questionsdo we have any arborists or people knowledgeable…

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What symptoms is the tree exhibiting? black spots on the leaves? smaller or fewer leaves?

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@nmchapma: The leaves central to the tree remain enormous, bigger than my hand, but the leaves on the branches further from the center are only about a third that size. I had the tree professionally fed and pruned (really pruned, not the butcher job people do to these trees) last fall and the tree guy said the tree was in serious trouble and he wasn't sure it would come back this year. There were no signs of disease or pests. We had a catastrophic freeze about 3 years ago and somethig like 50% of all the plants in the entire city were killed. Almost all the palms and all the barrel cactus died. Bigger trees have been dying ever since as they struggle and fail to be able to recover from the root damage. The tree guy thought that was the problem, but I think this has become a default answer. I'm also concerned that the tree may just be nearing the end of its lifespan, mulberries live only 100 years, and my house turned 100 last year. It's likely it was planted with the house. TBC

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Cont'd: The matter is further complicated (and relieved) by two hackberries that sprung up only about 6 feet from the mulberry and grew into enormous trees when I wasn't looking. One day there were suddenly two 20ft trees there. The solution that I am avoiding is that saving the mulberry may require cutting down the hackberries. But if the mulberry is just dying of old age, then I will be left with no trees at all. I live on the side of a mountain in the desert and it is extremely had to grow trees. I have killed at least ten in the past few years, even ones raised here and native to this soil. My only successes have been a nursery pistache and a palo verde I stole from the desert, both in the front yard. My baby Arizona ash abruptly died and my mesquite looks like it didn't survive its first winter. The shade trees are essential to the beauty and usefulness of my back yard, and it's terrible that I may be losing them. part 3 to follow.

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Sorry for the novel. Anyway, the mulberry is leafing well in the middle, the main shade branch which the tree guy left with some misgivings feels alive (cool, flexible) but isn't budding or leafing. I think I am going to have to cut it, which will eliminate about half the shade from this tree. It will probably make it through this summer, but I think I am going to have to make a decision soon about whether to let nature take its course with the mulberry or eliminate the hackberries. I don;t know if there's anything anybody can tell me as the tree guy didn't have any answers, but I thought I'd put it out there for ideas. Thanks for listening.

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You seem to know your tree well which is a good thing. I do not think cutting the hackberrys will solve your problem so don't do anything like that just yet. I assume your tree guy has checked the bark and outer roots? If not, peel back some bark in areas where the leaves are smaller or non existant. Is there anything unusual like black powdery substance or black streaks? This one is probably more obvious but are there any fungi growing around or on the base of the tree? Because of the severe freeze, I'm inclined to think the roots may be damaged, especially since it's an older tree. If the roots were damaged it's very possible that some root rot is developing (like Armillaria root rot). If this is the case there is not much you can do for it and it needs to be removed as to not infect other nearby trees. If the soil is dry root rot can grow very slowly, and if your tree is healthy (maybe not considering it's age) it may be able to callous off the rot itself.

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I doubt root damage alone is killing the trees, it's probably a contributing factor though. Damaged roots make the tree more susceptable to disease and infection, this is more common in older trees. I hate to condemn your Mulberry but if it does turn out to be root rot then the tree needs to be removed and the root ball burned.

EDIT: Dry soil can also encourage root rot if the tree isn't getting enough water.

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@moondrake: I would eliminate the hackberry trees on general principle. They're evil, garbage trees, and they'll crowd out anything you actually wanted to keep. Like poplar, or russian olive, they should be destroyed on sight. I'm sorry to say that i don't think I can hold out much hope for your mulberry tree. @nmchapma seems to have good knowledge of trees, and I'd trust him on his advice. If it were my tree, I'd let it continue through the summer months, for the shade it will provide in the heat, but have it taken out in early fall, and then (this is very important) not plant anything there for a year or two. If there is any root rot or other disease, it will infect anything new you put into the ground.

I also recommend saturating the ground (after removing the tree) with blood meal, which will help to break down any remaining wood chips or deep roots, so that you can put a new tree in later.

I'm always sad to see a tree go.

