Tree FAQ:
Frequently Asked Questions about Trees

Questions about trees sent to Bob over the years.

(See Bob's blog for new questions)

Bob's California Redwoods visit

Bob's California Redwoods visit

Q: I have a question about a mature male ginkgo tree. It's over 45' tall, and at least 30' wide.  I need to dig six holes 4 feet deep and 8" wide. They will be ten feet from the trunk circling it. Should I be concerned for the tree health, with this maturity? I don't know much about this tree, so any info would help. Thanks.

A: Bob recently saw this sign in a rain garden: “Plants grow by the inch and die by the foot.” While the sign referred mostly to repeated foot-traffic being deadly to smaller, perennial plants, the same can hold true with trees. It is best to limit foot traffic, and especially vehicular traffic, within the root zone of a tree, which is generally considered the area inside the branch tips and just beyond the branch tips, partly to reduce the risk of soil compaction. Needless to say, tree trunks should also be protected from construction damage. More specifically to your question, any time roots are cut it creates an “open wound” on a tree that will be more susceptible to destructive pathogens in the soil. Avoiding major roots, if possible, would surely help. While it is not generally recommended to use “tree paint” on most cuts or wounds above ground, it is often recommended for use on open root cuts. You will find that product here:

With all that being said, Maidenhair trees (Ginkgo biloba) are a pretty tough bunch, which is probably why they are the oldest tree on Earth, having no serious insect or disease problems and being very tolerant of difficult and varied growing conditions.

Ginkgo biloba at Kubota Garden in Seattle.

Ginkgo biloba at Kubota Garden in Seattle.

Only male Ginkgo trees are planted in most situations since the female produces a messy fruit with a noxious odor that has been compared to rancid cheese. The attractive fan-shaped leaf reminds one of the pattern often seen in fossils, and leaves turn bright yellow before dropping in the fall of the year. This tree should definitely be planted more often in home and urban landscapes where it has room to grow.

Q: I planted this tree two years ago. Noticing it is growing so far to the side I looked up how to stake a weeping spruce. I was unaware I needed to stake the tree when first planted. Is it too late to stake the tree and correct it from growing too far sideways?  How can I correct this?  Also I was unaware I needed to trim the branches low to the ground. Is it safe to trim branches off now, August? Or should I wait until late fall or winter? Is a new leader possible!

A: You can still train “softer” newer growth in an upright direction (yellow line with arrow in the photo), but the older branches that have hardened-off as “old wood” would likely break if you tried to bend them upright. Training a young tender sprout can be done with something like a wooden dowel rod (black line in photo), tying the branch (your new "leader") to that piece of wood sort of like if you were putting a splint on someone’s leg. Green “ stretchy tape” (green circles in photo) works the best for tying tree branches since it will expand as the branches increase in girth. Secure the lower part of the dowel rod along the older main trunk as shown in the photo, and the tender branch along the top, leaving this support in place until that new leader hardens-off and will remain upright on its own.

A branch on this weeping blue spruce can be trained upward to increase the height.

A branch on this weeping blue spruce can be trained upward to increase the height.

A second option would be to drive a small wooden stake into the ground (it could cause some minor root damage so keep it as far away from the main trunk as possible) and tie the branch you are training to the upper part of the stake just as you would a tomato plant in your garden. "Green stretchy tape" is available here:

You can safely remove lower branches any time of year, prune close to the trunk so you don't leave any "stubs." Some gardeners prefer leaving the lower branches on a weeping plant so they can be draped over a wall or boulder.

Q: Hi - Think it's an oak. The markings go straight up the eastern side of this tall tree, which is quite old. Jo from New Jersey

A: Looks like it may be a Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) which is a fast growing variety of Oak commonly planted as a shade tree in a home landscape or along fairways on golf courses. The lower branches on Pin Oaks droop down toward the ground and often need to be removed to allow clearance for people or vehicles passing underneath.

From your photos, the first thing that comes to mind is that a tree service worked on this tree sometime in the past and the climber used what are called “gaffs” or “tree climbing spurs.” These are sharp, metal spikes that strap onto a tree climber’s boots, and are most commonly used by workers climbing utility poles (ever notice the rough gouges in the wood on old telephone poles?)

Wounds in the trunk from a climber's tree gaffs.

Wounds in the trunk from a climber's tree gaffs.

Tree gaffs should NOT be used on trees UNLESS they are being removed since they leave open wounds in the bark, subjecting a tree to potential disease problems. It appears most of your wounds have closed-over which is good, since trees “compartmentalize” wounds over the years by enclosing them under new growth.

Q: A year ago, we moved into a new build home that came with a tree between the sidewalk and the street. Our first tree was diseased and was bare on most of the branches.  This new one is so much better, however, there are a few things about it that I have questions about. See the attached photos and please answer the below questions:

The trunk is covered with a blotchy greenish-white substance.  Is this anything we should be worried about, and if so, what can we do to remedy it?  Also, there is a small chip in the trunk that must have happened during installation. Is there anything I need to do to take care of this?

One of the branches has a significant split at one of the “Y” areas where two branches meet.  I’m assuming this happened on the truck or during the installation.  For now, both branches still have live leaves, but I am worried about it.  Is there anything I can do to heal this split?  Is there a special tape I should use?

I’d really appreciate your advice regarding these issues so I can make sure this tree remains healthy. Thank you! Rich

A: The “blotchy greenish-white substance” on the tree trunk includes moss, algae, lichens (some or all) and are usually not considered to be a problem even though unsightly. Over the years we’ve seen this on various tree trunks that come from field-grown nursery stock as B&B (balled and burlapped) trees. The “small chip” in the trunk does not look to be a major problem but that wound could be cleaned-up to promote faster compartmentalization (closing over with new tissue). To do that, use a sturdy box-cutter and cut the frayed edge of the wound back to sound bark that is attached firmly to the tree trunk. An additional step would be to paint that fresh cut bark edge with orange shellac, but it’s not recommended to “paint the entire wound” with black tree paint.

Greenish white substance on a tree trunk can include moss, algae and lichens which are rarely a problem.

Greenish white substance on a tree trunk can include moss, algae and lichens which are rarely a problem.

That “significant split” at the branch crotch does look pretty severe –guess you are batting 2 for 2 on poor tree quality- but there may be a way to mend the wound if your builder or township (some townships have control of trees in those sorts of “tree lawns”) refuse to replace it. I see that same branch has some “small chips” further up the bark as well, so it’s pretty obvious this tree had some rough handling and the price was discounted as a "park grade" tree or worse. The simplest attempt at repair would come from having someone hold that split area back tightly in position (do not force it together) as you wrap it “Ace bandage style” with some “green stretchy tape” you can buy here:

Unlike rope, the tape stretches to accommodate growth without girdling the branch. A more major repair would come under the “tree surgery” category with someone holding the split area back in its original growing position as a second person drills a hole for a length of “all thread” seen here to be cut to length allowing for the addition of a washer and nut on each end close to the branch. The outer bark where the washer will sit should be trimmed back to the wood beneath the bark. The nuts should then be snugged-up but not overtightened, with any excess all-thread beyond the tightened nuts cut-off. Eventually the tree should compartmentalize this major repair and wound.

Badly split "V-crotch"

Badly split "V-crotch"

But... bottom line: It would make much more sense to get a new tree planted there during the Fall or Spring digging season (November or March in the Northeast & Midwest US). Ideally you would visit the tree nursery and “tag” the tree you want planted there and the company planting the tree would handle it with care this time around. Good luck!

Q: Ants and my 40 year old Oak tree. I just went out to check my trees after a week of bad storms...  There was a chunk of wood 2-1/2' by 6" W. that had been burnt.  No idea which of the 6 Huge oaks it could have come from.  Well, I noticed one of the oaks was covered in ants!  Climbing in and out and under the bark.  This is not just a family of ants hanging out on this tree.  This is Manhattan living in and on my tree!!  The bark is noticeably bumpier.  A 2" x 2" raised area of bark then around that is flat, like normal bark. Here's my question:  Is my Oak dead, dying or being eaten alive?  What can I do, if anything.... Thank you so much for the information! ~alex

A: Two possibilities come to mind immediately:

1) Ants that are working in a symbiotic relationship with aphids. Aphids (aka “plant lice”) typically feed on the new growth and secrete excess “honeydew” (the stuff that often drips onto vehicles parked beneath infested trees) so the ants “farm” the aphids by moving them to the best feeding locations and benefit from the excess honeydew. Your mention of “burnt” wood could refer to the black sooty mold that grows on honeydew and appears on branches of trees infested with aphids (or scale insects). Read more about this ant-aphid relationship here: “Avoid parking under sticky trees.” Bottom line: Eliminating the aphids should make the ants depart since their main food source will be gone.

2) Carpenter ants if they are big black ants that are indeed “climbing in and out under the bark.” Carpenter ants love wet wood and they create mined-out areas in trees and structures for their colonies while weakening the wood in both. I’ve been told by professional exterminators that the best way to eliminate carpenter ants is by using “baits” they take back to the nest –some baits are granular and some are gels. You will find those available here: and

Carpenter ant damage in the trunk of a tree.

Carpenter ant damage in the trunk of a tree.

Borax is also used in various ant control measures. If you decide to use any insecticides, always be sure to read and follow label instructions! You should contact a local professional arborist to assess your tree (especially if infested with carpenter ants) as well as your state’s Cooperative Extension Service for additional assistance in accurately identifying and treating your problem.

Q: I had a Tulip tree planted and noticed that the left side is not as full as the right side. Will the left eventually fill-in and became uniform? A picture is attached.

A: Since many shade trees eventually have their lower limbs removed up to about a 6-foot height so people can easily pass underneath. Left untrimmed, the tree may fill-in some gaps over a few growing seasons but not so much where there are no major branches growing now. These trees do grow to a large size pretty fast. While they are commonly called "Tulip Poplars" they have no relation to the Poplar family.

In the future, you might consider "tagging" the trees at the nursery that are to be planted on your property, so you can insure in advance they meet your expectations.

Q: I am hoping for advice on a Weeping Norway Spruce, about 12-feet tall, that we had planted a month ago.  I think it was planted 'low' rather than 'high,' meaning the base of the trunk is a couple of inches below the soil line.  With several inches of mulch added on, the lower part of the trunk was covered.  I have dug out this material around the trunk, removing most of the mulch, so there is now a bit of a dip or recession or crater around the tree.  Is this okay?  If we don't pile mulch too high around it, can it thrive in this condition, or should we go to the trouble of getting a couple of people (it's heavy) to dig it out and position it several inches higher? Thank you!

A: At this time of year (early summer) it is probably best to "ride it out" unless you see some drastic changes in the plant’s health (yellowing or needle drop). Once new growth has hardened-off in early-Fall (September in the northeastern US) the tree could be moved if deemed necessary. In the meantime, perhaps you can dig a shallow ditch on the lower side of the “crater” to allow any accumulated water to escape (unless the surrounding planting area is level instead of sloped). Avoid overwatering this evergreen, especially if the soil and planting area tend to hold water already.

B&B trees (balled & burlapped trees) can easily get planted too deep if they were dug with mechanical tree spades. That digging process can raise the soil height on a tree trunk when the soil ball is lifted out of the ground, above where the soil level was originally located while growing in the nursery. Finally, mulch should always be held back slightly from tree trunks in all growing situations and locations.

Q: Someone told me Poison Hemlock is extremely dangerous, is it an evergreen tree?

A: Unlike the evergreen Pennsylvania state tree, Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a biennial herb with a hollow, fleshy stem that grows rapidly up to 9-feet tall and flowers in late-Spring. It's invasive and grows wild in wooded areas, roadsides and thrives especially along moist stream banks. Some may recall the story of Socrates drinking a cup of Poison Hemlock to fulfill a death sentence from the Athenian court. This is the same plant, brought from Europe to the US in the 1800's.

Sometimes confused with Queen Anne's Lace

Sometimes confused with Queen Anne's Lace

Contact with the plant should be avoided since all plant parts are poisonous, especially the seeds. Even cut parts of the plant can remain poisonous for years to come, so keep it out of reach of children, pets and livestock. It is best controlled by pulling, mowing or use of an herbicide (always read and follow label instructions) before the flowers go to seed, since one plant can produce 30,000 seeds. While the plant has been confused with everything from carrots to Queen Anne's lace, it has some distinguishing features like the purple blotches on its stems.

Q: This is a photo of a tulip popular I desperately need in my yard. It suffered from the drought last year and I guess we have lost it but the suckers are prolific and growing wildly. Can I get a mature tree from any of this? Thank you

A: While your Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is just a shadow of the tree it used to be, it has survived! In order to get it more “treelike” instead of being “shrublike” you will need to choose the best looking shoot to keep (a straight one close to the center) and cut the others back all the way. Next you need to carefully remove the dead trunk, preferably cutting it at a slight angle so water runs off the cut, just above where your single remaining shoot is located. Your goal is to nurture this one sprout into being your new tree with one central leader. Continue to remove any other sprouts that pop-out later.

Down but not out!

Down but not out!

One application of fertilizer in the spring of each year as new growth begins is plenty for this fast growing tree and much more important is a thorough once-a-week deep watering during dry weather (in average soil conditions) to keep your renewed tree alive and growing well, as it prefers moderately moist soil (not too wet, not too dry - definitely not too dry). Tree watering bags work quite well at providing trees with a slow, thorough and deep watering, and you can find those here:

A mulch circle around the base of the tree will reduce competition from grass, help water penetrate the ground as well as hold moisture, and provide protection from weedwhackers and lawnmower damage, but do not pile mulch up against the trunk, leave an inch separation. If you live in 'deer country' where bucks destroy young tree trunks with their antlers in the fall, consider tree trunk protection, at least during the rut.

More: While “Poplar” is part of its common name it is not actually in the Poplar family, being part of the Magnolia family instead. The other part of its common name comes from its tulip-shaped leaves or flowers, depending on the information source. The tree is free of most insect and disease problems with nectria canker, fusarium canker and yellow-poplar weevil being three of its primary enemies.

Q: Will there be new growth on the stunted side of a blue spruce if the removal of an adjacent tree allows that side more sunlight? Please know that your help is greatly appreciated! Connie

A: If those stunted spruce branches still have some life left in them (you will most likely see some needles and buds at the branch tips) there is still hope for new and improved growth. Sometimes spruce trees will also sprout new growth from adventitious buds on the trunk, but don't count on those producing very much growth.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that in similar situations, where a spruce is lost from a close growing row of spruce trees, the remaining trees almost look better with the dead branches left on them than pruned off, even though that isn’t the best thing for the tree in the long run.

Here's a 1-minute video answer to Connie's question:

Q: Attached is a photo of a locust tree with another tree growing out of it. My concern is that the new tree will eventually kill the locust tree. I am of the opinion that the sucker tree should be removed to save the locust tree. Please advise. Thank you!

A: Thanks for sharing your photos of what we call a "tree anomaly." Looks like a bad situation all the way around. Indeed, the larger tree in your photos looks like a Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) which is basically a "weed tree" and is considered noxious and/or invasive in some US states. It is also what is called a "pioneer tree" since it may be one of the first to grow after a farm field is taken out of cultivation and allowed to become fallow.

