Q: We planted a young ash tree last fall and to me it seems to be struggling. We dug a great hole and mixed the dirt with some compost, refilled the hole with the mixed-up dirt and watered some during the winter. Now it’s not leafing out as quickly as others in the neighborhood. Have we done something wrong? – A.G., West Side
A: Struggling, huh? From your descriptions of everything you’ve done for the tree all sounds well except one thing: “a great hole.” Those words have me concerned! I’m thinking two things, one, the tree is just being slow because of its newness or your young ash tree has effectively sunk into that great hole and it’s now suffocating.
I suggest you get down at ground level and inspect this youngster now as what you’re looking for is all visual. At the base of nearly all trees you can, upon training your eyes to recognize it, notice a wee flare to the trunk. In fact, that’s what this “out-dentation” is called, “the flare.” It’s actually a sometimes barely perceptible flaring of the trunk but it does exist. That flare is part of the breathing system of trees so it has to be exposed. The flare or collar needs to be set just at ground level when you plant. So by your digging such a great hole I am willing to bet the ash tree’s flare got buried or the creature actually did sink too far into the hole.
With that thought comes the fix. Since the tree is fairly newly planted, dig it up and start from scratch. Make sure that when you re-plant, the tree trunk – all of it – stays above ground level. You might have to backfill the hole some and tamp that soil down firmly to keep the tree from sinking again. Be sure to recreate a moat of at least 3 to 4 feet in diameter surrounding the tree. Consider applying a dose of root stimulator after the initial watering of the replanted ash, monitor its water needs throughout this growing season, and see if it rebounds.
The second fix isn’t as labor intensive but you’ll want to be careful, OK? At ground level, using a hand trowel, gently scrape soil away from the trunk exposing it. All of that dislodged soil needs to be removed from the well of the tree site. Place it on the outer wall of your moat to create a sturdier one. Your goal here is to make the area inside the well flat and level and the trunk gets exposed so the flare is perfectly even with the soil in the well. Boy, I hope that makes sense! Be sure to monitor the soil level periodically to be sure the flare isn’t re-buried as you water. Do scrape the soil away as needed to be sure the flare stays exposed, at ground level forever.
Hopefully, the tree isn’t too far gone that by exposing the flare it’ll be able to regroup, rebound and settle in (not sink mind you) so it’ll have a long and glorious life in your landscaping. I’m wishing the best for the recovery of your ash!
Q: I want to get my mom an Easter lily for the holiday but worry because she suffers from allergies. What can I do to brighten her day but not contribute to her allergies? – H.D., West Side
A: Well, you’re in luck! Go ahead and get a beautiful blooming plant for mom and assure her it probably won’t affect her health. At the beginning of my nursery career, the company I worked for had a huge teaching promotion that “pretty flowers don’t cause allergies.” And for the most part, it’s true! It’s the plants that make “flowers” that we don’t recognize as flowers that are making her life miserable. Plants like junipers, elm, mulberry and cottonwood trees and some grasses that do have flowers but unless you know what those blooms look like you wouldn’t think they are flowers.
So get mom lots of pretty blooms and know that she’s not going to be troubled by them. Happy Easter season to you all while you’re out there Digging In!
Need tips on growing your garden? Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send your garden-related questions to Digging In, Rio West, P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103.