cassia fistula just won't grow! help

ashratnamMay 10, 2013

Greetings everyone!
I've planted this Cassia fistula in our courtyard in the hope that it would grow and provide a neat canopy after attaining a height of around 10-12 feet. The trouble is the tree just isn't growing. I planted it some 2 years ago, and it's still pretty much just as tall and has lost most of its leaves. The ones that do sprout shrivel up, stay small and die in a matter of days. The stem has remained green, and there's no real attainment of height or girth to speak of.
The courtyard is pretty meagre as far as sun exposure goes, the neighbours have constructed a 3 storey house which means it only gets around 5 hours of sun a day. I thought it was a dearth of sunlight which was leaving the tree so puny, so I even made a sunlight reflector to see that it got an extra 3 hours a day. It just doesn't seem to be responding.
And if anyone's curious about the tree guard, it's to protect it from monkeys.
Please provide some suggestions. I really wanted this tree to thrive and have a lush canopy, it's just not happening.

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Here's a closer view of the stem. Note how small and unhealthy the new leaflets look. This is by and large as big as they get. They shrivel up and then dry out in a few days.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 12:23PM
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Here's a picture of the reflector I had made in action. It adds an extra 2 hours of sun exposure, but really nothing seems to be working. I've tried everything!!!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 12:25PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

listen Archimedes.. get rid of the reflector.. odds are you are cooking it ...

i think part of your problem.. is your need for instant gratification with a tree ... they grow.. the way they grow.. you cant change its inherent need for sunlight.. if it requires such ...

monkeys. ... ???? .. sorry.. thats outside my experience ...

you say you have tried everything ... perhaps you need to find a plant that can thrive.. in the amount of light that is there ...

another issue might be the lack of humidity .. due to the tiled floor and the little exposed soil ... a water issue ...


Here is a link that might be useful: archimedes' reflected sun ray of death

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 8:34AM
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Thanks for taking the time out to reply, Socrates.
I'd rather lean on scientific evidence rather than your vaunted tool of choice ('odds') when addressing this - mirrors neither change the wavelength nor the frequency of light, and unless they're concave or convex, which this one isn't, they don't concentrate the light theyâÂÂre reflecting either, hence don't change the intensity of heat they can generate. So the only way the light from the mirror would 'cook' the tree is if normal sunlight could also cook the tree.
The second part of what's being touted as my problem, the need for 'instant gratification', is to me neither true, nor really a problem. I'm sure you noticed that the tree has been growing two years, which I've read (I do believe your profile advertises how you think 'research is knowledge...knowledge is power') is sufficient time for it to gain some height. My desire to see the tree grow is thereby hardly âÂÂinstantâÂÂ. And furthermore, I personally think that if everyone just followed the line of logic youâÂÂre declaring, namely that you should just allow a plant to grow where it's already growing where it clearly can according to it's nature, there'd be no gardening. Trying to get plants to grow beautifully in challenging circumstances isn't just part of the trial the hobby presents, it's the whole idea.
I appreciate the one sensible thing I could purge from the whole of your reply about the water issue, and have to tell you that the plant's watered regularly and is not being allowed to dry out. The tree is also known for its ability to survive dryness and heat well.
Lastly your link is just a google search on the word Archimedes. Now IâÂÂm sure it must have taken you a lot of application and effort to come up with that, and I know how thrilling discovering what Google's used for and how it's done would have been for you, but the world has moved on since.
There's also many other wonderful things you can do here on the internet (or, if IâÂÂm confusing you with new terms, the 'interweb', they mean one and the same thing btw - which is By The Way) Here's a link which is actually relevant which you might (or on second thought might not) like, about using reflected light.

This is a place where sensible people come to talk sense. If you want to come and just dish out, be ready to get some back.

Here is a link that might be useful: Not just a google search about 'reflected light'

    Bookmark   May 11, 2013 at 11:50PM
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jqpublic(7b/8a Wake County NC)

Did Ken meet his match? Clear across the ocean in India, nonetheless?

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 3:41AM
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Anyone think this could be signs of a sulphur deficiency too? Apparently Indian soils are notorious for their low sulphur levels.

Here is a link that might be useful: An article on the sulphur deficient status of Indian soils

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 3:42AM
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Goody! I love horticultural mysteries! Lets begin solving (hopefully) this one with two questions:

1. Is there a nearby facility that does soil testing? This is the only way to answer your question about soil deficiencies.