Black locust and "friend."

Black locust and "friend."

Black Locust also has some interesting attributes. For one, it is a legume, meaning it can fix nitrogen from the air into the soil. Its wood is hard and resistant to decay making it desirable for fence posts and ground contact timbers. It has an attractive aromatic flower and works well for erosion control. In the case of your tree, it looks like one of the only ones in that residential area which adds to its location value.

Your analysis is correct, it's bad to have another tree growing out of the Black Locust, especially since a "V-shaped" tree crotch is already a weak location on trees. While we don't typically see these locusts split-out like a Bradford Pear, it is nonetheless a weak spot compared to a tree with a stronger central leader. The tree also needs further work by a professional arborist, namely a broken branch stub that should be removed since that sort of branch can provide easier entry for insects and disease pathogens. Insect pests include the locust leaf miner (which typically causes brown leaves in late summer) and the black locust borer, while heart rot is this tree's primary disease problem.

I would suggest removing the tree, grinding out the stump and major roots (root sprouts could appear in that lawn area for several years) and plant a desirable ornamental tree. If this tree has great value due to its size and location, hire a professional arborist to address the tree growing in the V-crotch (at least cut it back as far as possible) and trim out the dead and broken branches on the locust. Cabling is typically done to strengthen V-shaped crotches. That being said, getting a desirable tree growing in that vicinity would likely be money much better spent.

Q: We have a red maple that was planted with the burlap on and was a large tree to start. Now 15 years later it is showing signs of being girdled. Can just cutting the top root showing around the tree save it? The center of tree already trying to die! The people that planted it came and did this. No advice from them as to what other steps to take!! We think it looking worse already. Should we be watering, fertilizing?? Should it be dug deeper and checking really below the surface? Do not want to lose this tree if at all possible. Appreciate any advice you can give.

A: The burlap you mention is likely a synthetic burlap weave (sometimes called "Leno") used by nurserymen since it is resistant to decay unlike the typical cloth burlap material more commonly used. This makes it easier for them to transplant B&B (balled and burlapped) trees that have been held in the nursery for a few years since the rootballs don't fall apart as easily when dug. Tragically, as seen in the accompanying photo that we took of a 15-foot tall evergreen tree that was windthrown years later, this synthetic material is often left fully in place on the rootball of trees when they are planted at their final growing location in landscapes. This synthetic wrap severely restricts normal root growth and can girdle a tree's main trunk. The tree in the photo had grown tall and looked normal at first glance, but it lacked normal root support leading to its eventual demise in a wind storm.

Synthetic burlap left on this root ball at planting time severely restricted root and trunk growth on this tree which was eventually blown over in high winds.

Synthetic burlap left on this root ball at planting time severely restricted root and trunk growth on this tree which was eventually blown over in high winds.

Plastic rope twine or wire left wrapped around tree trunks can be as bad or worse, so it’s important to check (and possibly adjust or remove) tree supports on newly planted trees.

At this late stage you are faced with what are called “girdling roots” – those roots which grow in a circular pattern and eventually act to strangle the tree. To answer your question, yes, the remedy is to surgically cut these girdling roots without damaging the tree, but this can be a difficult challenge since those offending roots are in such close proximity to parts of the tree you want to preserve. This sort of work is best done by a professional arborist (tree surgeon) who has experience in this type of surgery. As you alluded to, they may have to use a jet of water to remove soil from around the base of the trunk to get a clear look at the roots needing to be cut or removed.

Q: I have a neighbor who has a tree that is on the property line. It is completely over grown and has been growing ivy for quite some time. My question is, is there a way to kill the growing ivy at this point without killing the tree? The ivy is constantly dropping leaves and other things year round. As much as I would like for the entire tree to be gone, the ivy on the tree is quite a pain. I have attached a few pics to the email. Thank You.

A: Thanks for the great photos showing the situation. Actually, this is probably more of a legal question than a tree question due to the tree being located “on the property line.” Property line issues have repeatedly shown themselves to be great ‘bones of contention’ between neighbors with some ensuing feuds lasting for decades, so it is always best to coordinate any actions with your neighbor (if possible) so this does not become a costly courtroom question for a judge later on.

Ivy on tree trunk.

Ivy on tree trunk.

Perhaps your first and best alternative would be talking with your neighbor and offering to pay the entire cost of the tree (and vine) removal by a fully-insured professional arborist.

IF this tree were entirely on your property and you had asked the same question, the simple answer would be to cut all the vines close to the ground without damaging the tree trunk, which would cause the remaining vines in the tree to die (then continually cutting back any new growth from those vine ‘stumps’). In most cases with vines in trees, it is best not to try to pull them out of the tree right away since they can still have a firm grip which tends to loosen over time. However, these particular vines have almost become part of the main trunk, so any attempt at later removal could be questionable.

Q: During construction of our new home, the soil in our front yard was resurfaced. The tree was fine until the fall of 2016. It lost the leaves earlier than other trees in the yard. Now, as you can see in the photographs, the tree has green leaves in few of the bottom branches. However, the top canopy does not have new leaves and appears dead. Is this tree salvageable? What if we have the top part of the tree cut and keep the living part intact to rescue the beautiful tree? Regards from North Carolina

A: Unfortunately your tree, which looks like a White Oak – Quercus alba, is showing signs of serious problems, probably related to the soil excavation (cut & fill) work around its root zone when your house was built. Trenching for underground utility lines through a tree's root zone can also cause serious harm when lateral roots are cut, especially through major roots close to the tree trunk. Whatever the case may be, it’s always a real bad sign when tree branch tips in the top (crown) die-off like that. I’ve seen these sorts of symptoms take 5 years to exhibit themselves following construction damage to the root zone of a mature tree. In my opinion, it’s extremely doubtful that any pruning or remedial work can return this tree to a satisfactory condition, so removal and replacement with another tree is my recommended solution.

Q: Have you ever seen holes in a tree this large?  What would do this?

A: Wow.. never saw this sort of tree damage before!  My guess would be chainsaw damage, judging by the size and shape of the wood debris and the way the surface wood and bark have been pulled outward. As far as what should be done with the tree, the safe solution is to remove it, since its structural integrity has been compromised and it also appears to have a hollow cavity.

Who dunnit?

Who dunnit?

FOLLOW-UP: In a later email the writer adds: "It was caused by a large woodpecker! Pileated which is 16-18" tall with a wing span that can be 30"... Confirmed by Audubon information... I was shocked when I found this as well as the results of what caused it."

Q: I have questions regarding my lanky 'Butterball' crabapple (which is supposed to be a low maintenance crabapple planted here in Europe). I live in a new development and a landscape architect had this planted in my back yard along with my other back yard neighbors before we took over the houses. It was planted this past February.

I've enclosed pictures of my tree from first planting in February until yesterday (November photo on right) and pictures from a nursery webpage showing what they SHOULD'VE looked like. My problem is that I am now stuck with this tree and have been told to take care of it and trim it myself.  You may be able to see from my photos that the neighbor behind me did decapitate his tree in an effort to trim it. His neighbor received a nicely shaped tree with branches pointing up.

I do not know if I should call and demand a replacement tree, or if all the strange growing branches, and the big gap between branches and top will eventually fill in. I would appreciate any advice you have as I have no idea how to take care of a tree.  If I had bought the tree myself I would have picked a healthier looking specimen to begin with (and probably not a crabapple anyway).  Thank you for your help!

A: Crabapples are not always the most popular trees due to issues like vigorous root sprouts called "root suckers" and the falling (messy) fruit missed by birds. However, these trees are one of the most commented on when they are in full bloom across the spring hillsides and are well known for their hardiness. Some older varieties have disease problems which newer cultivars (cultivated varieties) have minimized. I see your particular variety has earned the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit (AGM) 'seal of approval' which means the plant "performs reliably in the garden." That being said, the RHS does list potential 'Butterball' pests including aphids, woolly aphid, fruit tree red spider mite and caterpillars, as well as potential diseases including apple scab, apple canker, powdery mildews and honey fungus. Of course every tree on Earth except for Ginkgo (GINKGO biloba - Maidenhair tree - 'The oldest tree on Earth') is subject to some pest and disease problems, so that long list should not necessarily alarm you. Apple scab is likely the worst of them all, and the one most crabapple cultivars are bred to have built-in resistance against.

Young, newly planted trees can look rather spindly in some cases. I'm reminded of ornamental beech trees which often look like 'sticks in the ground' when they are young, deceiving more than one homeowner into planting one far too close to their house. Since your young crabapple was planted 9-months ago, it's only had one growing season to develop. Many trees will appear to 'sit and do nothing' during their first season as they stretch roots into the surrounding soil and become acclimated to their new growing location. It's important to monitor trees for any insect or disease problems and treat accordingly, pay particularly close attention to watering them as recommended in your area (don't neglect them during August vacation) and fertilize them once a year in the spring with a slow release fertilizer. Check guy wires and ropes on temporary supports to ensure they aren't choking the growing tree and remove tree supports after the first year, or once the tree has become firmly rooted.

My long-winded dialogue has brought us the long way around to the question of trimming your crabapple. Prior to 'standing a tree up' in the planting hole (since some are tall enough to be out of easy reach once planted) we used to do any necessary corrective pruning which is removing crossing branches (those rubbing or soon to rub others), fast growing branches growing straight up (water sprouts) and branches growing inward (toward the center of the tree). Since a new tree has very small branches, this sort of pruning is much easier early on than decades later when the branches have increased in size and weight. I've added a yellow dashed-line and text to one of the photos sent to show where I would "top" your new crabapple ('decapitate' as you put it) directly above a strong growing side branch since it will take over as the new 'leader' of your tree.


It's important to note here that "topping" is not a recommended trimming technique on most trees, however, crabapples are somewhat of an exception. Removing the tall lanky section at the very top of your crab will encourage the tree's side branches to fill-in and make the overall tree more "bushy" or full.

You might also elect to keep the lanky top since its height will help provide you with earlier screening of the roofline of the building behind it. In either case, a couple seasons of tree care, as outlined previously here, will help the tree to mature nicely. Chances are the nursery where your other photos were taken uses a vigorous fertilization program to help bring young trees to market quickly, and perhaps the nursery where your tree was grown does not push trees to grow quite as fast (too much nitrogen can exacerbate disease problems by creating lush growth).

While studying the RHS website I noted your Butterball crabapple's growth forecast: Ultimate height: 4-8 metres (13-26 feet), ultimate spread: 4-8 metres (13-26 feet), time to ultimate height: 10-20 years. That tells me that your next issue, about 10-12 years down the road, will be yours and your neighbor's crabs crowding each other on their common side. Some annual trimming and shaping of the tree (trim within 1-month after it finishes blooming) should help prevent any early crowding and make the tree more pleasing to your eye. Keep in mind that the natural growth habit of this tree is with "slightly drooping branches" especially when weighted down with the fruit (yellow-orange crabapples with a red flush) that a couple websites indicate makes a nice light-amber jelly -- if the birds don't get them first!

Q: I live in Southeast Michigan and have a cardinal crab (I think that is the name of it) that has been in the corner of our yard, planted 6 years ago. I have two questions:  1) It is growing unevenly, sending very long branches out on one side facing east, all other sides seem fine. I want to trim them.  Is now a good time, and should I trim back to the trunk or can I just lop off the ends of the branches so they are the same length as the others?  2) It started to lean to one side a couple years ago, so my husband staked it to straighten it. He wants to tighten it up again this year.  Is that ok to do?   My concern is that the bark seems to be splitting length wise in one spot and I wondered if that is a result of the staking?  Thank you for your help!

A: It is alright for the crabapple to be trimmed this time of year, but keep in mind you will be removing any flower buds that have formed. Another approach might be to trim it in the spring right after it is done blooming. Either way is fine though.

When you cut those longer branches back, try to cut them just beyond, or outward of a branch that is growing in “the right direction” --that would be one pointed away from the trunk. You will be redirecting the growth to that branch, so you don’t want it growing inward to become a crossing branch that is out of position.

If the crabapple has already set firm roots and isn’t amenable to easy trunk movement side to side, any major straightening efforts may be too late. Most of that should be done during the first year after planting. That being said, younger pliable branches can be gently trained to grow in a new direction if they are held in position for a growing season or more.

Q: What is the strange 'gooey' stuff that suddenly appeared under my Japanese Maple? Did a dog throw-up there?

A: With common names like Puke Fungus, Dog Vomit Fungus and Scrambled Egg Fungus, you get an idea of what it looks like without having actually seen the stuff. It makes its appearance during wet spring or summer weather on wood mulches, often on mulch that was recently spread.

Rather alarming the first time you see it!

Rather alarming the first time you see it!

In reality, it is actually a harmless slime mold fungus that is technically known as "Fuligo septicai." Just scoop it up with a shovel and dispose of it, no further measures are called for or needed.

Q: It looks like an animal had been digging into our tree. We live near Chicago. Thanks so much, Veronica

A: The photo you sent highlight two problems with your tree: 1) a “V-shaped” crotch is a structural weak spot in a tree since they are known to split during wind storms, or from heavy ice and snow accumulations, and 2) there are signs of decayed heartwood in the interior of the trunk with sawdust that probably indicates carpenter ants (they love soft, wet wood) or termites. The animal damage you mention could have been caused by something feeding on the insects in the decayed wood, possibly woodpeckers. Your photos indicate this tree should be removed but it is always best to have a tree professional in the local area take a firsthand look for a complete evaluation and recommendation, since photos only provide a limited view of the actual situation.

Q: I have a problem with the growth on 2 out of about 100 white spruce I planted on my property. They are growing upward with a nice strong leader and budding nicely on the West side of the tree, but the East side of the tree shows no new buds and the branches are very stunted (only about 8" long on a tree 12 feet tall). The only thing different about these 2 trees from the other hundred is that they are about 15 feet away from a row of laurel willows.  It almost appears that they are in conflict with the willows. Let me know if a picture might help identify the issue. Thanks for all the great info on your site. Shannon

A: Your photos really help and the one displayed here ‘grabbed me’ for another reason besides the issue at hand. It looks like a Bev Doolittle watercolor! She is the artist who uses ‘a camouflage technique’ to blend animals and faces into landscape artwork. When I first looked at this photo it appeared a lady was standing behind the tree (the two light-colored areas halfway up the tree look like shoulders and the green grass areas below that look like crossed forearms. Interesting.

Looks like Bev Doolittle art!

Looks like Bev Doolittle art!

Now for my answer… My first guess would be deer browsing, especially if it extended all the way around the tree. Deer typically chew off branches in that same ‘zone’ which extends from ground level up to shoulder height (even on your ‘Doolittle lady’ ghost image). Deer usually leave rough ends on twigs where they are bitten-off and I also noticed what appear to be some broken branch tips in your close-up photo. The close-up also shows some needle discoloration which could imply something else is happening with your two trees, like if there was any sap weeping out of the tree trunks on those affected sides, suggesting a disease problem. Whatever the case may be, it does not appear to be stunted growth from shade caused by other trees, especially with the healthy robust branches growing above the affected areas.

