Dear Neil: I’m having one or two large limbs breaking out of my 100-year-old pecan trees every week. We’ve had no wind or storms. They just snap and fall. Is this being caused by the heat and drought?
I think that’s entirely possible. Trees put on a good bit of new growth last spring when we did have a fair supply of rain. Pecan crops have even been moderately good this year, adding more weight to the branches. Pecan wood is notoriously brittle, so it’s not unusual for their branches to break if they are weakened for any reason. I even lost a major branch from a very large Shumard red oak on our property one week ago. It crushed a large garden urn and broke branches from several adjacent trees. It all speaks to the need to have your trees checked regularly by a certified arborist.
Dear Neil: Our house faces west with no shade. I planted six boxwoods but lost them all to freeze or heat. I need a plant not more than five feet tall. I do water, so drought tolerance is not critical. I do not want to have to cover them in winter. Any suggestions?
Yes. I’m a big fan of dwarf hollies and have always counted on them for that exact type of setting. In fact, I have dozens of them in our landscape, both in full sun and heavy shade. In that size range I’ve used dwarf yaupon holly (no spines on leaves) and Carissa hollies (single spine on leaves, plus the plants are not quite as well suited to west reflected sun off walls). I use dwarf Chinese hollies a lot even though they’re prickly. I have them along our front entry walk and no one has ever complained about being stuck by them in the 46 years that they’ve been there. And dwarf Burford holly is the tallest of my dwarf hollies. It can be kept at 40 to 48 inches with occasional pruning.
Actually, I have a good many wintergreen Japanese boxwoods in our front landscape. They complement our hollies. I’ve also used many compact nandinas, also Harbour Dwarf, Flirt, and other dwarf nandinas. All of those plants will fill your bill if you water them deeply and regularly during their first several years until they’re established. Most losses happen in their first two or three years.
Dear Neil: This is one of seven Nellie R. Stevens hollies I planted in October 2021 along with 15 Arizona cypresses. All have been doing well except for this one holly. I have drip lines surrounding the bases of each tree. I leave them running twice a week for 45 minutes each time. When I saw the top of this plant in distress two weeks ago, I gave it additional water daily, but it has continued to go downhill. Do you have any suggestions in case another tree starts to develop these symptoms?
The drip irrigation didn’t get to this plant with enough water. Either it didn’t reach the bottom of the soil ball and a significant portion of the root system was lost or it was plugged, and it didn’t deliver enough water. Rodents may even have chewed into it. Unfortunately, with hollies, by the time you see symptoms of drought damage, it’s usually too late to turn things around. It’s lucky that so much of the plant is still green and alive. Any of the browned growth can be cut out, then the plant can be reshaped and allowed to fill back in. In a few years, if you keep them all watered and fed properly, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference.
Dear Neil: We have property in East Texas where the prior owner planted two magnolias too close to power lines. The power people had to have their people trim them heavily to keep them away from the lines and we have now taken them out. We want shade and visual screening on that side of the house. An area nursery has suggested either Yoshino Japanese cedar or western redcedar. What are your thoughts?
Those are lovely plants that are far from common in Texas gardens. Ask the nursery to see examples in other customers’ gardens in your area. Be sure they’ve been there for several years to prove their adaptability to climate and soils. I would be reluctant to list them here for a cross-section of average gardeners. For East Texas I would certainly recommend American holly or any of its tall hybrids like East Palatka. Savannah holly would be gorgeous, and anywhere in the state, Nellie R. Stevens holly allowed to grow to full size (20 ft. tall and 12-14 ft. wide) is stunning. On my own rural property, I’ve used eastern redcedar juniper which is native to your area. I want a rather natural looking landscape that blends in with its surroundings. Eastern redcedars are becoming far more common in large residential, rural, and commercial landscapes where space is not a concern, and we all know how well adapted they are to our state.
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