Q: Back in the spring, we planted several 10- to 15-foot-tall trees around our new house. We tried to keep up with the watering, but the trees looked a bit wilted all summer long. Now that they are going dormant for the winter, is there anything special we can do to help them?
A: You did not say if the trees came from a pot or if they were transplanted. If they were in a pot, then they had all their roots. The roots would have grown out into the surrounding soil as long as the watering kept the soil damp. If the trees were transplanted, they would have spent much of the summer just trying to grow new roots to replace the ones lost in the transplanting.
Even though they are losing leaves at this time of year, keep the soil damp until the ground freezes. In areas that had a dry summer, we need to get as much water into trees as possible before winter. This is especially true if the new trees were evergreens.
It is even true for older trees. If trees are not healthy going into winter and they do not have enough water during the winter, there may be a lot of dead branches in the spring. Do not add a fertilizer near the roots in the fall, except for compost. Other chemical fertilizers may damage the roots.
It can take trees a year or two to recover from a drought in one summer. It can also take trees a year or two to recover from transplanting. Having to recover from transplanting and a drought can set the trees back for several years. If the leaves come out small or few in number next spring, you will know that the tree is having problems.
The smaller leaves will be in balance with the root system. Those fewer, smaller leaves will produce less food, so the root system won’t grow very well. Next year will be very important for the health of the tree. Keep it watered so that it doesn’t look wilted all the time. Use a slow-release fertilizer. Keep organic mulch on the root area that was dug up this year when the tree was planted to keep grass roots from competing with the tree for water and nutrients.
Speaking of new plants for new homes, watch out for soil settling problems around homes that had the foundations backfilled during a year of dry weather. Contractors backfill loose dirt next to foundations on homes during construction and expect rains to settle the dirt before the topsoil and final grading are done months later. If the rains do not come, the homeowner moves in and starts watering the grass and landscaping. The soil sometimes settles into large sinkholes around the foundation when the topsoil washes into holes in the loose backfill. The homeowner gets mad at the landscaper, but the problem is actually the fault of the original contractor.
Q: We planted an American Cranberrybush Viburnum to attract and feed the birds. It bloomed well this spring and is covered with red berries now. The birds are ignoring the fruit completely. They sit in the bush and then fly over to the bird feeder. Is there something wrong with the fruit or did we get the wrong variety?
A: Have you tried one of the berries yourself? I have, and they are very tart. They are supposed to make a good jelly, but I think it would take a lot of sugar. Birds are sometimes finicky. They may have a wide variety of foods to eat in your neighborhood and are waiting for the fruit to finish ripening. Some berries seem to taste better after they have been softened by a few freezes. I have seen the berries on this bush last all the way until spring, when they feed birds going north on migration.
Birds do eat a variety of foods in any given day. They are not just going to fill up on seeds in the bird feeder or fruit on a specific plant. They are probably eating some of the fruit on the shrub, just not enough to make a visible difference for you to see.