2. What is the age of the 'tile' floor? How is it constructed? Tile on poured concrete? Answer to this question may give us a clue.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 11:38AM
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Hi nandina! Thanks for taking interest in the problem, your enthusiasmâÂÂs invigorating.
IâÂÂll try and see about the soil testing lab, but I am not too sure if one will be available or forthcoming. Garden soil testing is almost unheard of here, most of the testing done in government labs here is on agricultural soil, and bureaucracy being bureaucracy, IâÂÂll most likely get some curt explanation about why they wonâÂÂt do it. IâÂÂll check though.
Secondly, the tree has been around for at least a year and a half longer than the tiles. I believe the tree was planted in either 2011 or 2010, and the tiles laid down sometime in 2012. What happened was they dug the soil up around 10 odd inches and then laid down a foundation of large rocks. This was topped off by smaller rocks, and finally stones. Then a concrete mix was made and poured onto the rock foundation, and the tiles were then laid down.
What do you think?
Thanks again.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 1:47PM
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stating the obvious here but i think... the top of the tree may be dead... i would try another if the budget allows....and i'm hoping the 5 hours is direct sunlight...

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 2:56PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

Sounds like the compaction of the soil, followed by basically sealing it off from the air (think gas exchange) are the primary culprits. IMHO, your tree will never grow under those conditions. To me it's surprising it's still alive.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 3:54PM
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the top of the tree is definately not dead. As we speak it's in the process of sending out new shoots, here's pictures of the new ones. Sorry about the focus of picture, couldn't seem to get the camera to focus on the shoot in the front and not on the background. But the tree definately isn't dead.

This post was edited by ashratnam on Tue, May 14, 13 at 5:28

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 5:25AM
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Here's another shoot it's sending out, there's another one just budding out as well.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 5:29AM
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thanks for giving some thought to the problem. However I have to disagree with you, because there's a host of other trees we've planted nearby which are doing really well. Their soil to air contact area is much smaller than the cassia as well. I think this has got something to do with either a nutrient problem, water, or most likely IMHO light. The deal is, if it attains a height of around 10 feet, it'll have all the sunlight it wants. The shadows caused by the neighbouring construction work only impinge upto a height of 10 odd feet.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 5:33AM
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interesting... i wonder if from the plants 'point of view' the 'direct' sunlight is coming from the direction of the mirror...also ...i saw a recent 'this old house' episode where long term reflected light off a window actually warped a section of vinyl siding on a nearby chimney. tough dilemma!

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 10:53AM
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Do I understand that the second picture you posted shows me that the Cassia was planted before patio construction, all the rock work was piled on top of any spreading root growth and a square opening was left in the patio above the original soil line so the tree was not disturbed? If so, as mentioned above, your tree is fighting to to develop root growth in a compressed soil.

Also, you show examples of other plantings in the patio. Were those holes just left as open squares which you filled in with soil as each was planted?

You may in time experience a change in soil pH as new concrete leaches lime for many years which is harmful to plants.

Cassia is a fast grower which should be reaching for the sun. Frankly, I would end the guessing game. Two thoughts: Every time you water use a liquid fertilizer at 1/4 strength. Or, purchase a new Cassia and install with good draining soil so that the top of the root ball is level with the patio surface. Perhaps you can accomplish the same purpose by digging out the original tree. Worth a try.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 3:02PM
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Right then, I'm going to start fertilising the tree heavily, and watering more often. The thing is, it's really trying to grow, there's shoots popping out but they just don't seem to have the staying life force. You're right, circumstances for the tree may be a tough, but it's really trying. Even today a new shoot burst out. All it needs to do is reach a height of 10 feet then it'll have all the sun it wants, all day long. Thanks for your input.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 12:10PM
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Hi everyone!
First off IâÂÂd like to thank you all for taking interest in my problem and as you can clearly see, whatever weâÂÂve been trying (the mirror, watering twice a day, using garden vegetable fertiliser) has been working. The tree has thrown up a whole host of shootlets and seems to be doing better. IâÂÂve been watering twice a day, and been pretty liberal with the fertiliser.

What IâÂÂd like your opinions on is whether it would be a wise decision to prune the branches which are beginning to form at the sides so the main stem can grow faster and stronger? The main stem (which I was looking to keep) is marked with a RED arrow, and IâÂÂve marked some of the accessory branches (which mind you are looking very healthy and have some pretty big leaves) in BLUE.

Is it too early to start pruning yet? And will chopping off that much foliage hamper the plantâÂÂs ability to synthesise food?
Thanks again
This really is a wonderful online community

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 10:24AM
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