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Garden detective: Japanese Maple might be alive

Published: Saturday, Mar. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8CALIFORNIA LIFE

I have a 1-year-old Japanese maple I transplanted from my backyard to my front yard. A few months ago, its leaves wilted because a pipe broke and drowned my poor tree.

Now, its leaves are all dry, as well as the branches. I am keeping it, hoping that in spring it will grow again. Should I keep hanging on or should I let go?

– Maricel Sison, Roseville

According to UC master gardener Annie Kempees, Japanese maples are deciduous trees, which means they always lose their leaves in autumn. So it's harder to tell if a tree still has life in it.

Usually, rain will sustain the tree through the winter season in the Sacramento Valley. But this has been an unusually dry winter.

Young trees need to be watered deeply every 10 to 14 days to keep the root ball from drying out. Without good moisture, it is more likely the young tree would die.

Gently scrape the bark along the trunk of the tree. One or two inches long and a half-inch wide is sufficient. If the cambium layer shows a hint of green, it is alive.

On the other hand, if the cambium layer is dryish and light tan, your tree is most likely dead and now would be a good time to remove it and plant a new one.

Or, if you want to be absolutely certain, wait awhile longer and see if it leafs out before replacing it.

The leaves on my cast-iron plant are turning brown, starting at the tips. Does this mean too much water or too little?

D. Mangrum, Sacramento

According to UC master gardeners Carol Hunter and Roberta Hopkins, Aspidistra elatior or cast-iron plant is an old-fashioned, tough, leathery houseplant from China. It can reach 24 inches high and wide, and is well-suited to low light levels found indoors.

Leaf tips can turn brown if there isn't enough water, though it prefers just moderate moisture. Also, salt buildup from fertilizer can cause brown leaf tips.

An overwatered plant will turn yellow and the leaves will wilt. Direct sunlight will bleach the leaves. Wipe dust off the leaves occasionally, but don't use a spray duster because it will clog plant pores.

Before watering, make sure the plant has nearly dried out. Place it in a sink and run water through the pot from the spigot to leach out any fertilizer salts.

Annual repotting with a good potting mix will refresh the soil.

This plant can also be grown outdoors in areas protected from frost. It will do well as a shady spot filler or as a potted accent plant. Cast-iron plant will spread by rhizomes, and be helped with feeding spring and summer. Porous soil, with organic amendments, is ideal. Variegated varieties (white stripes or spots) are available.


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact your UC Extension directly, call:

• Sacramento: (916) 875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. weekdays

• Amador: (209) 223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday through Thursday; email

• Butte: (530) 538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays

• El Dorado: (530) 621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon weekdays

• Placer: (530) 889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays or leave a message and calls will be returned

• Nevada: (530) 273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesdays through Thursday or leave a message

• Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: (530) 225-4605

• Solano: (707) 784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned

• Sutter, Yuba: (530) 822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Mondays and Tuesdays and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays

• Yolo: (530) 666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned.

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