Answers to Questions about Tree Maintenance Answers to Questions about Tree Maintenance

Q. I have large pine trees on my property that shed a good amount of needles every year. Last year I left them under the tree and it made a nice ring of mulch. Should I leave them there or pick them up? Will it cause harm to the tree?

Mulch is good. Leave the needles there, and they will not hurt the tree. They are also great mulch for other garden areas if you wanted to collect some. Pine needles are one of the best mulches.

Q. I have a fairly large apple tree in my backyard. We have been in the house for two seasons and both years the apples in the tree have beem completely infested with worms. Is there a simple way to get rid of the bugs in the tree? It is a nice tree and I would like to use some of the apples.

A. Depending on how you feel about using chemicals, there might be a solution. In the spring before buds break on the tree(s), apply a Dormant Oil/Lime Sulfur treatment. It will stop insect eggs deposited on the tree the year before form hatching and therefore at least reduce the number of critters having lunch on your dime.

The product comes from many distributors, so just check with your local garden center or nursery in the winter - they should be able to sell you the right product as well as tell you how to apply it. As with any chemical, read and understand the directions; pay particular attention to label warnings and keep children, pets and bystanders at a safe distance; wear Personal Protective Equipment as suitable for the task - at least long sleeved shirt, long pants, a hat, eye protection and gloves - and work with the weather. Do not apply on a windy day to prevent or lessen drift and observe the ideal temperature range where the product is most effective.

Q. I have three beautiful black olive trees in my front yard. However, when they bear fruit, they are extremely messy. Is it possible to stop the trees from bearing fruit without harming or killing them?

A. Olive trees never bear fruit in the same place twice and usually bear on the previous year's growth. Pruning recommendations are for a single trunk, prune suckers and any branches growing below the point where branching is desired. For the gnarled effect of several trunks, stake out basal suckers and lower branches at a desired angle. Prune flowering branches in early summer to prevent olives from forming.

You can use a plant growth regulator to prevent fruit formation by applying it thoroughly to flowers during bloom. The chemical will cause the flowers to drop so that fruit will not be produced. Application timing is critical for effective fruit suppression. Growth regulators are available at home-and-garden stores. Any fruit that develops can be picked from the tree. Any fruit that falls to ground should be picked up and destroyed or buried at least four inches deep.

Q. What causes the leaves to turn yellow with spots and fall from the tree?

A. Some leaves will turn yellow and drop during drought. Tulip poplar prefers sun and moist, well-drained soil. In some hardiness zones, they may be short-lived. Leaf spots are usually not serious enough to warrant chemical controls. For heavy infestation, the opportunity for chemical controls is lost. Rake up and dispose of infected leaves. In summer, it is not uncommon to see leaves fall. These tend to be yellow, spotted leaves. Powdery mildew, which leaves a white coating on leaves, is usually not harmful.

If there is a sooty mold on leaves and stems, you have a fungus growing on the honeydew left by aphids. Insect control will help prevent sooty mold. Verticillium wilt causes wilting and death of leaves and can kill trees. Anthracnose can cause irregular brown leaf blotches with dark brown borders. The symptoms usually appear late in the season.

Maintain your tree with proper fertilization. During hot, dry weather, the tree tends to develop yellow leaf fall. Small, angular, brown spots on the leaves caused by anthracnose may precede yellowing. A consultation with an arborist may help you to better identify your tulip poplar's problems and provide you with solutions.

Q. I planted some boxwood a couple of months ago and now they look a bit "ragged" and need to be trimmed. I can still see some new growth leaves coming in and I'm wondering what is the best time of year to trim these bushes.

A. For slow-growing plants such as boxwood, I like to prune more frequently to keep the target shape. This keeps the plant on track and avoids large, bare areas from pruning more severely annually.

Q. I'm in the northeast and have several boxwoods as well as yews which are about 7 feet tall. When it snows, the snow weighs on the limbs and hurts the form of the plants. Should I cover them in the winter, if I'm not able to clear snow from them on a regular basis?

A. The best would be to build a wood A-frame structure (ladder style) with plywood on either side. The downfall, though, is that it is costly, they are heavy to place and storing them in summer maybe an issue. Another option would be to wrap them tightly with burlap material. This should do the trick and is cheaper and easier to install.

Q. How do I know what kind of clippers I want to use on 20 feet of bushes? I have the electric clippers for big-time trimming. For smaller jobs, do I want a long handled kind that clips one branch at a time? Or do I want the shorter handled with the longer blades?

A. The anvil style hand prunes to make short work of new shoots. Of course, this is workable only if you can reach the place to prune. If reach is a problem, lopping shears will give the selective cutting with the reach afforded by the longer handles.

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