Sandy Feather offered her opinion as well: “It sure looks like deer damage. But there could be something else going on because the remaining foliage there is very off color. Maybe spruce spider mite damage? Or a needlecast disease? Shannon might want to submit a sample to the plant disease clinic to make sure that deer damage is the only problem.

If you live in a state other than Pennsylvania Shannon, check to see if you state’s land grant university has a plant disease clinic similar to Penn State’s.

Q: This year my green leaf maple tree has more seed pods than leaves. It is about 20 years old and the branches are so loaded with seeds that they are drooping.  I was just wondering what might have caused this. The tree is located in Spring City, Utah.

A: I noticed a similar phenomenon this Spring with a purple (Rohanii) Beech tree that I planted about 20 years ago. Like most other Beech trees it was slow growing at first, then this spring it really ‘took off’ with more new growth than I have ever seen before. But what really struck me were the hundreds of beechnut pods (cupules or spiny bracts) up and down the branches, similar to what you describe with the winged seeds (samaras) on your Maple tree.

My best guess on your Maple (and my Beech) is that since we had the mildest February weather on record, as well as an ‘early’ Spring, those factors favored maximum flowering (yes, Maples do have insignificant flowers) and subsequent heavy seed (winged-seed = samara) production. Spring tree growth can also be favorably influenced by good weather conditions (like ample rainfall) in the previous year. Both trees have also matured.

Q: I planted my son's graduation Pin Oak seedling 5 years ago and it has flourished where I planted it (see photo).  It has done everything it has supposed to do except grow UP! This tree is growing outward instead of upward. My questions are: Why would a tree grow like this and can it be correct?

A: At some point it lost its "central leader.” Ideally a Pin Oak has one leader growing directly upward which will then grow side branches and become a taller tree. To get your tree growing in the right direction, just take an old broom stick or heavy dowel rod (to serve as a “splint”) and attach the lower part to the main trunk and the top part to the branch growing closest to vertical (I marked the photo to indicate which branch that appears to be, aka 'THE CHOSEN ONE'. The ties around the branch and main trunk should be soft strips of cloth like you might use when staking tomato plants, or best yet, that green ‘stretchy’ tape specially made for this purpose and available at many garden centers. The goal is to point the branch vertically so it will eventually take over as the new central leader and grow straight up. Just don’t be too forceful when bending the branch, and make darn sure to check those cloth ties every month to make sure they aren’t constricting the branch or trunk. After one or two years the branch should 'harden off' and remain vertical as it continues to grow. Shorten any competing branches trying to grow vertically so you end up with just one central leader for the best overall tree structure.

Q: We have a small tree that seems to have something else growing out the top of it. The tree is only about six feet tall and it looks like it has a five foot weed out the top of it. This growth just took off in the last month and seems to come off some of the branches. Any idea what it is? Pictures attached. We're new homeowners and are just getting used to spring in the garden of the house we've moved into. We've learned so much from your site already, but this one question has eluded us that I'm hoping you can help with.

A: The two photos really helped define your problem. Your weeping cherry tree was 'grafted' to get the best of both worlds: a) the best trunk and root system, and b) the best flowering and weeping form in the top of the tree. As your photos illustrate, these two 'worlds' have intermingled. Sprouts that have grown from below the graft are undesirable since they grow straight up and can actually overpower the desirable weeping and flowering features of your ornamental tree.

Therefore, you need to prune off any vertically growing sprouts close to the trunk. In future years watch for the possible return of these same sorts of sprouts growing from below the graft and remove them while they are small since that is much easier than removing sprouts which have grown further and matured. You need to make a clean cut without tearing any of the bark on the trunk or leaving a branch stub. I would invite you to visit my 'Bobscaping' channel on YouTube for instructional videos on tree and shrub pruning:

Q: What is this tree? Can you help and give us your opinion? It's driving us crazy!

A: Looks like a Cryptomeria, which is commonly known as Japanese cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica) or Japanese cedar.

It has a moderate rate of growth up to 50 to 80 feet tall, while heights over 100 feet are not uncommon. Some trees in Japan are said to be over 600 years old.

Cultivars include Elegans, Globosa Nana, Lobbii and Yoshino.

Q: I live in the NY section of Long Island, medium Temp. I am interested in planting crepe myrtles, as they seem to do well near sea water, would you recommend? Thank you for any help.

A: Do you see other crepe myrtles thriving in your neighborhood or vicinity? Decades ago I mentioned to the nursery owner I was working for at the time how lovely the yellow-blooming Rhododendrons were in my Rhododendron book from Oregon. He asked (like Yoda would..) "How many do you see growing around here? My answer was "None." His point was well made. Beyond that historical advice, what are the recommendations of professional nurserymen (and women) at plant nurseries in your area? Or your local state land grant university and agricultural extension? In your particular case it would be Cornell.

Many homeowners in my area were 'lulled to sleep' by some mild winters over the past decade, even though our last few winters have been closer to "traditional" winters. That string of mild winters had local gardeners planting things that weren't fully hardy for one of our traditional "Zone 6" winters, so eventually they paid the price. What I would consider a "sure thing" on this topic is comparing the hardiness zone listed for a plant you wish to buy with the USDA hardiness zone map for your area. In most cases, this applies mostly to minimum temperatures for a zone, but can also apply if you try to grow a cold-loving plant in too warm of a climate or zone.

If you wish to try to "cheat" your local climate by growing a plant not fully hardy there, you can take extra precautions like planting the shrub in a protected area close to your house and out of the wind, as well as providing extra winter protection with burlap wind screens, straw mulch, etc. but it usually all comes back to your true hardiness zone in the end. Zones have shifted slightly in recent years but this map should provide you with a good basic guide to compare to the hardiness zones listed on the plant tag:

Q: I have tree which I think is an oak tree about 15 feet high and the bark is turning black.  I live in Raleigh, NC and the leaves seem to be coming out fine, but I am afraid that it has been damaged by woodpeckers. Can woodpeckers actually kill a tree?  Is there anything to be done for this tree? Many thanks.

A: Let’s begin with the first question about the bark turning black. Black bark on tree branches is usually caused by sooty mold, which grows on the honeydew excreted by insects feeding on your tree. Therefore, you should identify which pest is feeding on your tree and follow the appropriate control measures. If it is a scale insect, the least toxic treatment is often an application of horticultural grade oil during the tree’s dormant period (no leaves). This is commonly referred to as a ‘dormant oil’ spray. Check with a local garden center for further recommendations (take photos or twig and leaf samples along) and always read and follow label instructions before using any pesticide.

If woodpeckers are making rows of holes in the bark, they are probably Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. While I don’t recall ever seeing sapsucker woodpeckers actually kill a tree, their damage does create entry ways for pathogens. Since they return to feed on insects which have inhabited those holes, the damage can be ongoing. You can deter their feeding by covering damaged areas with burlap or hardwire cloth, or coat the area with 'Tanglefoot' (a sticky material). Avoid any actions to harm Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers since they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and US federal regulations.

Q: Approximately 22 months ago, we planted two River Birch Trees in our front yard. They are virtually identical trees and we located one in the middle of the yard symmetrically centered by our front door. There is nothing around either tree for well over 30 feet. Each has 3 trunks and have grown well with one exception. They are not generating any foliage on the side facing the house. Both trees are doingthis. Now the obvious answer might be not getting enough sun but the sun comes up on that side of the trees and that side gets uninhibited sun through lunch time each day. No one we have talked with (nursery or otherwise) can make any sense of it. Have you ever seen anything such as this before? If it was just one tree, I might consider it something with the tree structure but they are both doing it. Thank you.

A: River Birch are vigorous growers which can get very large so it is great that you gave them ample space to grow. Without any photos and using only your description, my first thought is these two trees were grown in a nursery where one side was crowded and didn’t develop as many branches. Then they were both planted with that ‘bare’ or ‘thinner’ side turned toward the house so the three best sides were displayed away from the house for better ‘curb appeal.’

My second thought is that some kind of pesticide or chemical damage has occurred on the house side of the trees, and somehow affected that side but not the other three sides. Sometimes mature Maples will have one side of the tree with stunted leaves from a girdling root against the trunk on that particular side, but I don’t ever recall ever seeing that issue on River Birch. In the meantime it wouldn't hurt to carefully excavate around the base of the trunks to make sure plastic nursery twine (or plastic burlap) isn't constricting one of the trunks.

Finally, an eastern exposure with a half day of sun should be adequate for good growth, especially out in the open. If it was a northern exposure (with the least amount of sun) you might be more likely to suspect shade as being more of the issue.

Q: Is it harmful for trees with exposed root systems to have cars, trucks, and other machinery drive and park on top of them?

A: Vehicular traffic does cause damage to a tree's root zone by causing some physical damage to surface roots and compaction of the soil. Vehicles can also have gasoline or oil leaks which cause further damage. On the issue of soil compaction, I attended a seminar a couple years ago where a tree company professional was touting the benefits of shooting high-pressure compressed air into a tree's root zone to loosen the soil and counter soil compaction by aerating the root zone. He said the results were remarkable.

Q2: If this kind of activity does damage trees, can trees recover from this kind of damage if they are protected from it in the future?

A2: It is never too late to correct an existing situation to help your trees if they are not too far gone. Work on improving their vigor by watering them during a drought, fertilizing them annually and controlling insect infestations which can weaken them.

Q: Hello. I found you while searching the net about deer damage. I have some young (3 years this spring) Butternut trees that were damaged during the winter. The deer have chewed off the dormant "buds" at the end of the young branches. Will the trees survive this type of damage? Should I trim the damaged area at all? I had wire cages around these trees but they were not staked and the deer just knocked the cages off. Buggers! If the trees survive I will stake the cages. Thanks.

A: If the buds at the end of the young branches were the only ones on the branch, you could have a problem. However, if there are additional buds along the side of the branch that are still remaining, the tree will send its new growth out through them. You should prune the branch just slightly beyond the remaining side bud at the end of the branch so when growth resumes there is not a stub left at the end of the branch. Also, if you have a choice between the side buds left remaining, choose one that is “pointed in the right direction” which is outward, away from the center of the tree.

Q: I have no idea what kind nor what this is growing out of this tree in my backyard. I have a 3 year old and I want to make sure this is not harmful. Can you please help me with this. Thank you.

A: That growth is bizarre!  I’m not sure what it is exactly but since it resembles an upside down mushroom I would guess it’s some sort of fungus. Often times when things like that grow out of trees (Search: “fungal conks on trees”) it means the heartwood of the tree is decaying and weakened, increasing the risk of wind throw. The large open wound on the side of the tree where the growth originates would further validate that theory.

I would suggest contacting your local agricultural extension service (most US states have one through their land grant university) for assistance or consulting a local tree professional.

Q: Why does snow melt faster under ponderosa pines than the non-shaded areas?

A: I would guess there is less snow accumulation under them to begin with and the soil may be warmer due to a natural mulch of pine needles.

Q: I have a white pine tree that is at least 40 ft tall, several days ago a car hit the tree. It knocked off a 5 ft by 14" section of the bark, now the tree is leaking sap. Will this tree survive? What can i do to help save it? Please let me know.

A: This sort of bark wound basically needs to be cleaned-up by removing all the loose and damaged bark by trimming back the loose bark to where the bark is still firmly attached to the tree, by using a sharp knife or similar tool. That clean-cut edge should begin to grow callus tissue during the next growing season, and hopefully after a number of years, the tree will be able to compartmentalize that large wound by growing new bark over top of it. If you are concerned about the structural integrity of the tree from the impact you should consult a professional arborist, perhaps one who is a member of the International Society of Arboriculture. Photo shows what a large trunk wound looks like after callus growth has begun as the tree attempts to compartmentalize the large wound.

Q: We noticed that one of the trees in our yard is thinning out at the top and especially on one side, what do you think might be causing this? We think it might be an Ash tree.

A: Ash trees continue to be decimated as the deadly march of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) continues from county to county and state to state. Several telltale signs of an infestation include: epicormic sprouts (sprouts growing from the main trunk where you would not normally see leafy sprouts), a thinning crown at the top of the tree, D-shaped exit holes in the main trunk with areas of bark missing due to woodpecker activity. Firewood from trees that are removed should not be transported out of your immediate area since the EAB can move with the firewood. Video of EAB:

Q: I live in a large garden with five Mesquite trees that are 200-300 years old.  This garden is in central Mexico.  One of the trees has exposed cambium because the previous owners had allowed a very aggressive vine to grow up the tree and then when they removed it the bark came loose.  The bark is still attached to the tree but the cambium is quite exposed.  I read your website and would feel comfortable trimming the bark around the exposed area but I don't know what orange shellac is (for painting the freshly cut edge) --- does that mean orange in color or is that specific shellac named that?

A: Wow, looks like an automobile plowed into your tree! The cambium layer has probably lifted off the tree along with the loose bark, so the exposed area is probably a deeper layer (see diagram). Orange shellac was used in the past to paint the exposed tissue of a freshly cut cambium edge, but it is an extra step which we rarely used. Your main goal should be removing the loose bark and getting it cut back to a clean edge where it is tightly attached to the tree trunk. Then the tree will begin to develop callus growth (see photo below) from the edges in an attempt to compartmentalize (close over) the wound. As large as the wound is that could take a very long time. Years ago arborists were instructed to make the final excised shape of their bark surgery in the shape of a canoe similar to this: ()  but later research indicated that a rounded shape like this: Owas also acceptable. With bark this thick you will have to contact a skilled arborist or try using some heavy-grade tools, perhaps a sharp wood chisel that can be struck with a hammer to cut through the heavy bark.

Try not to cut into the wood beneath the bark, and wear gloves and safety glasses while working. It is not recommended to paint large exposed trunk areas with 'tree paint.' This video shows a similar loose bark removal process on a much smaller scale: Anyone attempting to remove vines from a tree (like 'wild grape' vines which are a common problem) should cut the vines close to the ground and allow several months up to one year before attempting to remove them from a tree. This usually allows time for them to 'release their grip' some.

Q: I have a Live Oak seedling that had its top broken off when it was about a foot tall. It is now at about 30". I have trimmed it to keep a dominant single trunk but lately all the side branches are growing vertically, parallel with the trunk. Do you think it will ever return to a normal form with side branches growing outward, or should I give up on this tree? It is otherwise healthy and growing well.

A: First you should choose the best vertical shoot and leave it alone as your new central leader. The other vertical growing side branches should be shortened by about 50-percent, trimming them back to just above where a bud (or branch) is pointed toward the outside of the tree, in other words, away from the trunk. This should redirect growth of that vertical shoot in the direction the bud or branch is pointed and allow your newly selected leader to reassert its apical dominance.

Q: What caused the orange stains around the base of large trees in our yard last winter following a heavy snowfall?

