My desert willow’s main trunk was chomped by a raccoon. What should I do?
Thanks to Gail Allen, Landscape Manager at Natural Bridge Caverns, who wants some advice on how to deal with the desert willow that she planted two years ago. Raccoons broke off the main trunk last fall and Gail would like to know whether to cut it back, prune it to the ground or pull it out entirely.
It’s always disappointing when a plant is damaged, but if the plant is young, at least we can take heart that we haven’t invested too much time in it yet, and it will be easier to replace.
In this case, your first inclination might be to pull it out and start over—a very valid choice, and one that I could support. You could also choose to just wait and see what emerges in the spring. If no new growth appears once temperatures have reliably warmed into the 70’s, the tree is likely dead and you should obviously remove it.
But if it grows from what’s left of the trunk, you might choose to cut back the dead portions above that, leaving the new growth to become the main trunk. Many people prefer single-trunked trees, but, personally, I happen to prefer multi-trunked growth on a desert willow, so I’d prune it to the ground and let it resprout from the roots. It should do so quite easily, as long as it was healthy prior to being damaged, and had some root mass built up to use as a growing source. A single-trunked tree may be hard to achieve at this point, due to the plant’s instinct to recover by producing shrubby growth. So, if you want a single-trunked tree, it might be better to cut your losses now and replace it.