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Too much or too little water? Trees can suffer either way

QUESTION: “The weeping cherry tree that I planted in late March bloomed beautifully and has looked great up until recently. The tree is about 6 feet tall. We have had some very hot, humid weather and a little rain almost daily, maybe an inch per week. Now the leaves are curling up. I don't see any signs of insects, no discoloration, no sap running out. Does it need more water?” - Sibyl J. Gore

ANSWER: It might sound odd, but quite often the symptoms of not enough water are the same as those for too much water. The symptom you describe – leaves curling up – could fit that “either or” category, particularly when you have ruled out other possible causes such as insect damage.

If I were standing in front of your tree, the first thing I would look at would be the soil in which the tree is planted. Compacted soil will result in the plant not getting enough water, but heavy soil stays too wet and the plant becomes waterlogged. Your cherry tree will do best in good, well-drained soil, so its roots receive neither too much nor too little water.

You could improve the situation by taking steps to improve the soil around the tree’s roots. Be very careful so as not to damage the tender roots as you gently lift back some of the soil and add some amendments to loosen, aerate and break up the soil.

We’ve had some good results with a product called Prosper Soil Conditioner. It increases the flow of water down through the root zone, making both water and oxygen available to the plant. It also increases drainage and seems to improve root growth by reducing compaction. It sounds to me that your cherry tree could benefit from this. Googling “Prosper Soil Conditioner” should get you some more information and buying options.

QUESTION: “Where we live, we have watering restrictions from May to October. I can water on Thursdays and Sundays from 4 a.m. to10 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. I put in a new lawn last year and the lawn was doing really good until the restrictions started. I have my sprinklers set up to water three times in the morning for about 10 minutes each and then in the evening for the same.

“After reading some information on the web I believe I have the watering schedule all wrong. Our climate provides us with plenty of moisture until May and then it starts to get warmer. I was hoping you could help me to set a proper schedule up for watering my lawn.

“In February. I put lime down and in April I spread fertilizer. My lawn has started to noticeably turn brown. Until about three weeks ago I was cutting my lawn every three or four days and it was a lush green color. The fertilizer said to reapply every two months. Should I fertilize again? - Brad

ANSWER: You are definitely over watering. Frequent watering of lawns will grow grass that has little to no root system, so when restrictions are in place or you go away for a couple of days, the grass withers and sometimes dies off. Watering about once every 5 to 7 days grows grass with a strong root system that can handle itself. Here’s a Web site with information on watering and fertilizing your lawn. You should find it quite helpful. http://www.american-lawns.com/lawns/watering.html

QUESTION: “Could you suggest any companion plants for my rose garden? Most of plants in my garden are roses and hence the ground around them is kept bare to allow free air free flow. It also looks very bare and ugly especially when the roses are not in bloom. Are there any plants appropriate for planting close to the roots for the roses? Our climate is hot and wet with mild winters.” – Tanjina Quazi

ANSWER: I wouldn’t plant anything with dense foliage as it will deter air flow. You might want to try parsley. I have read that parsley planted around the base of roses enhances their fragrance! But for your hot, damp climate, you might be better off leaving the area around their bases bare.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org