The Q&A Archives: Please help save my Strawberry Tree!

Question: I planted my Strawberry tree about 2 months ago. It started sending out new leaves and everything looked great. In the last 2 weeks the leaves are now drooping downward and are crunchy. The ground is plenty wet. I live in Las Vegas. Our water district says this is a good tree for our climate. It gets full sun, noon to dark. I would appreciate any advice. Thanks, Tracy

Answer: I'm sorry you are having trouble with your Arbutus x Marina. When you say the ground is plenty wet, that may be the problem. Roots also need oxygen to thrive and in saturated soil, water forces out all the oxygen in spaces between the soil particles. I'll include some info on effective watering below.

Use a soil probe (any long, pointed piece of metal or wood to poke into the soil) to check how far water has penetrated. The probe moves easily through moist soil, but stops when it hits hard dry soil. There are numerous variables involved for watering schedules, such as type of soil, how fast or slow it drains, sun and wind exposure at your site, temperature, age and condition of the plants and much more. Use the information above to determine how moist the soil is before automatically applying more water. It's essential that you allow your drip system to run long enough for water to penetrate the appropriate depth. Depending on the size emitters, soil type, etc. this might take several or many hours. Same concept applies if you use a hose or other method.

Use the 1-2-3 Rule as an easy method to remember how much water to apply. Small plants with shallow root systems, such as perennials, veggies, herbs, cacti, succulents have roots that reach about 1 foot deep, so water needs to penetrate that far. When the top 1 inch of soil dries out, it's usually time to water again. Shrubs have root systems that are 2 feet deep so water needs to soak 2 feet deep. When the top 2 inches of soil dries out, it's time to water. Trees are 3 feet deep. As plants establish root systems, the time between waterings can be lengthened, but it is always essential to water to the same depth. So you are applying the same amount of water with each irrigation regardless of the time of year, but the frequency changes. As warm weather arrives, you need to water more frequently than during winter.

Desert soil and water both contain salts, which can accumulate in the root zone over time. This salt buildup forms where the water stops penetrating. Short periods of watering cause salts to build up in the top layers of soil and damage or kill your plant. Salt burn shows up as yellowing, browning along leaf edges, and leaf drop. Deep watering?or leaching?prevents this by flushing the salts past the root zone. Always water slowly, deeply and as infrequently as possible. I hope this info helps.

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