Maples and blackberries still show drought stress

BACKYARD Q&A

June 18, 2000

Q. My Japanese maple suffered through last year's drought, leafed out this spring and then dropped nearly all its leaves. It is slowly putting on new growth now, but why did it do so poorly with all the rain we had in May?

A. The problem you describe was caused primarily by drought stress from the past few years. Japanese maples and other shallow-rooted trees are especially prone to drought stress. Your tree expends a lot of energy flowering and leafing out in the spring. But last year's drought caused your tree to go into the winter with reduced food reserves stored in its root system (especially if the tree was not adequately watered last summer). That is why leaves were undersized and sparse. Other factors -- including poor soil and site conditions, root damage -- may also be contributing to the problem. Keep your tree well-watered during dry periods this summer.

Q. I had two very vigorous thornless blackberry plants that seemed to completely die after last year's drought. This spring, however, I noticed new shoots growing, but they are not making flowers and berries as in previous years. Will they bloom later this summer?

A. No, the shoots that emerged this spring are vegetative first-year canes. These canes will overwinter and produce flowers and fruit next year. Then the fruited canes will die. It sounds as if your first- and second-year canes succumbed to last year's drought. The crowns of your plants survived and were able to produce new shoots this spring. Head back your first-year canes at a height of 4-5 feet to encourage the strong growth of lateral shoots that will bear next year's crop.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Monitor evergreen trees and shrubs for signs of newly hatched bagworm larvae (you'll see very small bags attached to needles and stems). Handpick and destroy bags or spray with B.t., a microbial insecticide, to control young larvae.

2. Keep pepper, eggplant and tomato plants well supported with cages or stakes.

3. Remove spent blossoms to promote vigorous plant growth and continuous flowering.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.

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