A: You didn't mention what kind of trees or what sort of condition they are in, so it makes guessing more difficult. However, in the plant kingdom the color orange is most often related to "rust" diseases. The most commonly witnessed rust disease is from home lawns in summer when orange spores of a rust fungus show up on someone's shoes, as seen in the photo. Your trees may be infested with one of the numerous rust diseases and the wet snowfall washed some of the orange coloration off the tree trunks. Photo: Rust diseases are common on most plants including grasses.

Q: Should I buy extended warranty (covers for 1 year) for Italian cypresses i intend to purchase Thanks!

A: Most nurseries in our area used to provide a 1-year warranty on trees and shrubs, except for ones which were extremely difficult to grow and establish (azaleas, rhododendrons). It is nice to have that sort of insurance since the first year is the most critical in getting a tree established, but I wouldn't think of Italian cypress as being a tree that is particularly hard to grow or establish.

Q: Just reading articles about root girdling etc and came across your site wondering if you can help. My wife picked out a crab tree for her mother 4 years ago to be planted in her yard. She passed away a week later so my wife had it planted at our home for sentimental reasons. In that time the tree has not properly rooted. The trunk can be moved and you can see the ground move with it about the area of the original root ball. I've staked the tree but there has to be something fundamentally wrong with how it was planted by the nursery. I don't know if it was pot grown but I suspect girdling. If it is can anything be done at this late stage? The leaves are not very full so some of the classic signs are showing. Please help if possible. Thanks in advance.

A: Most crabapples grow vigorously and root firmly, so I’m wondering if the spot where the tree was planted is excessively wet or subject to other limiting growth factors like heavy shade. Girdling roots typically become a problem in much later years of growth.

Q: 9 yrs ago I bought a TriColored Beechwood from a Landscaping Company here in Pennsylvania and it's been Beautiful until this year! I recently moved ( last Sept) and put my tree in a lg Plastic Tub that I cut out because if the size of the roots. However despite having buds on it the leaves do not develop. I have tried using" Miracle Grow fertilizer for plants in pots or containers"  however it doesn't help. Can you tell me WHAT to do to Save My Tree? Any help would be appreciated! Thank You.

A: It sounds as though your tri-color Beech was not dormant when you dug it up and planted it in the plastic tub. It is very risky to transplant most trees when they are fully leafed-out in late spring through early-fall. Also, since the tree had been growing in one place for 9 years, it is likely that it lost too many roots during the transplanting procedure. Nurserymen usually figure that for every 1-inch of trunk diameter (measured 6-inches above the ground) a tree requires 10 to 12 inches of rootball diameter, meaning a 2-inch diameter tree requires a 20 to 24 inch diameter root ball. Photo: Tricolor Beech

Q: I would like your opinion on where I can get some type of estimate on the value of the trees I have had vandalized. The person was caught in the act and I plan on suing him. He damaged over 30 trees and cut 7 down. How can I place a value on these trees I did not want destroyed ?  Most were Oak, wild cherry, dogwood, some pines. I would appreciate any assistance you can give me.

A: I would recommend contacting a tree professional who is a member of the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) to provide you with a tree appraisal. Here is the website:

Q: how would i value a sycamore tree. i can do the measuring and math; but, how do i convert that to a value. is there a chart on your site.. thanks

A: The ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) keeps updated figures and details on tree valuation. The four factors are: species value, trunk size, physical condition and location.

Q: What is the correct way to address limbs of a straight and narrow pine tree that are near, but not touching a building? Is it better to trim the length of them or cut the branches off totally? My condo association historically trimmed the length which worked well. This year, although the limbs still were several inches from the building, they chose to cut all the branches that faced the building off at the trunk of the tree.

They cut around 60 branches off at the trunk and literally only 1/2 the tree now has branches extending until the tree is over the roof and then it has branches all-around again. I am concerned because it looks hideous but also because now the tree looks like it may be dying. I bought this tree myself and am very disappointed it was hacked away at ridiculously. Will it likely die? What can I do tohelp it? Thank you for any feedback.

A: Condo associations have their rules, many of which you can do nothing about. It’s not uncommon for trees, and even shrubs, to be planted too close to buildings. In many cases, foundation plantings need to be removed and replanted after about 20 years. To answer your questions, trimming the length of the branches was more time consuming and eventually might not have been enough to keep the tree off the building with ice and snow loads. Cutting the branches completely off the back side of the tree was the simpler solution. Having the tree branches still extending over the roof is still not an ideal outcome since evergreens tend to shed needles which can clog rain gutters and downspouts. Overall it sounds like it may be time to consider a replacement tree that will better fit the space, or moving into your own house where you can make all the decisions.

Q: We want to put edgers around a very large, very old tree in our yard but in a couple of places the tree roots are above ground making it impossible to lay the edgers flat.  How can we level off the roots?  Not remove them, just make them ground level in two places. They are about 2 -3 inches above the grown and we just want to remove the small section that keeps the edgers from lying flat so we can have a level circle around the tree.

Shallow roots on a windblown Spruce treeA: One of the first things to know about surface-rooted trees is, that is their nature, and no matter what you do now, the elevated surface roots grow larger and the problem returns. This tendency would knock your edgers crooked, even if they were level at first. Also, messing around with tree roots can be a risky proposition since so many destructive fungi are naturally occurring in the soil, and just like having an open wound on your arm, that root opening creates opportunity for pathogens to enter. Roots also provide support to a tree in strong windstorms, and as we see in the photo on the right, trees are not always rooted that deep, with most of their roots occupying the top 18-inches of the soil profile. In summary, the best overall bet around a Maple (or other surface rooted tree) is a layer of mulch. Always hold mulch back an inch or two from direct contact with the tree trunk.

Q: What are the brown bumps on BlackBerry tree branches?

A: Sure looks like a heavy infestation of scale insects from your photo! The Mommas are like little turtle shells with eggs that hatch into ‘crawlers’ underneath them. Control of scale insects, like most other plant pests, is most effective when the proper timing is used for spray applications. The least toxic sort of spray environmentally has always been considered to be a high grade ‘dormant oil’ like Volck Oil Spray (discontinued), but there are other oil sprays on the market now. You must be SURE to follow all label instructions and time your application for the dormant season when leaves have fallen from the tree and weather conditions are right, or else severe damage and possible tree death can occur, especially on thin-barked trees like Beech.

Other (more toxic) pesticide applications are generally timed for the vulnerable ‘crawler stage’ when the little babies are out crawling around the branches, generally around mid-summer in the northeastern US. If you look closely, or use a magnifying glass, you should be able to see them at the right time of year. Read and follow all label instructions prior to use, especially around edibles.

Most people discover a scale problem when a tree’s branches turn black and look burned, plus they may see a lot of bee activity. Bees like the sweet stuff, and sprays also need to be timed for their survival, generally early or late in the day. The black stuff is 'sooty mold' which grows on the sweet secretions (called 'honeydew') from the scale insects feeding on the tree. Plants with scale infestations are quarantined at commercial nurseries and not available for sale.

One of the most common trees to have serious problems with scale infestations is one of my favorites: Magnolia. The best defense is close-up visual inspection of your trees several times a year. For insect scouting, I generally check younger branches, branch tips and the undersides of leaves. A 10x hand lens aids in scouting for smaller insect pests. Most pest problems are easiest to control if caught early and treated at the proper time of year. It is also important to identify the type of plant and exact insect when using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques. In some cases, repeat applications may be necessary to control severe infestations of scale, since I've seen it kill Magnolias that weren't properly treated.

Q: I have a 15 year old arborvitae that was pushed over a month ago by a heavy spring snow.  (I live in Colorado at 5,000 ft. on the front range.)  The roots are not exposed and the tree shows new growth.  I have had three arborists with different opinions regarding saving or removing the tree.


1. Cable to the house (not acceptable to the husband).

2. Stake to 3 metal stakes near the house (about 12 ft from the tree).

3. Cable to adjacent aspen tree 6 inches in diameter and russian olive with similar size trunk.

4. Remove and plant something else.

This is one of 4 along the property line and I'd like to try to save the tree if there is any hope. What is your opinion?

Arborvitaes bent over by heavy snowA: Upright arborvitaes often become easy victims to heavy snow and ice storms, partly because they are evergreen and often have multiple stems that aren’t always that rigid. It is difficult to offer an opinion on repairs without photos or actually seeing your tree, but I can offer advice on what we have done in years past to help prevent this sort of damage:

> Shear the tree once a year to help thicken branches, control height, and remove spindly growth.

> Wrap the tree every fall, in a spiral pattern from bottom to top, with twine or light rope to help hold the branches together over winter, reducing the chances of it getting ‘splayed open’ like the ones in my photo on the right.

> Keep a watchful eye out for destructive pests like bagworms, and protect the tree from deer browsing (if that is an issue) by wrapping it with lightweight deer netting every fall.

> In extreme situations we have ‘topped’ arborvitaes to reduce their height, making a slanted-cut on the main stems to encourage water run-off.

P.S. It would be a good idea to ‘right’ the tree soon, before it roots in a crooked position.

Here are two videos of repairs to arborvitaes from snow damage in Pennsylvania:

Q: Our neighbour’s mature black walnut hasn't leafed out this spring on about 33% of the crown (it is probably 100 plus years old, 80 plus ft. tall).  A few of the bare branches have a smattering of leaves starting to push out now (mid-June) while the branches that have leafed are generally fully leafed out though later than usual like everything else with late, cool spring. Apart from the usual twig drop and occasional limb lost, it’s never shown any distress or dieback before.  A very healthy looking specimen.  All other walnuts (this grandmother's offspring, no doubt) in neighbourhood are just fine.  We had an especially long and severe winter in these parts (Ontario, Canada) with a bad icestorm in early winter though would think if that was factor we'd see effects on other trees around.  I know and expect this old beauty will eventually go into decline but this is so dramatic and severe.  And that likely not much we can do other than prune as needed. Any thoughts?

A: Here in the States, the brutally cold 2013-14 winter weather has been referred to as the ‘Polar Vortex.’ Seems there was more than one! The bitter cold severely damaged the marginally hardy trees homeowners began planting after so many mild winters. Chances are the extreme cold and ice severely damaged the Black Walnut’s branches, which may later allow the tree to be infected by fusarium canker. Beyond that, trees can also be weakened by dry summer and fall weather leading up to winter, and suffer other fates such as lightning strikes. You almost have to keep a weather Journal for complete diagnosis. Our tree pathology professor at Penn State (Les Nichols) spent as much time showing our class tree problems from natural causes as he did focusing on insects and disease. Whatever the case with your neighbor’s tree may be, dieback in the crown of a tree is always a serious sign, as in Ash trees affected by the widespread and devastating emerald ash borer. Dr. Nichols old rule of thumb was that if there is a problem in the crown of a tree, look at the root system first. But in your case, severe winter cold and ice is probably the culprit. Late spring frosts don’t help any either!

Q: Saw your site and just had to ask...I have an 8 ft sugar maple that grew too close to my garage.  I have cut the trunk diagonally and placed the tree in water while I ask you this:  Is it possible for the tree to redevelop a root system?  I would like to put this tree in my front yard (it was on the back of the garage facing away from the property) or would you suggest going with an entirely new tree?  Thanks.

A: I'm very doubtful that this size tree, at this time of year, will ever develop new roots. Perhaps you can find a small seedling from this tree or a similar one that would be easier to transplant by moving a large portion of its root system along with it. The best time to transplant trees is when they are dormant in the fall or spring. That being said, seedlings growing in the wild do not receive the root-pruning they get in nurseries, and often have more far reaching roots that are hard to get enough of when transplanting.

Q: Please can you help me with my two washington hawthorn trees, I grew them from twigs and trimmed them to single trunks till they grew to about 5 ft then long straight branches shot out about 15 ft and are so thin and spindly they are bending over and nearly touching the ground. I believe they could be water spouts but if I cut them off the tree would be back to 5 ft and bald. I would really appreciate your help please.

A: Sounds like you pruned the trees properly, training them to a single leader. If the side branches you mention are indeed 'water sprouts' they would probably tend to grow vertically, straight up, and should be removed. If they are normal side branches, perhaps over-fertilization has caused them to put on excessive growth, in which case you should shorten them by one-third to one-half, trimming them back to a side branch growing in an outward direction from the trunk.

Q: Can you tell me what kind of tree this is in our front yard in Kentucky. I have no clue what it is, but thousands of small white blossoms.....and messy.

A: In a second close-up photo of the tree's branches that was sent after this first one, it was easy to see the "tobies" hanging down like large dried string beans, hence my answer: It's a "toby tree" or Catalpa.

Q: Should I trim the larger vertical limbs from my weeping cherry or will they eventually weep again? The verticals flowers are never the same color as the weeping branches. The mass on the verticals have always been thick even when the tree was planted. Should I wait until after the blooms have dropped this spring to prune the vert? How far down (close to the graft) should I trim if they’ll never weep? I’m in northern Indiana. Thanks for any help. Sorry for all the questions but this tree has gotten out of control.

A: There are several types of weeping cherries but the most common ones have an ‘umbrella shape’ and are grafted at the top of the trunk, just below where the desirable branches begin to weep. Any branches that grow from below the graft will look different, grow straight up and should be removed. Prune these vertical branches off at whatever time of year you can (spring is the best), cutting them close to where they originate from the trunk, trying not to leave a stub. If they have gotten larger than ordinary pruning loppers can handle, you will probably have to use a small folding handsaw to remove them. Monitor tree growth in future years for the formation of more vertical sprouts needing removed, and try to remove when they are small and easier to cut.

Q: I have a tree that has been diagnosed with girdle root. It is 50 years old. Can it be saved?

A: If I were to guess I would say it is a Maple tree, since they tend to form girdling roots. You can think of a girdling root as similar to a tourniquet on part of your leg or arm, since it constricts the flow of nutrients, usually along one side of the trunk. This condition is usually revealed by smaller leaves on that side of the tree, along with a trunk that goes straight into the ground instead of having a normal buttress flare around the base of the tree. I would suggest you hire a certified arborist to consult on the situation and then follow those firsthand recommendations.

Q: The needles on my evergreen tree are still brown and it is almost May, do you think winter cold killed it?

A: The length and depth of cold during winter of 2013-14 whacked some otherwise healthy plants, but you may want to wait another month to see if any new growth has begun to sprout along the branches, just to be sure. The mild winters we had in many places over past decade encouraged some people to plant trees and shrubs that were only marginally hardy in their temperate zone. It is always wise to plant according to your area's hardiness zone.

Q: My maple tree developed red stuff all over the branch tips in early April, what is that?

A: Believe it not, your Maple is actually blooming! Sure enough, maples of the 'Red Maple Family Tree' bloom in early spring with what would be considered by most arborists and horticulturalists as "insignificant" blossoms since they aren't that noticeable. Later in the season the samaras (winged helicopter seeds) will wrap up the maple's reproductive cycle.

Q: Is it safe to plant a tree now, in early April, that is already leafed-out?

