Red Apple Dying

Portions of my Red Apple ground cover have started to die. Small patches just begin dying next to healthy sections.
Have not over watered or fed lately. Too many sections are dying to suspect animal urine.
Is this a disease? Need suggestions how to rescue my Red Apple. Winter in my local is usually mild here in Southern California near Los Angeles, zip code 91402.
Thank you for any suggestions.
Pictures can be viewed at
http://picasaweb.google.com/dave.public.pix/RED_APPLE_DYING
Thank you, Dave_S
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The ground along what appears to be a walkway looks overly dry and very compacted... also looks depleted of nutrients, typical of S. Cal yard soil. Seems to me that the entire area would benefit greatly from tilling in a very generous application of organic matter/rich topsoil, and then replanting plugs of your ground cover taken from healthy spots. You may want to first try potting some healthy plants in fresh sterile potting soil as a control test just to make sure it's not the plants that have a disease. Also check carefully for small insects and/or mildew, and dig into the ground looking for grubs. Often watering late in the day doesn't allow the plants to dry out before night and constant wetness causes myriad problems. Sometimes just an application of soap spray will fix things... a solution of 1 Tbs Murphy's Oil Soap to a quart of water may do it... just treat a small area at first (a couple sq yds).
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Bill,
Your observation sure is correct about soil texture like dry flour and excessively compact. Due to our drought, I water not frequently and no later than after 3PM.
At the moment, it is not feasible to replant the entire ground cover. I am looking into amending with a rich compost (mulch) which the city makes available at no cost. That can be applied to healthy sections and where die off occurred. As a temporary amendment, does applying compost on ground surface (throw and scatter in) rather than dig in, help at all?
Does feeding help temporarily? At what time of year (in So CAL) is it ok to feed my Red Apple?
I did start a few plugs in pots (sterile potting compound) from a healthy section to look for disease.
Many thanks to Bill and Sheldon. Dave_s
Sheldon wrote:

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Yes. It feeds the microorganisms in the soil that help hold water and it reduces the evaporation of water.
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Billy
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A top dressing does little good scattered over poor quality compacted soil, in fact that can do more harm than good... but in this case will do nothing as it will be hosed away. The primary reason for amending soil with organic matter is to increase aeration for plant roots, so that plant roots can receive more air, water, nutrients, and so roots can grow deeper and stronger. Adding organic matter is to supply nutrients to the plant's roots (not the microrganisms). Organic matter helps retain water but it has to be worked into the soil at least as deep as that particular plant's roots are expected to grow for the plant to receive full benefit... plants don't receive any appreciable water from microganisms, and in fact may receive less because the microrganisms will hog water first at the surface where the top dressing is placed. In a basically arid clime top dressing poor compacted soil is really a total waste of time, effort, and money. The entire purpose of amending any soil with organic matter is to make a more advantageous environment for plant roots... surface water does no good and in fact will cause harm, the plants will rot at the surface and die... that's exactly how that ground cover looks in those photos... the garden hose tells the story, too much surface water... with that very compacted poor quality soil it's best not to water at all, many ground covers do quite well with just the water from nightly condensation (that's how desert plants thrive). If that soil was in good condition there wouldn't be a reason to ever water that ground cover except during prolonged droughts. Ground cover (as the term implies) shades (covers) the ground so naturally minimizes evaporation... ground cover, especially those for arid climes, doesn't like to be overly watered or watered so its leaves remain wet for long periods. Ground cover does best planted in an envrionment where it can self irrigate naturally by taking advantage of normal condensation. I would do what I indicated previously, one section at a time if necessary, by working rich organic matter into the existing soil and to a depth commisserate to the needs of the particular plant (in that situation at least 8"), if you're stingy you'll be redoing your labor in a very short time. Once that ground cover is then reestablished it may benefit from a sparse top dressing once a year or every other year for a few years, until it becomes vigorous... and may never need to be irrigated by garden sprinkler again except at the very edges where it can't shade itself. When growing properly ground covers top dress themselves, from their decaying old growth as new growth emerges. I would definitely add a barrier border along that walkway, if foot traffic continues to encroach where plants are desired all this talk is for nought. When ground cover is growing healthily folks have just the opposite problem (ground covers are typically very vigorous and in fact are quite invasive), they have to constantly thin and prune back.
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I am carefully reading these mail notes from Sheldon and Bill and Billy to determine the best approach to fix my 'backyard' RED APPLE problems.
The soil in the 'front yard' is similar to 'backyard', not compacted, but is flour like. So I will be obtaining 'rich topsoil' for 'front and back' RED APPLE plantings. Will be a busy winter.
In my front yard, I also have much RED APPLE. Many of these locations are under a large Camphor tree. The tree constantly drops leaves which completely fills in the spaces between RED APPLE leaves. The leaf cover is very dense and constantly drops leaves all summer. The color of the RED APPLE leaves is sallow, light yellow where the Camphor leaves are covering densely. Where RED APPLE is beyond the reach of those Camphor leaves the RED APPLE leaf color is deep green. Should I regularly remove as many of the 'on top' large leaves covering the RED APPLE leaves? Under the dry large Camphor leaves is a layer of tiny mulch like decomposing CAMPHOR leaves. Should these small particle mulch like material be preserved but remove the dense large leaves on top?
    Where the soil is flour like, should I work in that decomposing mulch layer of CAMPHOR leaves? Is the Camphor leaves too acid for a good mulch? I can discard that mulch like material or work it into the not compacted flour like soil near the RED APPLE.
I sure appreciate you hints and suggestions and explanations!!
Many thanks folks. Dave_s
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Check your soil composition. Clear off the top couple of inches (5 cm) of a small patch of your growing area and then take a plug of soil (approx. 250 cc: about 6 x 6 x 6 cc). Make a slurry of this soil to about 1 qt. to 1 liter in volume in a glass jar. Make sure the soil is thoroughly broken up. The sand will settle in about 20 min., the silt in a couple of hours, and the clay in about 24 hours. Measure the depth of the soil in the bottle. Then measure the width of the three bands. You want 20 - 30% clay, 30 - 40% silt, and 30 - 40% sand. If you are within these parameters, then I would only add organic material (alfalfa pellets, compost, and some manure or fish emulsion. If the soil is truly hard and compacted, garden fork up the denuded area where you want to plant. Turn in the organic material (including kitchen scraps but not coffee grounds) and top dress with alfalfa pellets, compost, and some manure or fish emulsion. You may want to cover this with a sheet or two of newspaper and the newsprint in turn with mulch.
From Camphor trees I know nothing, except . . .The camphor content of the leaf litter helps prevent other plants from germinating successfully, helping to ensure the camphor's success against any potentially competing vegetation, . . . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camphor_tree
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