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@nmchapma: I'll check around the base of the tree but I do not believe there is any kind of fungus. The swing where I sit and read is right at the foot of the tree, so I think I would have noticed. But I do have the yard covered with chunky mulch (chooped up Christmas trees), so I will push it away and have a good look. How would I check for root rot? I understand mulberries have a huge root system and the bulk of this tree's roots will be outside my yard (that and the allergy problem is why these trees were banned for new planting in my city), so I doubt I can dig up any roots to have a look at them. If it does have root rot, is this likely to spread to other species? In the back yard I have an obviously elderly (but happy and healthy) juniper, the hackberries and an oleander that took a serious hit in the freeze but is almost completely back. OTOH, my little mesquite upstairs in the front yard has mushrooms at its base, which my friend heard meant the roots were dead.

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@shrdlu: I am reluctant to get rid of the hackberries because getting trees to grow in my area is extremely hard. You should have seen my beautiful Arizona ash, it was such a lovely little thing, it gave me fall colors, but after a year it just died. It broke my heart, I loved that tree from the day I saw it at the nursery. The smaller trees were on half price but not that one. I stood there wanting it and the manager came by and asked if he could help me. I told him I was in love with that tree but it wasn't on sale. He marked it down just for me. The mesquite I planted last spring appears to be dead and it didn't even make it a year. Palo verde seems willing to grow here but while it is pretty enough for the front yard it doesn't make enough shade for the back and those vicious thorns do not make for a good social space tree. The hackberries aren't pretty but they are shady, have no thorns, and seem very happy and healthy.

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Lot to process here. First, root rot is hard to catch early on because it will probably not be visable on all roots, and it'll be even harder to find on a Mulberry. Usually root rot isn't caught until the leaves stop budding and branches start to die back, many people do not notice until the roots are completely dead and the trunk starts to grow huge mushrooms and rot out. Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do without professional help, which cost a lot of money. The root rot would need to be identified and even then the tree probably can't be saved.
As for the Oleander,there are many things that can cause fungus to grow on trees, the most likely reason is rotted wood (especially in Arizona). Other reasons include infection or even especially wet periods. Just to add to the confusion, the fungus growing on the tree may not be due to the infection, if the infection has caused the tree to rot I suspect hundreds of fungi could grow there.

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and have nothing to do with the infection. I say that to let you know that identifying the fungus will not help. If the Oleander is showing no other signs of trouble then don't go looking for any. I'd leave that one alone unless its in trouble, when it is try a fungicide first.

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What an interesting thread.
Sorry for your loss moondrake.

j5 j5
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@j5: Thanks on both counts. I grew up in Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Colorado and Alabama, places wealthy in trees. The desert southwest has its own stark beauty and I do prefer the heat to the cold. But I miss trees so badly, and my mulberry has been a good friend to fill that void for the 28 years I have owned my house. I don't think there is a comparable shade tree on my side of the mountain.

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Most states these days have a Master Naturalist and Master Gardener program that, while may or may not be able to help with the tree, will be able to guide you to the right resources and answer questions. They are a group of every day people that learn this kind of stuff to be an educated volunteer for things like State and National Parks, Forests, Wild life rehabilitation, and fisheries. Here is the Texas link for TXMN which is part of Texas A&M.

Good luck with the tree.

Add: TXMG

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@pyxientx: I spoke with the Master Gardeners at a recent home show on the subject. They didn't have many answers, none of them knew much about trees. They were mostly interested in talking about xeriscaping with ornamental plants (especially those attractive to beneficial birds and insects) and container produce gardening. They suggested I talk with the ag extension, but I have talked with them before about the baby trees I keep losing, and they aren't terribly interested either. If there were an epidemic it would be easy to get people involved. Mention the Freeze and there will be hand wringing and discussion of the devastation we are still seeing. But this one tree special to me isn't important to anyone alse.

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Okay, I've done some Mulberry specific research and I'm pretty sure your dealing with some type of root rot infection. Since this tree is that important to you I'm going to give you a hopeful answer. This requires time, effort and some money. You need a professional arborist. If you know a good nursery they may have one or could at least direct you to one. You also need to know exactly what pathogen you're dealing with. This may require sending infected roots to a lab to be tested, the arborist/nursery can help you with this. After finding out what the pathogen is you may be able to find a cure. The lab will probably direct you to someone who can help or maybe even include it with your results. You may need a professional pesticide applicator, who, now that I think about it, may be able to assist you with the enitre process. They will take the proper steps to treat your tree while keeping you and your family safe. I know this is a lot but I hope it helps to save your tree.

