RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Q: Eight months ago we moved into our home here in Bernalillo. In the yard we have what I think is an ornamental pear tree. It’s about 9 feet tall, has a 1 1/4-inch trunk and is not filled out on the top much at all, and there are no branches on the trunk for the first four feet from the ground.
The house came with a drip system in place, and I’ve been watering twice a week for an hour each time. Suddenly, most of the leaves are browning on the edges. I don’t see any bugs. Lastly, I did fertilize with Yum Yum Mix slow-release fertilizer. Now what? Should I have watered in the winter months? Does it need more water now? Any help will be appreciated! – L.B., Bernalillo
A: Oh, Ms. B. You have a lot to check on, maybe fix, and amend several thought patterns for the health of the tree and perhaps the rest of your landscaping.
First and foremost, I want you to check the established drip system to make sure it is working.
Next, figure out how much water the tree is actually getting with each biweekly watering. Does the drip system apply the water with an emitter or a weeping hose? If by emitter, it should list the GPH, or gallon per hour, on the end dripping piece. Checking on the amount of water that goes to the tree is easy. Put the emitter in an empty gallon milk jug or a pail, run the system for your timed period and measure. I’m hoping that the emitter is working properly and releasing the proper amount that it says it would.
Now, let’s talk length of watering and the amount being applied. Let’s say the system delivers a gallon of water to your 9-foot-tall tree twice a week. That’s just not enough water. I drink nearly a gallon of fluid a day and I’m not planted outdoors in the wind and the heat! My advice: Add several more emitters so the tree receives at least five, better upward to seven, gallons of water with each watering. During the periods when the temperatures spike into the high 90s, I’d recommend watering more often, too.
If the tree is watered with a weeping hose, does the hose make a ring within the moat or is it just one stripe of hose going through the moat? Is there a moat that circles the tree? If so, is that moat filled with water-preserving mulch?
Weeping hoses are a great way to water as long as you are again watering for an appropriate amount of time. You need a good, long soak with each watering. I asked about the mulch because if it’s dry, then it’s absorbing the moisture from the watering not the soil nor in turn the tree roots.
Move the mulch around, get your hands into the soil and check if the water the tree is getting from a weep hose system is enough. It truly doesn’t sound like it. So, get out there, make sure the system works and add on to it as necessary. Soon!
Now, no more fertilization for the rest of this year. The tree needs to recoup its strength, and will, because you’ll have changed the way you care for it. As far as the puny branches and it not having many leaves on top, that could be a result of winter damage. If the tree can fix itself this year, it will flush out some leaf if the watering is bumped up. Before leaf drop this coming autumn, I would like to see you tie a ribbon on the puny branches so you can watch their progress next spring. If they don’t look like they are going to pop fresh growth, then you’ll be able to prune out that damage before the tree gets too leafed out and you can’t see what you need to. Most certainly you will be watering this coming dormant, or winter, season. Every two weeks you will water every living thing, evergreen or deciduous, in your yard, right? Especially if the temperatures are going to get really cold. Water is an insulator for the roots. Without healthy roots you can kiss the rest goodbye. But for now, water lots more when you do and if the tree can reverse the damage it will. Happy Digging In.
Need tips on growing your garden? How much to water those bushes? How to transplant a tree? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio Rancho/West Side Journal, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103.