What’s wrong with my desert willow tree?
Thanks to Ramya Balasundaram, who’s having some issues with a desert willow tree in her yard. Ramya writes that the tree was planted five years ago on the north side of her home, where it gets plenty of light. It’s been healthy until this year, and has grown to over 20 feet tall.
Ramya also explains that earlier this year she amended the soil around the desert willow with some compost, for the plants in the landscape growing near the tree. She’s worried that this may have damaged the tree’s roots, since it’s now struggling.
This summer, for the first time, the tree did not flower, and now over half the leaves and smallest branches appear charred and black. Ramya also says that she’s been watering the tree the same as usual: once a week.
Well, Ramya, I’m really sorry that your tree is struggling, but I think there’s time to save it, and your situation perfectly illustrates how important weather and climate are in our landscapes, and how easy it is to get off-track with gardening habits, especially when it comes to irrigation.
When you planted this tree we were in the worst period of a devastating drought, so once a week watering was great, as you got the tree established and accustomed to its new home. At that time, there was no rain in sight and it was crazy hot out. But then, the rains returned…with gusto.
Desert willow is a true xeric species and needs very little rainfall to thrive. Its natural habitat is in areas with very well-drained, sandy soil, which is not common in Central Texas, so the first thing to do is to stop watering your tree.
Next, if you have other plants near the tree, you’ll need to move them, unless they have the same, very-low water requirements of your desert willow and can survive without irrigation.
And lastly, go ahead and prune out any dead or struggling branches and shape the tree back to a healthy habit. The “charred” look that you’ve described is likely due to fungal spores, so be sure to rake up and toss those branches and any leaf litter out by the curb. Your tree may look a bit bare and struggle for a while, but if the soil can dry out, the tree should recover with time.