Gardening in Langley: burying burlap causes plant problems

Anne Marrison can be reached at With questions, include the city or growing zone.

Burying burlap causes problems

Dear Anne,

I planted a redbud and a pink dogwood two years ago, but they don’t seem to be growing at all. I planted the trees in large, deep holes with peat moss and bonemeal. I left the burlap sacks on which may have been a mistake. The redbud had a few flowers last spring and not many leaves. Some limb offshoots were dried out and dead. The dogwood bloomed nicely but the leaves seemed mottled and lifeless all summer. I did water them a fair amount last summer. What can I do to ensure better propagation of both trees.

Ron Tuckey, Burnaby

Leaving the burlap on could account for 90 per cent of the problem. Some people will tell you it doesn’t matter, but burlap doesn’t rot that fast, especially if the soil is well-drained. The long, hot summers we’ve had would deter rotting even more.

It’s very likely that the tree roots were wrapped around in a circle within the burlap and if they grew at all would have been continuing to circle within the burlap instead of reaching out.

I am wondering why you called the holes ‘deep.’ If the trees were deeper in your holes than the soil lines on the trunk, they would have been too deep. Roots need oxygen which is why many tree roots are within a few inches of the surface.

I hate to recommend lifting them again and re-planting them because this will be another shock to trees which already aren’t doing well. But really, Ron, it’s the only way.

Remove the burlap completely and spread out the roots so they lead away from the trunk as you replant.

It’s best to put very little compost in the new planting hole because you want the tree roots to have a good reason to reach out. Once the trees are safely planted, sprinkle some bonemeal and Sea Soil or manure around the drip line.

Before the summer, it would be useful to mulch around the trees with a layer of grass clippings to hold in moisture.

Try to water the trees at least twice a week this summer if nature doesn’t do it for you.

Dear Anne,

I have a pink and a purple calla lily overwintering in the garage and some sprouts are starting to show on them. Both clumps are about five or six inches across. Should I divide them into smaller pieces? I’d like to give them an early start inside the house, but I’m not sure when to bring them in.

Jean Lee, Port Coquitlam

It’s really best to divide your calla lilies in fall before you bring them in. But people in warmer climates where callas grow outside all year round, usually divide them in spring.

Like all bulb and tuberous plants, callas are quite resilient. The important thing is to divide them before they start flowering.

Since your clumps have got quite big, they really need to be divided before flowers start to get fewer. So I’d say go ahead and divide them as soon as possible before the sprouts develop any more.

Smaller pieces are a good idea. But it’s best if each of the new clumps contains a few bulbs.

Right now is a good time to bring your calla lilies inside to give them an early start.

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