Mulch and compost helps drought-threatened trees

QUESTION: "My mother has an established Kwanzan Cherry tree. Last year the leaves turned yellow and dropped off prematurely and this year they are doing the same and are noticeably smaller than they have been in the past. Do you have any ideas what may be causing this. I would hate to have her lose the tree!" - A loving son.
ANSWER: With the extreme temperatures and drought that most of the country has experienced over the last couple of summers, trees and shrubs have been going into an early dormancy for protection. The leaves are smaller because they haven't had the chance to grow to full size.
During summers like this, I, too, notice trees of all types turning yellow and dropping their leaves. This will generally happen in late July and throughout August. There isn't a lot that can be done to prevent this happening.
However, it is always good to put a nice thick layer of mulch/aged compost mix around the base of the tree with a welled area immediately around the trunk. This will help to keep the root system cool and moist as well as decompose over the season adding much needed nutrients into the soil. Don't attempt to fertilize as it will only confuse the tree more and can be even more damaging. I hope this helps to explain what is going on.
QUESTION: "Last December I had several small trees planted at my new home. One is a maple. It is about 6 inches in diameter now and very healthy looking. Beautiful deep green leaf with no evidence of pests, fungus, etc. I have noticed on the trunk in the middle on one side, right under the last branch, some cracking of the bark, not just peeling. Should I wrap that spot or just leave it alone? Also when should I fertilize it and also the crabapple trees that were planted the same time? " - Victoria Smith
ANSWER: Bark splitting is a common problem. I have included a link here from the Virginia Tech Extension site on just that. The article tells how bark splitting happens and, more importantly, how to take care of the plant. You should find it quite helpful. http://www.ext.vt.edu/departments/envirohort/factsheets2/tree/jan90pr4.html You can click on a direct link when you find this column at my Web site, www.landsteward.org
I am not a fan of fertilizing trees or shrubs their first year or so in the ground, especially since the maple needs to heal from its damage. Fertilizing should be based on results from soil tests as the purpose of fertilize is to bring the soil up to balanced. The best thing to do for trees or shrubs (as I suggested in my answer above) is to apply a good thick layer of mulch/aged compost mix around the base of each plant leaving a welled area around their immediate base so the mix doesn't touch the trunk.
Thank you for your inquiry. I hope you are having a wonderful summer in your new home!
QUESTION: "I have a large concrete bird bath that has a red algae film. I can empty the bird bath and clean it out, but the red algae comes right back. Is there a way to get rid of it without harming the porous concrete or the birds that drink from it?" - Jan Cook
ANSWER: It's almost impossible to prevent algae, but you can control it. Wash out the bird bath with a solution of bleach and water, using a "pot scrubber" brush and be sure to rinse it thoroughly three times. I would imagine that your bird bath is in full sun so that will create more algae then if it is in the shade. You can purchase some algae inhibitors at your local pet store but check the label to be sure it won't harm the birds.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org
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and for resources and

If you don't want to put chemicals in the bird bath, here's what I do. Get one of those inexpensive, non-steel grill brushes normally associated with a bbq pit. Spray most of the water out of the bird bath, scrub it good, rinse it, and fill it up. Every 2 weeks. Mine is in full sun. Dave
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proper Mulching - http://home.ccil.org/~treeman/sub3.html and http://www.treedictionary.com/DICT2003/M/ Look up "Mulch"
Sincerely, John A. Keslick, Jr. Arborist http://home.ccil.org/~treeman and www.treedictionary.com Beware of so-called tree experts who do not understand tree biology. Storms, fires, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions keep reminding us that we are not the boss.
and for resources and

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Greenwood wrote:

A nonporous coating should be applied to the interior of concrete birdbaths such as epoxy type concrete paint (available at any of the major hardware emporiums), or simply insert a glazed pottery birdbath into the concrete birdbath. In any event never ever use chlorine bleach or any kind of soap/detergent on birdbaths... to treat algae/ mold periodically clean with a 4 : 1 water white vinegar solution and rinse well with plain water, same as is recommended for cleaning hummingbird feeders.
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