Growing Concerns 539: Transplant weeping mulberry, house plant care

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Brown leaf tips can be a problem on any plant from this big palm to the desktop peace lily in this issue's 2nd question. The answer's almost always the same: Check the watering! 

In this issue:

Transplant a weeping mulberry
Make peace lily green right to the tips
Grow dwarf Hibiscus
Save money on grow lights
Thumbs up and down: Pesticide applications and squirrel thwarting

Don't weep over favorite mulberry, move it or buy new

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Dear Janet,

I have a ten year old weeping mulberry that may have to go as we are installing a pool. I am quite attached to it and am wondering if it is possible to transplant it. - K.M. -

Dear K.M.,

It's a big job but it's do-able. Tie up the branches so they're out of your way and begin digging at the dripline of the tree, severing roots cleanly and slanting your excavation inward, under the tree to take a wide, flat pan of roots. Tip this root ball to one side, slide a tarp under it, enlist some helpers and slide it to a new location. Moved now or in very early spring and given extra consideration next year in the form of attentive watering, it should transplant successfully.

Before you make the effort, however, consider the wide availability and fast growth rate of weeping mulberry trees. Now compare that to the work and recovery time involved in a transplant -- one year per inch of trunk diameter until the tree resumes its former growth and no longer needs coddling. Buying new may be your best bet.


Dear Janet,

Hope you can advise me what to do about my houseplant. The end points of the leaves, all of them big and small, are turning brown, just at the tip end. - R.S. -


Dear R.S.,

When the part of the leaf that's furthest from the leafstalk browns out and this happens to all or most of the leaves on a plant, we investigate soil moisture and humidity, because that symptom nearly always signals a water problem.

Peace lily is a good example. It likes its soil constantly moist but never soggy. Left to dry down between waterings or grown in air so dry that its roots can't keep up with the plant's water needs, the parts of the plant furthest from the root tips and still in formative state at the time of drought will dry and die. What parts? The tips of any leaves forming at that time, those still tightly rolled in a new spear of foliage.

Over fertilization and over watering can also cause tip-burn. Excess fertilizer salts draw moisture right out of the roots and soggy, airless soil causes root tips to suffocate. In either case, roots die. That means the plant gets less water, so new leaf tips suffer right along with the root ends.

Short reports


Dwarf Hibiscus exist!

Yes, there are dwarf hardy hibiscus for that wet garden,

M.H. , you say you do some of your Master Gardener volunteering by maintaining a courtyard garden at an Alzheimer daycare facility. Since it's sunny there with soggy soil you thought hibiscus with its love of wet feet and people-pleasing big flowers would be a perfect addition. But the plants were way too tall.

Height is a problem with Hibiscus moscheutos and other native hardy hibiscus that's been solved, Scott Bates of Grass Roots Nursery in New Boston (734-753-9200). Go there  for 2- to 3 foot dwarf forms like pink-flowered 'Sweet Melissa,' 'Deanna's Giant White,' 'Garnet' or the white with red center 'Red Eye Express.' Scott will tell you they're aquatic hibiscus and he's right -- they'll grow in pots in a pond. Take my word for it, however, the species is as happy in a moist garden as in its native marsh-edge environment.

No need for super special grow bulbs

Standard fluorescent tubes make great grow lights.

One of the best things you can do to keep indoor plants healthy and reduce pest problems is to place a fluorescent light 8 to 12 inches above the plants.


Thanks for asking about bulb choices, E.H.  because it made us look at current literature and discover there is no need to spend four times as much for specialty grow bulbs that emit more blue and red wavelengths, as we were once told to do. Research by Canada's Department of Agriculture and the University of Connecticut show that most plants grow as well or better under standard cool white fluorescent tubes than under specialty bulbs. For those flowering plants which need more red spectrum light, standard "daylight" fluorescent bulbs fit the bill.

Lumens, that other bulb rating you questioned, E.H., measure the light intensity. A higher-lumen bulb can cast productive light further, so one bulb can cover more plants.

For more: Simplify shopping for lights when you go looking for certain light strength, color, size of tube, etc.


Green thumbs up

to reading the instructions on pesticides before applying them. Used as directed, most are quite effective. Using them in higher dosage or in nonsanctioned situations is a recipe for grief. As an example, we recently read a discussion on the sad story of spraying the wrong herbicide and ending up with a bed not only clear of weeds but unplantable for two years.

Green thumbs down

to our neighborhood squirrels. We didn't loosen the soil in that bed we're remaking for their benefit, so they could plant walnuts! What our garden sounds like, currently: "You! Get out of there. How did you even see this bed from that walnut tree half a block away? Can't you bury those things closer to the source? Argh, here come two more of your furry friends, bearing nuts! You're forcing us to lay chicken wire down on the bed so you can't dig there."


Originally published 10/25/03






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