A: Unfortunately, some mail order trees arrive on your doorstep with young, tender foliage, earlier than is advisable for planting them. They may have shipped from warmer regions or leafed-out during shipment. Whether it is safe to plant them in early April depends on your particular climate zone. If you live in the northeastern United States, where the last annual frost is usually late-May, you should keep the tree in a protected area until warmer weather arrives. Placing it under a high deck or even under a limbed-up evergreen tree can provide protection from frost. However, freezing temperatures are a different issue, where protecting a plant during a particularly cold night may require temporarily moving the tree into your garage, then back outside once temperatures have moderated.

Q: Is March a good time to plant trees in New York? I would like to plant some shade trees in front of my house but winter weather is persisting.

A: Nurserymen in the northeastern United States are busy this time of year digging deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves in fall) as well as evergreen trees. The period while trees are still dormant (between the winter melt and trees leafing out) is excellent for digging field-grown shade trees, so your selection at nurseries in March and April for B&B (balled and burlapped) trees should be excellent! Some nurseries will also allow you to 'tag' a tree in the field for digging in the near future.

Most nurseries also carry a full line of potted trees which are easier to plant all season long. Be sure to slice the roots on potted trees down one or two sides of the root ball to break the circling pattern of pot-restricted root growth which can eventually 'girdle' (choke) a tree as it matures.

Q: We have a row of eight 6’–7’ tall Emerald Green Arborvitae trees in our front yard.  The trees currently receive full sun, mostly from an eastern exposure.  My husband wants to install a 6’ tall privacy lattice (lattice with a ¾” opening) directly in front of the trees (on the east side of the trees).  Would the privacy lattice cause the back of the trees to turn brown, like a solid fence would?

Alternatively, would “regular” wide-spaced lattice (lattice with a 2” opening) cause the back of the trees to turn brown? Also, if the back of the trees turn brown, would this affect the overall health of the trees and/or shorten their life?

A: If they are receiving most of their sun from the eastern side and you add a fence that blocks any amount of that sunlight from that direction, chances are there will be some thinning of the foliage, if not some eventual browning of foliage. Actual results would have to do with how close the fence is to the trees (the trees will probably widen and eventually grow into the fence) and how widely spaced the lattice openings are situated.  As far as one side being brown affecting their health or shortening their lives, I don’t see that as being much of a factor.

Q: If wet, heavy snow begins to build-up on my Pine tree is it OK to knock it off?

A: Careful removal of heavy snow from tree branches can help prevent tree breakage, but it needs to be done in a gentle fashion since branches are more rigid and brittle due to cold temperatures. You can use a broom on smaller trees, and a long pole on taller ones. It helps to begin early instead of waiting until a heavy snowfall is over.

Q: Our live Christmas tree we planted 12 yrs ago is 18 ft tall now and has been damaged by sapsucker woodpeckers. There is 2 feet of vertical damage in the middle of the trunk and needles are beginning to drop in that area. I now have green at the top and at the bottom of the tree.  Is there any hope for saving this tree?  It is a Frasier fir and is healthy and beautiful. Thanks for your help in saving a beautiful tree.

A: Sapsuckers create easily distinguishable rows of holes in a tree trunk as opposed to more randomly spaced holes created by borers. If bark damage from these woodpeckers is extensive enough it will kill a tree, so quick action on your valued tree is warranted. Sapsuckers prefer sap but will also return to the previously made holes to eat insects. While they feed on over 200 species of plants, their favorites are Birch, Hemlock, Maple and Scotch Pine in the northern US. To discourage these woodpeckers, you can wrap something around the tree trunk to create a physical barrier. A heavy cloth like burlap, or even heavier-duty (wire) hardware cloth, will work but be sure to check anything wrapped around a tree trunk periodically to ensure that it is not girdling (choking) the tree as the trunk expands. Other control methods include applying sticky bird tanglefoot to the bark, various noisemakers or visual deterrents like aluminum pie pans or reflective strips, and fake owls if you move them often enough. Fake rubber snakes are effective at repelling other bird activity, not so sure about sapsuckers though.

Q: My husband and I are concerned about our Black Locust tree. It`s only 4 yrs old, very healthy, pretty in April, but this year we had plenty of rain in the spring, but no rain in August in Illinois. We had 1 root last year but this year 3 more large roots are on top pushed its way thru our black plastic & mulch. I wanted to just cut some of the roots, but my husband said the tree will fall. So after reading Sandy`s tips it says not to. It`s so beautiful even now with its tiny leaves & lots of shade, but will we get more roots crossing over our whole backyard?  If so, then should we cut it down? Thank you for your time - Barb

A: If your tree is the common Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) instead of something like a Honey Locust, it is not considered a great species of tree like an Oak or ornamental tree would be. The ordinary Black Locust often appears when farm fields are idled, getting the name ‘pioneer trees’ since they pop up first and can even become invasive. Interestingly, they are in the legume family and can fix nitrogen from the air into the soil. They often get a leafminer in late summer that will make the leaves look brown. This common species only has a 40% species value where something like an Oak would have a 80% to 100% species value. Long story short, you may be ahead to remove the tree and plant a more desirable ornamental tree. Certain species of trees, even more valuable species, are just naturally prone to surface rooting. Maples are known for this. In the long run, you usually have to live with the surface roots to some extent. Also, I do not recommend using plastic under mulch around a tree, so if you must use something, landscape fabric would be better.

Q: How can I order one of the metal tree trunk protectors shown here?  Thanks, Dave

A: If you Search the phrase “wrought iron tree protector” you will locate several websites offering various types and styles of tree trunk protectors. You might also check with some local businesses in your area who construct wrought iron railings to see if they can custom fabricate something to fit your needs.

Q: What kind of stand should I get for a really full 9-foot Christmas tree? The one I have keeps coming off the ground.

A: If you Search “Commercial Grade Christmas Tree Stand” you will find some mail order suppliers who offer heavier duty tree stands that will easily accommodate your full 9-footer somewhere in the $100 price range. If you buy a new tree stand, it would be a good idea to cut a fresh sliver off the bottom of the trunk for improved water uptake and longer freshness, and turn off any heat vents close to the tree if possible.

Q: I just had to remove two large branches and now the trunk of the tree has what looks like two gaping white wounds where the branches were. I know these areas will darken over time, but that will probably take a year or two, and in the meantime it’s a real eyesore and looks very unnatural. I was wondering if you are aware of any tips, tricks or products that are capable of darkening the wood naturally, which would allow these areas to blend in with the trunk of the tree, without hurting the tree, because it is very much alive and I would like to keep it that way.

A: While it is not necessary to use tree wound paint on properly trimmed trees, it is alright to use one of these specially designed tree dressings (usually black in color) on these types of areas to help cosmetically. Check your local garden supply dealers or search the internet with the phrase “tree wound dressing” for mail order supplies.

Q: I have a blue spruce I planted about ten years ago, if I top it now will it fill in better or is it too late?

V-shaped leaders on a blue spruceA: ‘Topping’ any tree's top 'leader' over 4-inches in diameter carries risks, mostly by creating a large open wound on the tree which is subject to plant pathogens and possible decay, since it will take several years for the tree to compartmentalize that wound. You also run the risk of causing your Spruce to lose its best, strongest structure with a single central leader. The Spruce in the photo lost its top at some point in time and then developed two leaders which is undesirable since a ‘V-crotch’ is a structural weakness in trees. Therefore, it is best to 'tip back' growing tips early on, and if you must 'top' a Spruce at some point, make a slanted cut right above a side branch (for water runoff) and try not to create a large wound. Also encourage the regrowth of a single leader by using a dowel rod and soft ties to point the best side branch skyward, while lightly trimming back any others that try to be a second or third 'leader.'

Q: I trim my black walnuts when they are dormant. But how I can I tell when my black walnuts are dormant?  Does dormancy happen when the leaves fall off or is there some other indicator? Thanks!

Black walnuts on the ground in the fallA: Trees like Black Walnuts go into dormancy in the winter months following fall leaf drop. Some refer to this as when the ‘sap is down.’ That dormancy is most pronounced during the coldest winter months (January-February in the NE United States). Some trees are called ‘bleeders’ since they drip sap when pruned at certain times of the year. Maple trees are the most common example of a ‘bleeder’ tree. Even though university research has not shown bleeding (sap dripping from pruning wounds) to damage a tree (think of the ones that are tapped for Maple syrup) it is usually desirable to prune them when they are least likely to bleed. Pruning during deep dormancy is one of those times, or while they are in full leaf (during late spring or early summer) is the other time to prune a Maple without the ‘bleeding’ and dripping sap.

Q: Recently the city thinned out the mature trees between the sidewalk and the street in front of our house. They removed quite a few healthy branches that resulted in a very thinned out

look to the trees. Will the trees produce new growths of branches and eventually fill in again? From, Where did my beautiful shade go?

A: Trees are often thinned for several reasons, 1) to direct growth outward in the proper direction, 2) to reduce the likelihood of wind damage by letting wind pass through more easily, and 3) to accommodate utility lines, and 4) to remove deadwood. If they were pruned properly they should fill back in some within the next several years.

Q: We have a tree with two different leaves on it and no-one knows what it is. One heart shaped and the other long and much thinner. The thin one gets small white flowers in the spring coming from the center of the vein, then when flowers die about four small hard brownish nuts appear on separate shorter stems and the leaves and nuts fall everywhere. The nut is very small and inside a seed about the size of a BB. Any info will be appreciated.

A: Your photo answered the question right away!  Looks like a tree in the TILIA genus, with common names like Linden, Lime or Basswood. Over the years we have planted the Greenspire Linden (Tilia cordata) in various landscape settings. The small nuts you mentioned are actually attached to a ribbon-like bract that could easily be confused with a second type of leaf.

Q: In the UK we are enjoying a heatwave.  Last Monday, during the night a large branch fell from a mature (probably 150 years old) beech tree. It fell from a height of about 17 ft, leaving a jagged stump with diameter approx. 18 inches.  The stump attached to the trunk has a dark centre with bright outer wood. Fortunately no cars or people were affected.  The following week the same thing happened in another area of the garden when a much larger branch suddenly fell from an old and apparently healthy copper beech tree.  This branch has broken away from the trunk at a height of 25 feet and covers a far greater area of ground as its debris awaits clearance. We are saddened and mystified by these occurrences.  Can you suggest why the branches fell on completely still days?  Both trees are in full and vibrant leaf.

A: Indeed, it is highly unusual for branches to suddenly drop out of trees without heavy winds, ice or snow. Your one sentence alludes to what may be the main cause: "The stump attached to the trunk has a dark centre with bright outer wood." I am guessing that dark centre is rotten and the outer wood was breached or missing in some areas, creating weakness in the overall structure? Very difficult to guess, especially without some photos. Was anyone (or anything) climbing in the trees? The trees sound like some magnificent specimens (Beech is probably my favorite) quite worthy of closer inspection and repair by a local arborist. At a minimum, those jagged branch stubs should be cut-off to just beyond the branch collar (swollen area at the base of a branch) so the tree can begin to close over and compartmentalize the wound with new bark growth. The trees should also be inspected for safety reasons so a similar incident does not repeat itself.

Q: During the night, about a square foot section of bark was apparently gnawed from a large ball gum tree in my yard next to the pond behind my house.  My wife and I suspect a beaver, however only the bark was removed and we see a good many bark chips all around the base.  The bare area extends about half way around the tree.  What steps should I take to protect the tree from further damage and to prevent losing the tree?

A: Have you ruled out vandalism? For protection options, visit a local hardware store to see what kind of chicken wire, hardware cloth or other sorts of fencing they may have for you to place around the trunk. Periodically check anything that is wrapped directly around the trunk to ensure that it is not restricting the trunk's growth. The edge of the damaged bark should be trimmedaround the wound to a smooth edge to promote regrowth and eventual compartmentalization of the wound.

Q: Is it common for trees not to grow a top section? I have what I believe is a white spruce. It is about 7 years old. I was curious of why it not grow a top. I planted another and of course it did.

A: If evergreen trees like your White Spruce lack a leader, they usually try to grow a new one, but this often results in multiple leaders instead of a more desirable single leader, which is a stronger tree structure over coming years. Since your spruce is slow to do it on its own, use an old broom stick or dowel rod and some cloth strips cut from an old bedsheet or dish towel to begin correcting this situation. Using the soft cloth strips, tie half of the broom stick onto the top of the main trunk, leaving the other half extending above the tree. Then gently bend one of the top side branches upward, using a couple longer cloth strips to tie that side branch to the upper part of the broom stick. You probably won't be able to bend it all the way up close to the broom stick without breaking it, so your main goal is to get it pointing upward. After a couple years in this position, the side branch should takeover as the new leader and grow vertically. Check your cloth strips periodically to ensure they are not too tight around the trunk, loosening those ties as needed. Shorten any other side branches that start to grow upward to compete with your new single leader.

Q: A lorry hit a tree I have and tore a large part of the bark, is there anything I can paint on the wound to help. Kind regards.

A: Extensive 'chainsaw research' conducted by tree scientist (Dr. Alex Shigo) a few decades ago revealed that it is best not to paint tree trunk wounds. Instead, you should trim the bark back to sound, smooth edges where it is still firmly attached to the tree. Original recommendations were to shape the freshly trimmed bark to a 'canoe shape' (with points facing up and down the tree trunk) but later research has indicated that a rounded shape will work just as well. Freshly trimmed bark edges can be painted with orange shellac, but do not paint the entire wound area. Trees 'compartmentalize' their wounds (wall them off), so your hope is for new bark to grow inward from all edges and eventually compartmentalize the wound. Photo: Notice how this oak tree has nearly compartmentalized the location where a branch was removed a few years ago.

Q: We just had a BBQ fire in the yard and the side of my trees bark caught fire, any idea what I should do, thank you hope you can help.

A: First, put out the fire. Then, move your BBQ pit to an area away from the tree. Finally, if the tree branch dies, cut it up for cordwood and use it for a future BBQ.

Q: I saw your website and wanted to see if you knew what was wrong with my maple tree.  It's affected nearly all of the leaves... Is there a treatment (fungicide) I should be spraying?

A: Could it possibly be freeze damage?  We had a couple recent nights around Pittsburgh Pa that knocked a lot of trees for a loop, and some of your leaf symptoms resemble cold damage. Where are you located?  Late spring freezes are harder on some trees than others and most trees will succeed in pushing out a second set of new leaves. Flower blossoms are lost of course, with Magnolias typically getting hit hard. Japanese Maples are very vulnerable to cold damage.

FOLLOW-UP: Thanks for getting back with me.  I live just north of Dallas, TX. Unfortunately, I think I figured out the problem that I created.  I didn't know that the October Glory Maple was extremely sensitive to weed killer.  I spread weed and feed about a month ago.  It really hit the tree hard this past week.  I've had the tree in the ground for six years.  I have always used weed & feed but I did apply more this year than previous years.  I hope with all of our rain this past week it'll flush out some of the weed killer.

