The Q&A Archives: Wilting Leaves On Caligornia Pepper Tree

Question: My wife planted a California Pepper Tree, about 12 ft. tall, last October and it did well until 3 or 4 weeks ago. The leaves are brittle and losing their color and we think the tree is dying. Can you give us some advice on how to correct this problem?

Answer: Most problems in the desert are caused by incorrect watering. When leaves brown around the edges, the problem is often salt burn. Salts in the water and in fertilizer build up over time. Browning usually occurs on the old leaves first. This excess salt accumulates in the leaf edges, where it kills the tissue and the leaf dries out and turns brown. It's important to water deeply and slowly. At least once a month, water deeply enough to "leach" or push salts well below the root zone. Frequent, light "sprinklings" allow salts to accumulate in the top layers of soil, where the roots are, which is bad news. Similar symptoms occur when too much fertilizer has been applied. Always water plants thoroughly before and after applying fertilizer to help prevent burn.

As a tree grows, its new roots tips, where nutrients are being absorbed, spread out laterally. If you are watering only within a few-foot area at the base of the tree where emitters were first installed, it's not really being watered effectively. Expand your watering zone out PAST the tree's canopy. As the tree grows, continue expanding that water zone. If you have an irrigation system, you need to move the emitters out. If you use a hose, just drag it out further. In any case, water slowly and deeply to ensure water penetration and to leach salts below the root zone. Don't fertilize until next spring. I hope this info helps!

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