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Master Gardener: Help with a dying apple tree and how to grow flowers from bulbs in Southern California

This apple tree appears as though it has died at the graft and the living branches are emerging from below the graft. (Courtesy of Bertha Marineo)
Q: I planted an apple tree about three years ago, but it seems to be dying. Here is a picture of it. I will appreciate any advice.
A: From your photograph, it appears as though your apple tree has died at the graft and the living branches are emerging from below the graft. This can happen when a tree is stressed or damaged in some way. It can also happen in the best circumstances as a random occurrence. Your tree may be root bound, which would be a source of stress.
If you have decomposed granite or other poor soil and dig (or, in this case, chisel) a hole only slightly larger than your root ball, you are creating a pot. If you improve the soil inside this pot, the tree’s roots will not grow any further than the edge of the pot because, as soon as they reach decomposed granite, they won’t want to go any further.
My suggestion would be to remove this tree, dig a much bigger hole, and add some organic material (such as compost) to your soil. When you plant your new tree, break up the soil around your planting hole. Mulch with bark or compost, but keep the base of the trunk clear.
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Q: I grew up on the East Coast and have fond memories of my mother’s tulip garden. Not only did she grow tulips, but we also had grape hyacinth and crocus. Are there any bulbs suitable for growing in Southern California?
A: Yes, you can grow bulbs here! They are a delightful way to add color to your garden during the time of year when everything else is dormant. Many varieties originate from regions with a Mediterranean climate, so they are adapted to our hot, dry summers and rainy winters.
Flowering bulbs look best when planted either in small groups or large drifts. In our buffalo grass lawn, we planted groupings of Ipheion (a small, low-growing plant with charming baby blue flowers). By the time our grass comes out of dormancy, they disappear.
Other small bulbs can be planted under trees and dormant shrubs that lack interest at this time of year. Larger bulbs such as daffodil and bearded iris need a bit of room, so they should be planted in open spaces.
Some bulbs provide only one season of color, but many will naturalize in your garden. If your bulbs have naturalized, you will want to dig them up and divide them every few years. Crowded bulbs will produce foliage, but will stop flowering. You can either replant or share the extra bulbs.
You should plant bulbs shortly after purchase so they don’t dry out. If you are particularly enthusiastic about filling your space with bulbs, you may want to invest in a narrow hand digger especially made for planting bulbs. Look for one with markings so you can easily plant your bulbs at the proper depth.
Have gardening questions? Email gardening@scng.com .

Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.
Los Angeles County
mglosangeleshelpline@ucdavis.edu ; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/
Orange County
ucceocmghotline@ucanr.edu ; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/
Riverside County
anrmgriverside@ucanr.edu ; 951-683-6491 ext. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/
San Bernardino County
mgsanbern@ucanr.edu ; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/

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