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Saturday - May 16, 2009

From: Kerens, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Transplants, Watering, Trees
Title: Desert willows not doing well in Navarro County, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Planted 3 new desert willows , 3-4 ft.in February. Live in East Navarro County and soil is clay with slight slope to Richland Chambers lake area. Had a wet spring. These plantings appear not doing well, with limited green appearing and half of sprouts have turned brown and died. How do we determine if there is adequate drainage? Two year old planting 30 feet away is doing great.


Someone once asked us if you could grow a desert willow in East Texas. We said we didn't think you should try anything with "desert" in its name in East Texas. However, you say you have one that has been in the ground 2 years that is doing well. So, there must be some other reason for the problem.

First of all, you just planted these trees in February. They could be suffering from transplant shock. If you transplanted them directly from another location there might have been some root damage involved. If they were purchased in a pot and planted, the plant may have been rootbound, with the roots going round and round and not able to get out into the new soil for nutrition. In that case, we would ordinarily recommend that you clip some of those circling roots to force the roots to grow some new hair-like rootlets that actually serve to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, but that needs to be done before the tree is planted.

However, we feel you are probably correct in that you had an unusually wet spring, you have clay soil, and this is likely affecting drainage. The Chilopsis linearis (desert willow) will grow in clay or sandy soil; its native habitat is ditches, ravines, stream and river banks, where it is important in erosion control. To check the drainage in the immediate area, dig a hole a few inches deep and fill it with water. If the water is still standing 30 minutes later, your drainage is not good. Try to get as much organic material as you can in and around the roots of the desert willows, without disturbing the roots themselves any more than necessary. This plant is more comfortable in the alkaline soils of West Texas than the acid soils of East Texas. Use a shredded hardwood bark for the compost and for mulch on top of the soil. As these decompose, they will improve the drainage and make the nutrients in the soil more accessible to the roots. As for the transplant shock, trim off 1/4 to 1/3 of the upper growth, as well as the dead material, and keep the tree well watered, but without allowing water to stand on the roots. If it is raining, don't water. And don't fertilize at this point; a tree in transplant shock is a tree in stress, and you never want to fertilize a stressed plant. 

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis




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