The leaves in your photo looked droopy instead of twisty, otherwise I would have suspected lawn weed killer, since some weed killers (like those for dandelions) actually cause weeds to grow themselves to death, creating weird looking 'twists and turns' in new growth that would ordinarily be straight. Guess you could call it the 'twist and out' even though a mild herbicide exposure does not always kill a hardy landscape plant. In the case of Maple trees, their roots tend to be very close to the surface of the ground making them very vulnerable to anything affecting that surface (like soil overburden, weed killers, rototilling, etc). Also, some types of weed killers readily leach down through the soil and are picked up by tree roots (usually in the top 18-inches of the soil profile), while other herbicides get tied-up by soil and are less likely to cause damage to plants. An example of one less likely to leach and be picked up by roots is glyphosate, but of course, it is a non-selective herbicide and one you would not typically use on a lawn area unless you were doing a total renovation where you were killing all the grass. You still have to be very cautious with any herbicide so that it does not contact exposed roots or bark, even more so on thin-barked trees. Always completely read and follow herbicide label instructions. If it isn't already too late, some intermittent heavy watering of your tree's root zone (from the trunk to a few feet outside the branch tips) may be your only hope of flushing the chemical deeper into the soil profile and out of the tree's root zone. Prior to that, you might try using a leaf blower to blow any remaining herbicide granules away from the tree if they have not yet totally dissolved.

LESSONS LEARNED: The root zones (and trunks) of trees are often best protected with a layer of mulch extending to the branch tips or slightly beyond.

Q: We have a home in Ontario Canada and planted 5 Columnar Hornbeams along side of our driveway 5 years ago.  The following year they only leafed on the bottom of the plant and then subsequently died.  We replaced them with 3 large mature trees, with the same results. Frustrated, and unable to get an answer as to why this keeps happening, we were advised to replace with Columnar Oaks.  We planted 3 mature oaks last year, and now the same thing is happening with them. I am not sure what to do at this point, but would appreciate any advice or observation if you have any. Your assistance would be very much appreciated.

A: I can only imagine your frustration and heartbreak, working so hard to get some nice trees growing in that space! Things that pop into my mind... Is the soil bad, perhaps toxic in some fashion, or perhaps very heavy clay that does not drain well?  Might hold water like a bath tub??  Roots need to 'breathe' as much as they need water, so thorough weekly waterings are probably plenty. So the most likely #1 on my list: Was the subsequent watering of the trees too much or too little?  And did heavy clay soil play a part in killing the trees, especially if too much water was applied, perhaps growing worse in an attempt to 'save' the trees? Next, were the trees transplanted at the proper time of year and handled well?  Oaks are usually considered a tree to be transplanted only in the spring (..not fall).  Finally, I've seen columnar Hornbeams have difficulties in hot, dry narrow spaces next to sidewalks and streets, but that would be more of an issue with established trees during hot, dry summers, when they can get a leaf scorch along the edges of the leaves.

Q: We had a tree fall on our Fraser fir and snapped it off to the ground. Will it grow back?

A: Depending on if there are any side branches left it still could still grow back, but if you only have a broken trunk left it is very unlikely. In the event some branches begin to regrow, be sure to train the best one vertically (with a stake) to take over as the new central 'leader.' Often times trees broken like this will send up several leaders which can make a tree more of a bush than a tree, lacking proper form.

Q: I have a beautiful oak tree and we noticed that it looks like it has been burnt or caught fire but it has not. I also planted a cherry tree 2 years ago & have seen a few branches also with this black stuff. Please help us save our beautiful trees.

A: Chances are you have an insect infestation in the trees and the sticky honeydew the insects secrete has dripped onto the tree and has then developed black sooty mold. Aphids are most commonly the culprits, and in association with them you will see lots of ants running up and down the tree trunk, since they 'farm' the aphids to share in the sweet honeydew the aphids produce. The aphids tend to cluster at the tender growing tips of branches, so look there first. There are insecticides available that can be applied to the soil around the base of the tree that is taken up to the branches systemically through the roots. Always read and follow label directions on insecticide labels!

Q: I have 2 sycamore trees in my front yard that are at least 40 years old. We now have lots of sap on our cars that as soon as you wash it off the next day it is covered again. It is also dropping branches and finding bark in the yard.  We were told that it could be bugs but we do not see that many bugs on the leaves to create that much sap. We were also told that they are pollinating, but I have lived here for almost 10 years and they have never done this before. We had a little sap last year, but this year it terrible. I would like to know what is wrong with them so I can get rid of the sap problem. I don't want to cut them down because they are great shade, but the sap has already ruined my custom paint job on my truck that needs washed every day. Please help.

Sycamore bark naturally peels off and dropsA: Sounds like the symptoms typically associated with aphids, which are also called 'plant lice.' They exude excess honeydew which drips and attracts ants, who act as farmers and move the aphids around to the best feeding spots, usually the branch tips. Aphids can be different colors, but we usually see green ones clustered around the tender branch tips of plants. After a number of years, an ongoing aphid infestation will cause the branches of a tree to look black, since sooty mold grows on the dripped honeydew. Fortunately, aphids are one of the easier insects to eliminate, so check with your local garden center to see what products they recommend. Sycamore trees are known for dropping stuff, so chances are the peeling bark and broken branches are probably just normal.

Q: I’m wondering if there is a maximum trunk circumference or other size to determining if tree can still be transplanted here in Michigan. I have a blue spruce too close to house but beautiful. It was there before I moved in 10 yrs ago. Hate to cut it down altogether but it can’t stay where it is. Your thoughts?

A: During my tree studies I've come across photos of some very large trees that have been successfully moved. The keys are moving them in the right season, digging the proper sized rootball and handling their move, replanting, and subsequent care correctly. In the case of the really big trees, most moves involve the use of a crane and a large flatbed truck. Other tree moving systems involve a large set of tree spades on the back of a large truck. So to answer your question, your tree can probably be transplanted if you have the right equipment, technique and timing. I might also add that large trees are much easier to move if they aren't constricted on any sides, like being too close to a building or paved area, since you basically need to dig a wide trench beyond the outside diameter of the rootball, all the way around the tree.

Q: I have a pine tree in my yard that has grown bent in the trunk area and appears to be leaning into the sun. I don't know if the leaning trunk makes it a risk of falling or breaking off, or what variety of pine it is.

A: Your pine tree probably is growing in that fashion since it is reaching for the sunlight, and yes, a tree growing at an angle like that is definitely more likely to be windthrown, or break-off under the weight of ice and snow.

Q: I will be moving my house to another lot this fall or winter and was wondering if a 15-20-foot maple tree could be moved to my new lot about 3 miles away...this tree was in a pot on the porch when I bought the house 5 years ago.

Root balls on shade treesA: It would take considerable effort, as well as the right equipment and manpower (or womanpower) to move a tree that large. Generally speaking, for every inch of tree trunk diameter (measured 6-inches above the ground) an earthen root ball should be 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Since average soil weighs about 100 lbs. per cubic foot, the required soil root ball for your tree would be very heavy, making it a tough challenge to move successfully.

Q: I received a Norfolk island pine in a planter, some 15 years ago. It has done wonderfully. So wonderfully that I now need HELP!!! Other than out growing the pots that I have transferred it to in the pastit is out growing my room that I have it in!!!! I guess some people wish they could only be this lucky but I feel that I need to get a hand on it, it’s already over 5 feet tall and it’s at least that around, if I wanted to move this out of the room it’s in I would probably damage the limbs unless I bubble wrapped them, lol, I laugh but it’s the truth, I have a friend that says to get help about seeing if I can trim the branches or asking what should I do to control it?

A: If you remove the tree from the room while it is laying over sideways 'bottom end first' the branches should be able to bend upwards without breaking. Otherwise, if you decide to trim the branches back, try to cut just beyond a side branch without leaving a stub. New growth will be directed to the side branches below your pruning cut.

Q: I am planting two Baby Colorado Blue Spruce (very full from top to bottom) in August in Michigan. I am concerned (due to the lower branches being so full that they lay on the ground around the spruce) will not get enough air and may get disease - mold could form, etc...??  I planted the 2 spruces correctly with 1/4 ball above ground level -- made sure good soil was used and covered all the root systems. As a result, the bottom full branches lay on the ground -- should I be concerned? I do not want to lose these trees. Thank you for your advice in advance!  Hannah

A: The only concern I would have for low-lying branches would be the potential for damage from a lawnmower, stringline trimmer or off-target weedkiller application (from spray drift or an errant application of a granular herbicide with a cyclone spreader). Ideally you should maintain a mulched area beneath your new trees, one that extends at least 6-inches beyond the branch tips. The mulched area will aid water penetration into the soil when you water and help hold moisture between waterings. Mulch is also preferred over lawn grass since turfgrass competes with trees, believe it or not. Don't overdo the watering frequency since most needled evergreens abhor 'wet feet' and soggy soil.

Q: We planted a bur oak in our front yard about 8 years ago. It has grown consistently taller over the years but remained tall and slender and did not branch out much. This year the bottom half of the tree branched out with many ? suckers, but the top half is not blooming at all. Do I top the tree?, cut off the suckers? When should I do this? Thanks, Karen

A: Usually some light tipping-back (pruning) of the branch tips on a tree will encourage it to fill-out more and that sort of pruning should usually be done in spring of the year. Always trim just above a bud that is facing outward from the center of the tree. When you say the 'top half is not blooming at all' it sounds like that part did not develop leaves, and is probably dead. The tree may be putting out those fast-growing water-sprouts ('suckers' come up from the roots) in response to the top of the tree being dead. I would suggest picking the best looking vertical sprout and leaving it, while removing the rest of the sprouts. It is best to develop one central-leader on your tree. Fertilize the tree once in the spring and water it thoroughly and deeply once every week to 10-days during any droughts, if you have average soil conditions (neither too much sand or too much clay). Watch for insect pests and eliminate them as recommended by a local garden center or agricultural extension through your state's land grant university, since they can weaken the tree. Develop a mulched area around the base of the tree to protect it from lawnmowers and stringline trimmer damage.

Q: My neighbor’s tree is buckling my driveway REALLY BAD, its getting higher and higher every year. Luckily, I don’t have to drive over it to park. A chain-link fence and the buckle (they run parallel to one another) is the dividing line between the front and rear portions of my driveway. The fence’s alignment is off too because of the buckle – one side taller than the other where I lock it in place. Not sure what kind of tree it is, but its very tall. I’m fed up with this buckle. I would like to repave my entire driveway in 2013 (can park at least 3 cars). I would like to know who do I contact first – a tree removal company or a paving company? In order to get to the roots, you have to break up the asphalt. I don’t know what to do.

A: This may be as much a legal question as a paving question, especially since property line issues can enflame quickly between neighbors. My standard advice is to talk with your neighbor first in a calm fashion, explaining what you wish to do and the problems you want to correct. 20 minutes of pleasant conversation might save a lifetime of hostile 'border war.' Cutting major roots can destabilize a tree, some more than others, so it may require a legal opinion to accurately establish your rights, since I am not a lawyer. It seems in many instances that branches and roots that crossover a property line are fair game for removal. Regarding the health and subsequent vigor of the tree, make 'clean cuts' on the roots and seal them with tree paint, as these wounds provide entry paths for destructive soil fungi. Before backfilling where the roots have been removed, consider installing a root barrier to help prevent a repeat of this episode.

Q: Can I screw in my flag pole holder without killing my tree?

A: Even though any damage or opening in tree bark can present a risk, it is often better to put screws into a tree as opposed to wrapping wire or rope around a tree trunk, since these sorts of bindings are often neglected and can later girdle (choke) the tree as the trunk diameter increases. When putting screws into a tree it is best to drill a pilot hole first (slightly smaller than the screw) to help prevent splitting. Screws pose a later risk to anyone removing the tree since metal fasteners can ruin the chain on a chain saw.

Q: I have a question about landscaping around my trees. The gentleman who mows my lawn convinced me to let him build a stone wall around my trees. I asked if the walls would kill the trees and he said no, now I want to strangle him. The stone walls are 2-3 feet tall and 4 foot circumference filled with soil and top layer rock. The two trees are one oak and maple. Did I just throw money away, and how can I salvage my trees and the work done?

A: I had a similar question from Colorado but the answers are both the same, you should attempt to undo as much of the work as possible and hope for the best with your trees. Soil should never be piled high against tree trunks, and some trees are even sensitive to a few inches of soil over their root zones, since finer roots need to breathe. Installing a wall around an established tree could destroy valuable roots during the wall installation, since most walls need a solid base established below grade and that would require cutting major roots to accomplish. Most tree roots are in the top 18-inches of the soil. Over the years, walls around trees are often disrupted by maturing tree roots, especially those set on top of the ground around 'surface rooted' trees like Maples. A mulch circle around the base of trees is usually the simplest and best solution, but don't bury the tree trunks with mulch either, hold it back an inch or two.

Q: I have a much loved Locust tree at my home in Massachusetts. While doing some pruning work I discovered a fairly deep cavity in a 'V-shaped' crook. I have cleaned and dried out the cavity and wondered if I should fill the cavity with an appropriate material to keep moisture out of the cavity? I am surprised that there does not seem to be much rot nor any sign of splitting or other structural failure. The cavity does hold water after every rain.

A: A friend in the tree business swears by that aerosol spray-in foam you use to insulate gaps in your home, but I have never tried that method and cannot attest to its desirability or long term value. The more important thing to remember about 'V-shaped' crotches in trees is they are structural weak points where splitting often occurs during periods of high wind, ice storms or heavy snows. Therefore, when trees are young, prune a tree to prevent double-leaders and these shorts of 'V-shapes' in the major branching structure if possible. Small cuts in young trees are much easier than big cuts in older trees. In existing larger trees where these crotches have already formed, thin-out side branches so it easier for wind to pass through the tree, and consider adding a cable two-thirds of the way up from the beginning of the V-crotch to provide support. Cabling work should be done by a professional arborist.

Q: 45 days ago, we excavated and installed a patio next to what I believe is a Silver Maple. Looking at the tree from above, it appears we removed a 25% pie shape of the root structure to a depth of 12 inches. I vividly remember the tractor snapping a couple of good size roots. As of this message, 30% of the leaves on the tree are browning and falling. Is this tree doomed or is there anything I can do to help it? I have not fertilized at all since the construction. I have only watered it deeply over night with the garden hose. Richard

A: It does look like a Silver Maple and being that kind of tree, they are very tenacious trees that are difficult to kill, so chances are it will survive your patio project. But you may want to trench along your patio, about 24-inches deep, and install an impervious root barrier that won't decay, plastic barriers work the best. That will help keep those surface roots from getting under your patio in a few years and cracking it. In the meantime, be sure to water the tree thoroughly and deeply, but space those waterings out so you don't drown the tree, even though it would probably tolerate it. Don’t fertilize it. I would also begin doing some trimming of the height every few years so that you don't get into a drastic "topping" situation 10 or 20 years down the road.

Q: We have a clump River Birch, can we tie the trunks together so the tree grows more upright?

A: You may be able to do that if it is done properly with lag bolts and cabling, but keep in mind those trees want to become very large and spreading, so if that birch is currently too close to your house, it is probably planted in the wrong place. They should be planted in the same sort of lawn spot where you would plant a large shade tree, so they have room to grow.

