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Thursday - May 30, 2013

From: Kerrville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Desert Willow and Orchid tree with no upper leaves from Kerrville TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have two 5 year old Desert Willows planted in my yard. This year only one has leaved out and blooming. The other is bare but the branches are not dead and it has new growth at the bottom. Do you know what is wrong with the tree? The same thing has happened to my orchid tree? All the other trees are doing great. Shows no signs of disease or trouble just looks dormant. What is wrong with them? What can I do? Thank you


You can follow the two plant links below to our webpages on them to see what we have in our Native Plant Database.

Bauhinia lunarioides (Anacacho orchid tree) USDA Plant Profile Map showing it not native to Kerr County

Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow) USDA Plant Profile Map showing it native to Edwards Co., riight next to Kerr County.

Frankly, we are baffled, but are going to ask you some questions (that you only have to answer to yourself) to see if we can find some clues.

1. Are both "sick" plants in the same area and the other trees somewhere else in your garden?

Here are the growing conditions on Bauhinia lunarioides (Anacacho orchid tree):

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rocky, limestone soils. Sandy, sandy loam, medium loam, limestone-based
Conditions Comments: Does best when planted on the south side of a building, protected from winter winds."

And the growing conditions on Chilopsis linearis (Desert willow):

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained limestone soils preferred, but also does well in sands, loams, clays, caliches, granitic, and rocky soils. Minimal organic content the norm.
Conditions Comments: Allow to dry out between waterings, as this will encourage more extensive waves of blooms. Avoid excessive water and fertilizer, as that can lead to overly rapid growth, fewer blooms, and a weaker plant. Prolonged saturation can result in rot. Wont grow as fast or get as large in clay soil but wont suffer there either. Can be drought-deciduous in some regions. Can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F."

2. Compare these growing conditions to the well and the sick trees. Same? Different?

3. Do all the trees have good drainage? In other words, is there any chance they are being over-watered, with perhaps water standing on their roots?

4. Are they in the proper amount of sunshine and/or a sheltered spot for winter?

If there are shoots coming up from the base, this would indicate that the top has died from some shock: drought? cold? spraying of herbicides in the area? Without seeing the trees and knowing the history of their environment, we couldn't begin to guess what is wrong with them.To determine if the top is truly dead, do the thumbnail test: with your thumbnail scratch a very thin outer layer of the tree off as high as you can reach. If there is a thin layer of green beneath that scratched off area, that branch is still alive. If not, keep working your way down the tree, until you come to a green layer.

Our advice is to detect and/or correct any conditions that we have mentioned that might cause a problem. Of course, it might not be practical to dig up and transplant 5-year old trees, and that certainly should not be done in the summer. Woody plants should be planted/transplanted in cool weather, November to January, in Texas. If you feel the plants may have too much moisture in the soil, cut back on watering. When you stick your finger in the dirt and it feels really dry, stick a hose as far down in the soil as you can and let it drip slowly until the surface dirt shows moisture. Do this no more than once a week, if that. DO NOT FERTILIZE! Fertilizer, especially high nitrogen fertilizer such as is used on grass to encourage green growth, will only urge more growth on an already-stressed tree.

Once you have made any changes that seem practical in the culture of the trees, we would recommend patience. If either or both trees dies, take a lesson and plant the next ones in a better place, with more drainage, less water, some shelter - whatever works. Your decision.


From the Image Gallery

Anacacho orchid tree
Bauhinia lunarioides

Anacacho orchid tree
Bauhinia lunarioides

Anacacho orchid tree
Bauhinia lunarioides

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

Desert willow
Chilopsis linearis

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