sides of your walk definitely asymmetrical. You can still have a handsome landscape that would flatter your house.

Dear Neil: Is this multi-headed sago palm normal? Should I cut one head off?

It’s not extremely uncommon to see multiple heads develop on sago palms (Cycads). Do not try to trim them off, as the plant will not heal properly.

Leave extra heads in place. That can give you a plant with an interesting and attractive silhouette.

Dear Neil: Our neighbors had their live oaks trimmed now, in mid-spring. It appeared the wounds were not being sealed. When I asked the foreman, he said he would do so, but it wasn’t until the next afternoon that he did so. I’m concerned that my live oaks might become infected with oak wilt, as it is within a mile and a half of our house. What should I do?

The neighbor’s trees would have to become infected if oak wilt were to become a heightened risk to your trees. You might ask your own arborist to keep a close eye on the pruned trees and yours, just to be sure you’re ahead of any problems, but I wouldn’t be especially concerned from this one event. It’s a shame they didn’t wait until mid-summer and later to do this pruning.

Dear Neil: We have a volunteer Texas mountain laurel in our backyard. It never blooms. Is that because it grew on its own? Is there a solution?

Mountain laurels bloom as they mature and not so much while they’re very young. If it’s only a few years old, be patient. It will get there. In most cases there is no difference in the ones you buy in nurseries and regular seedlings, nor is there anything you can do to speed it to first blooms.

Dear Neil: My zoysia lawn is still brown, even though other zoysia lawns nearby have greened up and are growing already. I’ve tried fertilizing it and have even added iron, but nothing has helped. It has green patches around the edges, but I’m beginning to worry. Any suggestions?

Oh, my. There are many unknowns. Is this an older, established planting? If it’s new, when was it planted? It could be that it just didn’t take root well enough before winter or became too dry at some point over the winter.

Have you applied any type of weedkiller, and if so, was it labeled for use on zoysias? Are your neighbors’ lawns the same type of zoysia that you have?

Zoysia doesn’t just die without reason. As I mentioned to another reader above, you might want to send samples of the dead grass and of the living grass at the edge of one of the browned areas to the Texas A&M Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab.

Dear Neil: We have a Bradford pear that has been in our yard about seven years. This year for the first time it has many brown leaves interspersed with the green foliage. What could have caused this, and what should we do?

This is fire blight. It’s a bacterial disease that affects only members of the Rose family of plants, primarily pears, apples, pyracanthas, loquats and cotoneasters.

It attacks stem tissues and kills them from that point out to the ends of the branches. Generally you can see the lesions the bacterium causes on the stems if you trace the dead tissues back to where they interface with healthy wood. Fire blight is spread by bees as the pears flower.

You can spray during full bloom to protect susceptible plants with agricultural streptomycin, but at this point, all you can do is trim the dead tissues out, cutting several inches beyond the points of infection.

Disinfect your pruning tools by dipping them into a solution that is 90 percent water and 10 percent chlorine bleach between each cut. Clean and oil the shears or saw after you are finished.

For what it’s worth, Bartlett and other highly desirable edible pears are highly susceptible to fire blight, but Bradford pears almost never show it. The only other year when I can remember it being a problem in Texas was 2012.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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