Q: My driveway has been damaged by the roots of my oak tree. Some of the roots will have to be removed for the new driveway (it is beyond repair). Judging from the buckle in the driveway I’d say the roots can be over 5 inches wide. The tree is about 24 inches wide and 40 feet + high. The driveway is about 3 feet from the tree. They’ll need to put a new bed of gravel then black top. The tree is in good health. We are in northern New Jersey. Any advice? The contractor says not to worry about the tree. Is he correct? (Photo: Tree roots heaving a concrete sidewalk)

A: While excavating for the new driveway installation, try to make clean cuts (not ragged) on all the severed roots and paint the cut ends with a good quality tree paint to help protect these open wounds from disease pathogens in the soil. I would also suggest paying the contractor extra to install a rigid plastic root barrier next to the new driveway (extending down about 18 to 24 inches) to help prevent a repeat of your problem, by preventing root growth under the new driveway. You should know within 5 years if this construction work damaged your tree, often revealing itself in the crown of the tree with branch dieback and leaf discoloration.

Q: We have a Granny Smith which is in its fourth year of production. The tree is starting to bud out but the bark is pink. The trunk of the tree is pretty much black. The tree looks like it is in some sort of stress condition. Limbs, branches look good but the tree has a distinctive pink look. I’m afraid there must be something critically wrong with it. Would appreciate any help with what we are seeing and what to do. Thanks

A: Any sort of uncommon "black coloration" on a tree trunk and branches usually indicates an insect problem that goes like this:

1) Insect sucks honeydew out of the tree

2) Excess honeydew drips onto tree branches and trunk

3) Honeydew grow black sooty mold

Note: Ants are often seen running up and down the tree trunk in this sort of 'partnership' scenario.

I would suggest closely examining your tree leaves (mainly the undersides of leaves for most insects) as well as the growing tips and newer branches for any sort of insect activity, and then pursue the proper remedy. Aphids love to congregate around tender juicy growing tips!

Q: I planted a pear tree 2 years ago, it is just growing taller and taller, but the diameter of trunk is almost the same as the time I planted it, what could I do to make it thicker but taller.

A: The old advice for tree growers goes like this:

1) To make a tree grow taller at the expense of larger tree girth (caliper or trunk diameter) trim-off the lower branches.

2) To increase the girth (trunk diameter) of a tree's trunk, leave the lower branches in place, if at all practical.

Adding further to #2: It will also help thicken the trunk if you trim back (or "tip") the growing tips at the top of the tree, shortening them to side branches that are growing in an outward direction from the center of the tree. Also shortening the side branches, while shaping the tree, will also help thicken the trunk.

Fertilize your tree once this spring with some fertilizer spikes or a similar technique. Use a balanced fertilizer if possible, with a ratio of 2-1-1. Water the tree thoroughly once a week during dry weather in the active growing season (more often if you have fast draining soil). Remove grass sod from around the base of the tree, creating a 2 to 3 foot diameter circle without any turf. Turfgrass competes with young trees more than you probably think (allelopathy).

Q: I have a white pine that’s about 20 years old that is leaning quite severely to one side. A few years ago it was topped off during a storm and the predominant branch that took over grew to the one side where the tree is leaning making it heavy on that side. I’d like to top off that branch which will make the weight distribution more equitable. The branches are growing in two directions about halfway up the tree, so the cut would be halfway up the tree. The remaining branches would be straighter. Will this kill the tree?

A: If the cuts are made properly and you don't remove too large a percentage of foliage the tree should survive, however, all major cuts (over 4-inch diameter) "open a tree up" to potential problems, kind of like a person having a large open flesh wound. Also, the slanted position may indicate instability in the root system. Consult (and contract) a professional, especially if the tree is near a house.

Q: I can't find the name of this pine tree and its bothering me. It's red on one side and looks burnt on the other...please help! Thank you.

A: That black coloration on the branches may be due to black sooty mold, which grows on honeydew excreted by insect pests. Study the tree's needles and branches for the presence of insects, pines often get a 'needle scale' insect that looks like snowflakes lined-up along the needles.

Q: 2 years ago my tree had a swarm of honey bees on it and before I could find out what to do, my husband doused the tree with bee killer. Now my tree seems to be slowly dying. It has grey spots over most of the trunk and top, some on the branches and today I noticed some yellow/orange and green spots. Is there anything I can do to help it get healthy again? I pruned the top because the branches were dead.

A: Other than pruning out the dead branches like you already have, efforts should be directed at improving the tree's vigor without 'killing it with kindness.' That would include one fertilization this spring and watering the tree thoroughly once a week during any dry spells. Ornamental cherry trees seem to be super-thirsty when they are first planted. Continue to prune-out dead branches. If the tree hasn't started to come back around by early summer, you may want to replace it with a new one. Most bee and wasp sprays on the market warn about probable damage to plant foliage, so always read the label of any product you use.

Q: I have a young pine tree that has a V-shaped trunk about 3 feet off the ground, creating a double leader.  I am concerned about one side or the other becoming too heavy and eventually breaking.  At this point in time, is there anything I can do to prevent a break from happening in the future?  I live in Mississippi not far from Memphis and we often have high winds and tornadoes. I'm attaching a photo. Thank you.

A: That trunk structure on your pine tree is what is commonly known as a "V-crotch." Ideally the smaller side of the "V" would have been removed years ago, but at this point removing that part of your tree would be much more drastic and leave a much larger, slower healing wound for the tree to compartmentalize along the main trunk. When V-crotches are left in place, the traditional method of strengthening them, at least in larger hardwood trees, is installing a guy wire approximately two-thirds of the way up from the crotch to the top of the tree, a job best left for a professional tree surgeon. These guy wires are adjusted so that they are loose enough to allow some branch movement, but will tighten if the crotch becomes stretched enough to threaten splitting. Finally, one of the best defenses a tree has against wind storms is pruning that "thins out" the tree, effectively allowing wind to pass through the tree more easily instead of the tree acting like a sail in the wind. To thin a tree begin by removing branches growing inward toward the trunk, then removing any "crossing" branches that are rubbing against one another. At that point, stand back and take a look at the tree to see if you can thin-out any other branches that are crowding other branches (i.e. duplications) leaving the best ones.

Q: I was wondering the distance between each tree I need to leave. I am wanting to plant red oaks, black walnuts, and shellbark hickory trees in my field this spring. I am planning on buying them from the Arbor Day Society which I believe the trees will be 1-2 feet when planted. Thank you for all your advice!!! I live in Ohio.

A: If you are planning to plant these large-growing trees for a lifetime, they should probably be planted at least 30 to 50 feet apart. Small trees need extra protection from rodents and deer, so be sure to install whatever is needed to prevent gnawing, deer rutting (fall) and browsing. Smaller trees can also be "lost" in tall vegetation around them, so a 4-foot bright-colored stake helps keep them located when mowing. It also helps young trees to have an area beneath them free of grass and weeds, since grass and weeds do compete for moisture and nutrients, and also increase the likelihood of bark damage from weedwhackers. It's often best to wait until year 2 to begin fertilizing young trees, since most fertilizers placed in the hole at planting time will burn young roots, and some organic fertilizers can bring disruptive digging by animals. Begin corrective pruning when trees are young, encouraging a strong central leader system and an evenly spaced, strong branching structure, eliminating inward growing and crossing branches, and "V-crotches" if possible. Photo: 35 to 40 year old Red Oak in front of a house.

Q: I transplanted a dwarf blood orange from a pot to the ground 5 days ago and now it is wilting, why? This is the second year it has produced fruit and was doing well.

A: Is it in a sunnier, more exposed spot than it grew before, and getting "sunburned" or "windburned?"  Did you happen to disrupt the root system while you were transplanting it, or allow the root system to dry out in the sun? Did the tree have tender new growth when transplanted? The main thing now is not "killing it with kindness" by overwatering it and suffocating the roots. Roots need to exchange gases, and a constant water-saturated soil will kill most trees unless they are known to like "wet feet." Willow trees would be an example of trees that will grow in soggy soil.

You might also try removing one-third of the least important branches to reduce the "load" on the roots, and erect some screening to keep the tree out of direct sunlight (and wind) for a week or two until it stabilizes. Even a lightweight fabric that allows some light to pass through will reduce the transpiration rate and help the tree stabilize itself.  If it was at a “tender point” with fragile new growth, this may have also contributed to the wilting, which is why nurserymen do most major transplanting when trees are not actively growing.

Q: The mulch that the previous owner had around the trees is quite high. I was looking for a more flat look. I'm sure some root growth has started under these mounds. Is it possible to remove these mounds to grade level, prune back any above ground growth, and mulch to a layer more even with grade without harming the trees? The trees are probably 8-10 years old, some evergreens, some broadleaf.

A: You will have to play this one by ear, but it sounds like you may be stuck with the mounds you currently have around the trees. There is the possibility that someone planted your trees halfway out of the ground, and the mounds you are seeing are actually the top parts of the root ball. In any case, it is best to keep bark mulch back from a tree trunk an inch or two in any situation.

Q: My Black Walnut caught fire last week when my neighbor’s garage burned. It was a very hot intense fire and it damaged my large black walnut tree that was located just feet from the building.  The tree is old, very tall and sturdy.  The trunk of the tree next to the garage did catch on fire and some smaller branches high burned.  The fire department was able to put out the fire on the tree..... that night it rained and over the next two days, we received 4-inches of rain.  I am hoping that I will not loose this tree.  Can you advise me about saving this tree. This tree is located in north central Arkansas.

A: At this point, I don't have any great suggestions for you other than 'wait and see' and maintain the tree's health and vigor. Try to prevent any further abuse to the tree (such as digging in the root zone area, or compacting the root zone with heavy equipment). Consider using some tree spikes or other method to fertilize the tree one time this spring (March - May). Trim-off any dead branches. Thoroughly soak the root zone with water once every two weeks during any prolonged droughts.

Q: How often do you recommend having the following trees professionally sprayed? Maple, birch, plum, and locust. Thank you, R.

River Birch - BETULA nigraA: That's kind of like asking how often someone's family should see a medical doctor, but I will try to answer anyway. Tree spraying is best kept to a minimum; done only when needed using the least toxic product available, and using the most opportune timing to exploit an insect's greatest vulnerability. In general, I am going to say the Birch would be most likely to need the most spraying... of course that is assuming it is a European White Birch and not a River Birch. I’m also assuming you meant Honey Locust and not Black Locust... so here you see the 'twist' in using common names for trees, as opposed to a precise genus and species. It usually leads to confusion and makes it impossible to clearly identify a specific tree's weaknesses.

Here's a good article on: integrated pest management (I.P.M.)  For any further information on actual spray schedules, I would suggest fully identifying your trees (Genus & species) and checking with the land grant university in your state. Many have agricultural extensions in counties across the state, if the budget cuts haven't gotten to them yet.

Q: My neighbor has a magnolia tree and when we trimmed a few of the branches, the middle is black. Does this mean it is deceased? Thank you for any info you can give me.

A: While black heartwood in a branch may or may not indicate decay or some other problem, we generally judge "living or dead" branches by using a fingernail to scrape off a small area of the bark. If the tissue directly below the bark is green, the branch is still alive, if it is brown or dried-out, that part of the branch is usually dead. You will know for sure after the tree has fully leafed out in the spring, and at that point, trim off any branch tips that haven't sprouted leaves, pruning right above a leaf that is growing toward the outside of the tree.

Q: I have about 30 oaks, they are very close together and I'd like to transplant them. I live in Western New York, we are having a very mild winter, right now we don't even have snow on the ground. Should I wait for spring or is now OK because we don't have snow?  I didn't do anything to the roots, I'm afraid they won't make it any time of year because they are getting large, some are 4-5 inches in diameter and the trees are only a foot and a half apart.  Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks, Bill

A: Sounds like an extremely difficult undertaking, but early spring would be the preferred time for you to attempt to move your oak trees. Since they are so close together, and have significant caliper (trunk diameter) it would be best to go for roots instead of root ball. That means try to get as many roots as possible without worrying about the accompanying soil. That being said, digging trees "bare root" has certain rules, the most important one being keep the roots moist after they are exposed and keep them out of sunlight to prevent drying. After they are popped-out of the ground, prune away any damaged roots. After replanting, you will need to stake the trees (ideally in 3 directions) to prevent them from getting blown over.

Water them in right after planting to remove air pockets and settle the soil around the roots. Repeat the watering about once a week depending on how well your soil retains moisture. Hold off fertilizing them until next year. Older nurserymen, and some younger ones too, still recommend balancing the "root to shoot" ratio, by thinning-out about one-third of the tree's branches to make up for the root loss. Use clean pruning tools when trimming trees, tools can be easily "disinfested" by using ordinary rubbing alcohol to wipe them off. This is especially important for tools that have had recent contact with the soil, or other trees that may be diseased.

Note: Since this may be a nearly impossible undertaking (due to the size and closeness of the trees) you may want to consider an alternative, like removing all but the two or three best ones (that will then have some room to grow) and just leave them in place. You could always leave the two end ones and try to dig some of the middle ones.

Q: Could you tell me the value of a 40-year-old evergreen tree?

A: That is sort of like asking the value of a 40-year-old house, since everything depends on location, condition and type of construction. With trees, those 3 values become location, condition and species value. We hear in real estate that the 3 main things for a house's value are location, location, and location. That is partly true with trees too, since a tree nicely positioned on a front lawn has higher location value than one growing in the woods off to the side of a house. Condition relates to the health, vigor and physical condition; things like soundness of the trunk, good branching structure, absence of diseases, etc. Finally, species value relates to the type of tree, in other words, an oak has higher species value than a poplar. Summary: Tree value is determined by multiplying these three values (as percentages) times the cross-sectional square inches in a tree trunk at a set height, times the set value of one square inch. Professional arborists can provide this appraisal service for you.

Q: I have a cherry tree that took a very hard hit in the recent snow, here in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Two of the main, center branches have broken/split and will have to be cut. This will essentially 'top" the tree at about 8 feet. Before the breaks, the tree was about 18 feet tall, so the topping is pretty extreme. The side branches are all still good and there is still a branch or two that mostly go up and might be trainable. Should I just remove the tree or top and heavily prune it then wait to see how it responds? If pictures will help, I can send some.

A: Most cherry trees seem to be pretty resilient, at least in their younger years. Therefore, I would try to affect a remedy, as opposed to removing the tree, since you can always take it out at a later date. (Pictures always help me with these sorts of questions).

The process of pruning should be done in the following stages:

1) Remove any dead, crossing (rubbing) or splintered branches, always cutting back to right above a side branch or bud (that is pointed outward from the center of the tree). Slightly slant any larger horizontal cuts to discourage water from sitting on them.

2) Even up the remaining branches to shape the tree the best you can, again removing crossing branches and inward-growing branches first. (In extreme cases, you might try to 'lollipop' the tree into a drastically new and reduced size, resembling a ball on a stick, or round lollipop).