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I don't know how expensive this will be, it will completely depend on the treatment as well as the type of professional help you seek out. I'd start by contacting a professional pesticide company about making a visit. They work primarily for nurserys and farms and parks and forest but I'm sure (for a price) that they would help you out.

EDIT: a lot of universities like the one I went to have labs and may even test your tree for free. Look for a school with a large agg department and you may just get lucky :-)

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@nmchapma: There's a couple of good nurseries in the valley that I can contact. Our university here doesn't even have an ag department that I know of, we are the school of mines. Dwarves, not elves. There is no agriculture bigger than hobby gardens that I know of in our city. Neighboring Las Cruces does have some ag support as they farm pecans, cotton, wine grapes and chile commercially. But the physical environment is quite different than here in El Paso, so what works there isn't going to work there. Thanks a million for your help.

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I don't know much about mulberry in particular, but could you graft it on to another tree? I live in the northeast and up here people graft apples on to pears, plums, etc, with good success. I don't know if your other trees would be good targets to graft your mulberry on to or not, but it might be worth looking into. If it worked you could effectively make the other trees into "pseudo-mulberry" trees by gradually cutting off the non-grafted branches.

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My father in law has a Mulberry tree on his property that's 5 feet through the center. A local arborist estimated the tree to be about 150 years old. When he built his house, they crew that ran the power line decided to run the line directly through the tree and cut the top out of it. He was livid. Amazingly, however, the tree decided to take a second run at life and came back. My father in law has since had the power lines moved to another part of the property to avoid the power company's zero tolerance policy for things that are beautiful.

I have grown trees in places where it seemed impossible. After digging the hole and placing the tree, I filled it with potting soil and watered them every evening for an entire summer and most of another. They finally took root and survived on their own. It's a lot of work and I wouldn't recommend it to someone who wasn't dedicated. I hope you can save your tree or at the least find something to replace it if it needs to go.

Good luck!

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@lparsons42: I'd bet this tree is way to big to be grafting. Thats usually done with saplings or, as you mentioned, fruit trees. A graft of this size would take a team of professionals. I don't think keeping this tree alive by attaching it to another one really fits what she wants to accomplish. It's not a bad idea neccessarily, just maybe not for her.

@Moondrake: Although the universities in surrounding areas may not be located in similar enviroments they may study them. In fact I'd bet you could send your roots to any California, Idaho, agg school or even here in NC. I'm sure they'd be glad to get the chance to study something a bit different.

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@Moondrake NMSU deals with a broad range of environments besides their own in Las Cruces. According to their site, you can submit plant material for diagnostic testing. The fee schedule indicates the cost would be $20 plus a 50% surcharge for out-of-state samples. They have guidelines for submission, but maybe @nmchapma could give you some help figuring out what would be best to send.

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@moondrake: Sorry no one has been helpful for you. Here is the link for Texas A&M Agrilife Extension's "Ask an Expert" website. You can ask a question and get an answer from experts for free. Give it a try.

Add: You can include pics and drawings if needed.

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I've also gathered a few linksfor you. They are from NC State (big forestry dept) but they should have some good info for you. I used to work in this lab and they are some of the best.

Sample submission and other useful info
http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/plantpath/extension/clinic/submit-sample.html

Plant Disease Fact sheets
http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/plantpath/extension/clinic/fact_sheets/index.php

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Thanks everyone for all of your help! I knew I could count on you guys to give me some leads. I will follow on all of this. You guys are great!

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@nmchapma: Good call on the pesticide applicator possibly knowing something. I used to work for TruGreen as a summer job back in the day. I was not one of their hort experts, but I was always impressed with their knowledge of tree diseases and cures when I talked to the Tree & Shrub team (sounds like OP already knows a fair bit though). I also know they definitely hired experts for that position as opposed to just the regular people spraying lawn fertilizer (I was actually just a bug guy, not fertilizer, killing ants and any surface insects with the stuff I sprayed).

Not glamorous, and I would not recommend TruGreen unless there is nothing else around, but it was my first thought when I read this. I would be wary though of going to this first. If they can't diagnose, they might just fake it for the sake of selling you some pesticide and making money.