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Living Christmas Trees

encore date: November 3, 2016

original air date: November 5, 2016

Fall is the best time to plant trees, so what about planting a living Christmas tree? Deena Spellman from Bastrop Gardens picks the gifts that keep on giving. Daphne’s Plant of the Week, native lacey oak, is an oak wilt-resistant smaller tree for down-sized gardens. But desert willows have been looking a bit skimpy this year. Daphne explains what’s going on. It’s still prime time to plant vegetables, including strawberries, best planted in November. John shows what’s best to start from seed or transplants. On tour, when Ann and Robin Matthews took out lawn, they added artistic touches to frame drought tough plants, outdoor living coves, and organic food.

Episode Segments

On Tour

Vegetable/Ornamental No-lawn Makeover

Ann & Robin Matthews took the big plunge: take out all the grass, even in front, and replace it with vegetables, wildlife plants, and living spaces. They include hand-made art at every step (including home-made stepping stones), and even built a screen imprinted with Native American rock art impressions. See how they tuck in rain barrels at every gutter to water their plants, and how they blended their garden with their neighbor for a resourceful neighborly connection.


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Question of the Week

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.


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Plant of the Week

Lacey Oak

Lacey Oak

Quercus laceyi

Lacey oak is native to western areas of Central Texas, where rocky limestone outcroppings are common. This deciduous tree is known to be capable of growing to 60 feet tall in ideal conditions, but in most landscapes, it should top out closer to half that and equally as wide: about 30 by 30. Listed as a small to medium-height tree, lacey oak grows very slowly, even by oak standards. The one in our demonstration garden is only about 12 feet tall after almost two decades. While some people may be impatient with its pace, this slow growth brings with it a blessing: much less pruning is needed to keep the tree a healthy shape. Because of their short stature, lacey oaks are a great choice for smaller landscapes, more common in urban environments. Although it can take a bit of shade, lacey oak will do best in full sun and should be watered sparingly, once established, which usually takes about two years. As with most established trees, a good, deep soaking once a month during the hottest, driest times, should be sufficient. Fertilizer isn’t necessary, and may actually do more harm than good, so let this native tree grow and establish itself at its own pace. And good news: native lacey oak is resistant to oak wilt.