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A splitting tree trunk can have many causes

Can you tell me why the trunk of our weeping mulberry is splitting? It is 14 years old and has been moved twice. We treated it for fungus last summer. We are in zone 7a [on the U.S. Department of Agriculture map] and haven't had any big swings in temperature this season.

Last winter was a doozy for temperature swings, but we still can't say for sure if that is why your tree has a crack. It could crack from frost, sunscald, insects, herbicide damage or simply a natural growth crack. Search "tree cracks" on the Home and Garden Information Center website for more information.

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My 13-year-old houseplant is very special to me, as it was given to me at my father's funeral. Recently, it was driven uncovered down an expressway in an open trailer, then spent three days in a moving van. The withered branches look like your fingertips when they are waterlogged. ... What leaves are left are brown and hanging. But some branches still have green inside and new buds are near the base. I really want to save this plant. What can I do?

Your photo looks like what is left of a Dracaena marginata, a species that can grow to 10 feet (like yours) and is very tolerant of a range of conditions, meaning it is widely sold. Plants traveling by trailer should be wrapped with plastic (or for deciduous plants, moved in dormancy). Otherwise, wind dehydrates the leaves. Fortunately, dracaenas tolerate pruning well, so that works in your favor. Cut off all the totally withered and dead leaves at the trunk and prune back to healthy buds. Place the plant in bright, but not direct, sunlight. Water enough to keep the potting soil thoroughly moist, yet allow the top inch of soil to dry between waterings. Don't let it stand in water. Fertilize the plant during the active growth period, which generally means spring through fall. After it has recovered, you can prune it periodically to avoid a lanky, bare look.

Plant of the week

Bayberry, northern bayberry

Morella pensylvanica, Myrica pensylvanica

Salt tolerance, ease of growth, fragrant leaves and berries that birds love are only some of the features that make bayberry a great choice for a large shrub. Growing 5 to 10 feet tall and wide, this native can be deciduous or semi-evergreen. It prefers moist organic or sandy soil, but can tolerate just about any soil or moisture condition in sun or part shade. Its famous grayish-white berries persist through winter and can be made into candles and soap. For berries, plant at least one male to pollinate female plants. Plants tend to sucker. Deer are not especially fond of bayberry, and it is a good choice for rain gardens.

—Ginny Williams

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