En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - September 10, 2007

From: Elephant Butte, NM
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Trees
Title: Care of desert willows
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have three desert willows. Two are doing well, but the third, which was planted at the same time as the others, is about 1/3 the size of the other two, the foliage is thin, and the leaves have dry, rusty brown spots. They finally dry up and fall off. We have been told we are overwatering, but we don't water it any more than the others. We also have a globe willow that has a few leaves that appear to be doing the same thing.

ANSWER:

What a neat opportunity to compare two trees, one native and the other non-native, whose names sound alike and whose appearances are in some ways similar. We at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center are always looking for demonstrations of the strengths and weaknesses of native and non-native plants in our landscape. We are committed to the promotion and protection of native plants for their value in preserving resources and avoiding destruction of native habitats by escaping non-natives.

Chilopsis linearis (desert willow), not actually a willow but a member of the Trumpet-Creeper Family, is native to your home area in New Mexico, and adapted to use as erosion control. Its natural habitat is creeksides, ditches, etc. It is an excellent desert plant, and it's always startling to come across those incredible white-to-pink-to-purple flowers that look, to us, like orchids, in a plant that is so drought resistant and can grow in otherwise pretty unpromising environments. Since you have three plants, two of which are doing fine and one of which is not, we have to ask questions about location and sun exposure. You did not mention any insect problem and, since it IS a native, it's not as likely that would be a problem. If the three trees are all planted together, then we would say there is a possibility that some root damage might have occurred before the tree was even planted. If it has not been too long since it was planted, it could be suffering from transplant shock but, again, why would just the one tree be singled out? A suspect could be poor drainage around the roots. Since the desert willow is so adapted to hold soil and prevent it washing away, perhaps on a slope, drainage around the roots is probably important. If the soil around the problem tree allows water to stand for a period of time after irrigation or rain, the roots may simply be drowning. Without actually physically moving the tree, treating this might simply consist of improving the drainage in some way or, if you're watering, water that tree more frequently but for shorter times, to permit the soil to drain.

Salix matsudana (globe willow), shares only a part of the name with the desert willow. It is a true willow, but not a native of North America. Rather, it originated in northeast China and Korea. Willows ordinarily thrive alongside waterways or in moist soils. The willow is a very fast-growing and, therefore, somewhat short-lived tree. And, being a non-native, it is susceptible to a number of insect and disease problems. The worst of these is a frothy flux, likely caused by a yeast or other secondary organism that invades mostly young trees through wounds, causing fermentation of plant tissue. About the only suggested treatment we could find was to hose off the flux or slime, and improve drainage for the tree. It also can be subject to aphid damage. Aphids can also be discouraged by spraying water over the foliage and washing them off, but they will come back. Again, examining your cultural practices around this tree might help: improve drainage, keep soil moist but not standing in water, and watch for pest outbreaks.


Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

How to deal with suckers on Flame-leaf Sumac
May 20, 2013 - Hi! It seems you can have too much of a good thing! Our flameleaf sumac is taking over our yard. There are multiple shoots appearing in our flower beds and in the lawn. How do I get rid of the unwante...
view the full question and answer

Suckers from Oak Tree Roots in Austin
May 17, 2013 - Hi. I am a home owner in Austin TX with several live oak trees. We love them and want to keep them healthy. We have a nice landscape in the back yard and Iím wondering if you can answer a quest...
view the full question and answer

Hardy taproot trees for Oklahoma City
June 13, 2013 - What are some hardy tap root trees for central Oklahoma?
view the full question and answer

Would like fast growing evergreen trees in Austin, TX.
October 31, 2012 - Hi, We're moving to Southwest Austin and would like to plant a cluster of pines (or cypress trees?) or other fast growing, large and tall evergreen trees. Any suggestions?
view the full question and answer

Native trees for Alameda County, California
May 14, 2010 - I looking for trees native to my area to plant on my property. I am located in Livermore CA.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center