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IN THE GARDEN: Browning evergreen likely caused by excess shade — but test to be certain

by Janet B. Carson December 18, 2021 at 1:32 a.m.
Thinning on evergreens like these 9-year-old cryptomeria trees isn't necessarily cause for alarm. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q I have four cryptomeria trees in the backyard about 9 years old that do well in spring growth, and I fertilize them in the fall. Within a week, multiple branches turn yellow from inside out then brown and die, and I have to prune them back; and the trees are really thinning out due to dead branches. I just sprayed for fungus and used this product [the reader sent a photo of the product] after I pruned the dead branches. I don't want to lose them, but they look fine one week and the next, once the branches turn yellow, it is too late and the branches break off. For some reason the north side of the trees is much worse than the south. What can I do? I don't want to lose them.

A In looking at your pictures, I think the trees actually look pretty good. Interior browning of needles is common on evergreens — shedding of old growth as new growth comes on, or shedding caused by shading when the mass of needles reduces their sun exposure. I think shading could be the cause of the condition being worse on the northern side. I would fertilize in the spring as new growth is beginning, and then monitor moisture levels.

You can also take a branch or two to your local county extension office. With the holiday season upon us, you may want to wait until after the first of the year to make sure the sample arrives at the disease diagnostic lab fresh and in good condition for testing. Take a branch that has various stages of damage and see if the lab can culture out any diseases. I hesitate to begin any type of spray program without a diagnosis.

Q Some dear friends gave me this beautiful bromeliad, and I need your help. What is its variety? Will it continue to bloom? And how do I take care of it? Thank you so much for continuing your column. It's the highlight of my Saturday paper.

A This particular bromeliad is a Guzmani, one of the more common types. They come in a wide array of colors with red being best for the Christmas holiday; but they also come in yellow, pink, purple, white, orange and bicolors. I buy them every year in a wide array of colors and the colorful bracts (the red part) last a long time. I use them in shady areas in pots outdoors, and they last all summer with little care. Indoors I give them more light, but they add a lot of color with little care — and they last for months. Indoors, give it bright light, and water it about once every two or three weeks. In their native environment in the rain forest, they grow in trees, taking their moisture from the rain. They can produce pups or small plants at the base, which you can grow, but it takes time to rebloom. After the color starts to fade, I usually toss them and buy new plants. I let someone else do all the work and I just enjoy the color. Thanks for the nice comments, and I am glad you enjoy the column.

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Q These have been on each side of our front door and have done well for three or four years with a western exposure [the reader sent photos]. About one month ago this happened almost overnight. Please advise. Thanks!

A Were you doing a good job watering them? I had some in pots that I ignore, because my sprinkler system waters them. I noticed one had died, and I found it had become bone dry — the plants near it had grown up enough to totally block any water from getting in. It was really dry in September and early October. Could that have affected your plants? Western exposure will compound dehydration.

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Q We have some large, established and very overgrown Encore azaleas that need to be trimmed. They are about finished with their fall blooms — and they were stunning. Is it too late to prune them now, or should I wait until after next spring's blooms to keep from disturbing the bloom cycle?

A Even though Encore azaleas bloom spring and fall — and often better in the fall than in the spring — they do have their spring flower buds set now. Any pruning this late would remove your chances for blooms in the spring. Treat them like any other azalea and do any needed pruning in the spring after bloom.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email jcarson@arkansasonline.com


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