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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Italian Cypress and Twisted Juniper Struggling in the Desert

Q. So, I live in the high desert of Southeastern Utah, about 4500 feet. Minimal precip. Temps up to 110 in summer and down to 20s at night in the winter. Fast draining soil, actually just sand, but I do amend some when planting to "slow the flow" and try to make it more like soil.

I have 2 Italian Cypress about 4-5 years old and 3 Hollywood Juniper about 3 years old. They were doing well up till  beginning of last year. Now something seems to be killing them from the ground up. Initially I thought maybe rabbits were eating them but I no longer think that. I have tried more water, less water, more amendments, iron, etc. Spray with Liqui-Cop after leaf fall on my fruit trees and include the conifers. The Cypress seem to be doing a bit better than the Juniper, at least there is some green growth there. The Juniper look like they are totally dried out and peeling away.

Can you tell me if it is a disease? Insects? Critters? And what I can do about it, if anything, before they die completely! Guess my question is whether you think I can save the cypress or should I just give up?

A. You live in some beautiful country.
Why are the lower branches of the Italian cypress missing? Was this due to rabbits? I have seen rabbits devour newly planted, small pine trees during the winter but this is the first time I have seen it on Italian cypress.

I think you have a problem with these lower branches removed from the Italian cypress. Those lower branches are needed for several reasons. First, that foliage produces energy for the tree and improves growth by providing energy for its growth. Without that foliage, new growth is going to be minimal and weak.

Secondly, the growth along the trunk is needed for proper trunk development. Branches are needed for the trunk to develop proper caliper, i.e., taper along the trunk. Without this growth, the trunk never gets strong enough to remain upright or erect. The plant will never get strong enough to remain upright.

When they are planted make sure they get a good soil amendment such as compost and not just planting amendment. If you use planting amendment, make sure you put some 16-20-0 or some type of starter fertilizer at planting time. They should be fertilized at least once a year in early spring. If in sandy soil, twice a year.

If this was rabbit damage, next time plant them with a cylinder of 1 inch hexagonal chicken wire around them to keep the rabbits from eating them. I would use 3 to 4 ft tall cylinders. Jackrabbits can reach up to nearly 3 feet when they are on their back legs. Eating foliage that high should not be a problem but lower foliage missing will be a problem.

I think you may have some sun damage to the lower trunk on the cypress from missing branches along the trunk. Check for borer damage in them as well.

Hollywood junipers are notorious for borer damage. Look close at the trunks and I am willing to bet you have them. Use Bayer Insect Control as a liquid drench around these to protect them from borer damage. Better yet, don’t plant them here. Plant something else.
Borers in Hollywood Twisted Juniper from 25 years ago

I think it will be okay. I would just protect it with some chicken wire if rabbits are the cause. You need to push new growth. That will be done with fertilizer and timely watering. Fertilize twice during the year, February and again in about June. Throw one or two handfuls of fertilizer about a foot from the base of the tree and sprinkled on the soil. Water it in. If you have basins, put it in the basins and water it in. Keep fertilizer away from direct contact with the trunk.

You have the self watering containers around the base. I am wondering why you are not using the drip irrigation that is there in the pictures. Italian cypress like wet winters and dry summers. Water as you would any tree during the summer. Probably twice a week during high temperatures and I would give them about 5-10 gallons when they are small each time you watered. Winter time maybe once  a week or ten days. Keep the amount of water you apply the same each time. Apply this amount of water more often as it gets warmer.

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