3) Try to find an old broom stick that you can use as a makeshift "splint" in order to direct one of the more pliable side branches in a vertical direction. Younger branches are more flexible than older, woodier branches. Don't expect to get a branch completely vertical this first year, just get one headed in the right direction so it can eventually takeover as the new "leader."

4) Apply tree fertilizer in the spring just as new growth is about to pop. Be sure to water the tree periodically through any drought periods to encourage its vigor. Younger cherry trees in particular can be very thirsty, especially the first year they are planted.

Q: We have an Oak tree, probably at least 100 years old, that has broken off a huge branch. Our concern is that bugs or rain will enter the area where it broke and kill or rot the tree. Is that possible? Should we be sealing it with something? Treating it with pesticide? We don’t know how long it has been like this because it was there when we moved into the house two years ago. We would be heartbroken to lose this tree. Thanks in advance for your advice!

Callus growth where a branch used to be locatedA: It appears by the callusing activity around that wound that the branch came off at least 5 or 10 years ago. That new growth around the wound is the tree's effort to close-over, or in tree lingo, 'compartmentalize' the wound. To help that effort along it would be a good idea to remove the taller splintered portions that stick-up beyond the callusing on all sides, be very careful not to wound that new growth with errant cuts. This will allow the new bark to grow over the wound instead of obstructing its progress. Painting large wounds like that is not recommended. Back in the old days cement was used to fill cavities in trees, and there again, it was kept just inside the level where that (bark) callus tissue wants to grow. A local tree surgeon uses spray foam insulation in a can to fill deep cavities, and I see no reason why that would cause any harm if you have cavities that remain after removing the splintered areas. It is dangerous working from ladders without safety lines, so consider hiring a professional arborist for the job.

Q: Is it possible to transplant a 30-40 foot tree and how big might the roots be? My husband and I are purchasing a house in IL and there are three mature trees on the property that were planted very close to the house. We would love to move them to the backyard, but they are quite large. Thanks! Cindy

A: Even very large trees can be moved successfully by companies with the right equipment and experience. The two major issues are #1 cost, and #2 access. Even assuming you have the budget and find the right company, by your description, item #2 access, is going to be the problem. Ideally, a root ball is dug in a circular fashion around a tree, requiring some space beyond that earth ball, on all sides, to excavate the ball. Trees that are close to buildings create real problems in that regard.

Q: From my written description that follows, what kind of tree is this? The tree get very little brown jagged balls on it and they fall off in the fall. They get stuck in the grass and are very hard to clean up.

A: If I were to make a wild guess, it would be a Sweet Gum (LIQUIDAMBER styraciflua) and those are 'gumballs.' The spiney balls are about two-inches in diameter and have spikes emanating from all sides. If my guess is correct, the tree also has protruding surface roots and star-shaped leaves that turn multi-colored (red, purple, and yellow) in the fall.

Q: Please help me!!!!  I have 4 large pin oak trees in my front yard and have a difficult time keeping grass in this area. I want to rip the whole area and put new top soil in.  I did put lye down two years ago to try and get rid of some of the acid I believe to be in the ground due to the leaves. I bag my yard every time I mow to keep them, the leaves, picked up. What should I do?

A: Having that many large Pin Oaks in your front yard has created a hostile environment for a lawn, due to root competition and heavy shade. Oaks aren't as "surface rooted" as Maples, but they still compete for moisture. Leaving leaves on the lawn for any period of time will also limit success in growing a lawn since grass can be suffocated, so it is good you are keeping them picked-up.

If you are set on having a lawn, there are several things you can do:

1) Trimming: Raising-up and thinning-out the branches on your trees. Raising-up because a Pin Oak's lower branches tend to droop over time. Thinning-out will help let sunlight down through the trees.

2) Removal: Eliminating some of the trees to allow more sunlight to reach the lawn. If you do remove trees, be sure to grind the stumps out and remove all major roots as well.

3) Watering: Be sure to water your front lawn thoroughly at least once a week during dry weather in the growing season.

4) Grass: Only plant shade tolerant varieties. Mow the grass at the highest lawnmower setting possible without allowing the grass to flop over, since longer grass blades intercept more sunlight. Longer grass also has deeper roots.

5) Soil Test: You mentioned you used "lye" but did you mean lime? It is best to take soil samples from various spots in the front yard, mix them together, and send them to a soil lab for a report on what your soil may need.

Dogwood crushed by wet, heavy snowQ: In the snowstorm to the northeast US last week (right before Halloween) my big leaf-filled dogwood took a major hit.  The snow is all melted now, but is there any saving this tree (planted 20 years ago by me) or do I just give up? (photo attached)  I'm heartsick over it. Donna

A: OUCH... some Trick or Treat!  Heavy, wet snow, especially when trees still have leaves on them, can cause this sort of devastating destruction. The best you can do now is to begin by removing the branches that are severely splintered, cutting back to sound wood, and trying not to leave branch stubs (by cutting to side branches or close to the trunk). Once you have done that, you may have a 'Charlie Brown' tree, but it's hard to know until you try. You might also check your homeowners insurance for any possible coverage.

I might add that I have been encouraged by some Dogwoods that we have cutback severely over the years. There have been a few cases where Dogwoods were severely damaged by borers. We cut them all the way back (in some cases leaving only a 12-inch tall stump) and they re-grew into trees more lovely than the originals. It will help to provide this tree with some encouragement next year, with early fertilization followed by weekly waterings through any dry spells during the growing season. Trees and woody ornamentals should not be fertilized in the northeast US after July 4th.

Q: The tree in our deck has grown 'too big for its britches' so what can we do?

Tree trunk has outgrown the surrounding deckA: It appears the tree has already lifted the floor boards surrounding the trunk, damaging the deck's floor and making it somewhat dangerous to traverse. The tree is a Silver Maple that really has grown 'too big for its britches' so there is also an extensive surface root system radiating out from the trunk, in the areas you cannot see just beneath the floor boards. Therefore, the only solution (besides removing the tree or the deck) would be a total rebuild of the deck, with a larger tree hole and a higher floor elevation, to allow for future root and trunk growth.

Q: Our Modesto ash tree was planted about five feet from our concrete perimeter foundation. I estimate it to be about 45 feet in height. We see the roots growing on the surface and even coming up from under the foundation. It is in our small back yard. We have owned this home for about seven years and it had grown tremendously in these years.  I think the root system is causing our house to shift and crack, not by cracking the foundation but from roots growing around and under the house and sucking up all the water. It seems to to have been a poor choice for our property and I am thinking about removing it (but will need to get a permit from the city). I am afraid it will cause more damage to our home. What is your thought?  Meg

A: If it was my tree it would already be gone! Plantings close to a house can have limited lifespans, especially the larger growing varieties. Foundation plantings often need renovated every 15 to 20 years. And yes, changes in moisture levels from tree roots close to a foundation can cause wet-dry (swell-shrink) hydraulics to occur in soils. Large shade trees should be planted a minimum of 15 feet from a house, and on small properties it is best to plant only compact trees and dwarf varieties. People often plant the wrong tree since they desire rapid growth and quick shade. This results in the sort of problem you are now experiencing with your Modesto Ash. In the northeastern US, the Silver Maple has commonly been "that tree" -- very fast growth -- quickly resulting in huge problems. Often times these Maples are "topped" instead of the better choice -- removal. Then these monsters can be replaced with the right tree for the location.

Q: Today we had a rather large storm hit our area. My neighbor's tree was hit by a bolt of lightning. Afterward, there was a foamy looking substance accumulating at the bottom of the tree. What is this? It was a 4-story tree and the lightning damage was only visible the top 5-6 branches. Not sure if this is relevant, but it was still raining at the time. Thanks - Elizabeth

A: When trees are struck by lightning, the powerful electric charge causes a super-heating of the tree's sap, often causing the tree to split and/or have some bark 'blown off.' Plants and lawn around the base of the tree are sometimes killed. The tree may now be a hazard. Foam at the base does not sound good! I would recommend having a reputable local arborist provide you with a firsthand assessment. Photo: This Norway Spruce was struck by lightning, causing bark to be blown off the trunk while creating a major split down the middle of the trunk. The tree was removed as soon as possible. Trees in this condition are called 'widow makers.'

Footnote: While homeowner's insurance paid several hundred dollars toward the removal of this lightning-struck Spruce, the same company denied insurance coverage for a similar Spruce blown over by high winds. Check your homeowner's insurance for specific coverages.

Q: I just noticed this dark brown blackish growth on some of the limbs of my tree here in Michigan. There are probably about 6 of these growths on various limbs. Could you please help me figure out what this is and how to get rid of it. I have attached some pictures for you to view. Thank you for any help you may have.

A: The photos really helped! Your tree is infested with Black Knot, a destructive (..and weird looking) fungal disease that most commonly affects cherry, plum, peach and apricot trees. Judging by the tree bark and twigs in your photos, your tree is a Cherry.

Q: What do I need to keep in mind or add to soil when planting an evergreen in October in Middle Tennessee? Betsy

A: First and foremost is not planting your evergreen too deep, since most evergreens are very sensitive to being planted too deeply. Most of them also hate having 'wet feet' so if the planting hole tends to hold water (heavy clay) see if there is a way to trench out of the lower side of the hole to drain excess standing water. You can backfill the trench with some stone to allow for easy drainage.

Evergreens need to go into winter with adequate moisture at their roots, since they continue to transpire moisture throughout the winter months. So if you have a dry fall, give evergreens a thorough watering before the ground freezes.

The rule of thumb used to be to amend soil backfill around a new evergreen with something like peat moss, but university research has indicated it is best to backfill with the native soil, unless it is really nasty clay or rock. It is usually best not to add fertilizer when planting, unless the fertilizer is nonburning, like an organic fertilizer. Spring would be a better time to fertilize your new evergreen.

If you want to go the extra mile, newly planted evergreen foliage can be sprayed with an "anti-dessicant" to help prevent winter dessication and windburn. The old standby has always been Wilt-Pruf.

Q: I noticed that something is chewing the ends of the branches of my very old Oak tree.  They are coming down in small bunches. It is a clear cut, meaning that it is not jagged and they inside of the branch is healthy. Could it be the squirrels or some type of bug or insect? Thanks, Caryn

A: I think you nailed it, probably squirrels!

Q: Will damage of these old trees/roots kill the trees and have potential to die and fall on my house? (photo attached)

A: You sure packed a bunch of questions into one sentence! Thanks for the photo, it really does help. Looks like one of your pine trees is already leaning, but it appears to be the pipeline work beyond the trees that concerns you. Any trenching done next to a tree will remove lateral roots. You should be able to take a look at the open trench and determine the size and quantity of tree roots that have been cut. The closer trenching is done to a tree, the more destruction of important roots this causes. As a general rule, most tree roots are inside the branch tips, with some extending slightly beyond the branch tips. Also, most tree roots are in the top 12 to 18 inches of the soil. The area directly below the branch tips is called the "drip zone" and is where most smaller "feeder roots" are located. Trenching inside the drip zone is especially destructive since it damages the larger, major roots and will reduce a tree's stability. Heavy equipment should also be kept out of a tree's root zone, since this sort of traffic can be very detrimental to trees.

Q: We just purchased a oak tree which is about 15 feet tall.  The nursery people planted this tree. About one week after it was planted we noticed a baler twine type of rope encircles the tree and has grown into the trunk and we cannot remove this rope. Will this kill the tree? Thank you - Connie

A: These types of "girdling" ropes can be very troubling, and present tough choices after things have reached this point. Plastic or synthetic rope is much worse than regular brown farm bailing twine (the 'dyed green' bailing twine has been treated to slow its decay). If the tree bark has partially enclosed this rope, and removal would cause excessive damage, I would suggest trying to cut the binding rope in just one spot, to help relieve any ongoing constriction. Prior to doing anything, I would contact to the nursery to make them aware of this situation. Equally troublesome can be synthetic burlap that is used around root balls (..and wrapped tightly around tree trunks) since it can last many years while constricting root and/or trunk growth.

Follow-up: After voicing her concerns, the nursery planted a new replacement tree for Connie.

Q: A couple of our trees are dropping black things on our driveway and leaving black specks on our vinyl railings around our porch. We live in Durham, NC and have many trees in the front yard. We have pressure washed and it doesn't take them all off.  I can take my fingernail and pop off the top layer but sometimes it leaves a sticky layer on the railing. Do you have any idea what I can get to take these spots off?  Also, my concrete driveway stays black from these trees. Many thanks for your assistance and help.

A: It sounds as though you may have a couple things going on there, which may be unrelated. Sooty mold on Magnolia leavesFirst, most dripping from trees is caused by insect activity, usually aphids which are also called "plant lice." They work in conjunction with ants (symbiotic relationship) to feed mostly near branch tips, and they drip excess tree sap called "honeydew" (..not to be confused with a husband's "honey do" list ;-). This is what people usually notice on their vehicle's paint when parked beneath an infested tree for several hours. Over time, this honeydew will grow "black sooty mold" which often helps my quick diagnosis on insect-infested trees (It is common on Magnolias with scale infestations - See photo). Other than that being your possible situation, black algae can form in less sunny areas, lately becoming a scourge on asphalt shingles, especially on the north side of rooftops.

Your second scenario with "black specks on our vinyl railings" sounds like "artillery fungus." Chances are the wood mulch you applied around your house ( I correct?) has developed a natural-occurring fungus that actually shoots these black spores onto your railings. Incoming!!!

Artillery fungus spores next to a pennyThese spores have great range, often landing over 10-feet away. We typically see them on light colored vinyl siding, reaching several feet above the ground, but its "fire" is drawn by any light colored surface, including vehicles. Scraping away one of the black spores usually does leave a mark. What to do?

First is to live with them. Beyond that, research has determined that some mulches are less likely to contain or promote the fungus, like cypress. (My cypress preservationists won't like that remark) Also, that annual mulching is more likely to discourage artillery fungus than mulches left 2 years or more to further decay between mulch applications. You could also switch to a stone mulch.

Q: My husband was going to just TRIM our tree….groom the bad parts….but instead he HACKED it…..It was a very old HUGE Beautiful tree….. do I have hope that any of the tree will grow back.   One of the limbs was not even a bad limb ……. I am just crushed…. He has no idea what he is doing….PLEASE HELP!!!!!  Carla

A: I've been told that some wives don't trust their husbands with chainsaws and loppers, so you may not be alone out there!  Don't be too hard on him though, the price was probably right. We try to do severe pruning like that in the spring of the year, since new growth begins shortly afterwards. You probably won't know what sort of new growth your tree will have until next spring. Photo: "Hat Rack" style pruning ruins tree structure and results in scores of weak sprouts.

Q: We have a very large Sycamore tree that looks good but is dropping green limbs averaging about 4-5 ft long without the help of strong winds. As we sit on the patio, down one will come. And the branches are dropping at a rate of 1-3 per week. Examining the fallen branch the break seems dry and brittle but nothing else seems wrong. Is our tree dying? Should we have in removed pronto? Cathi

A: Your situation does sound rather odd, especially since it is occurring on green branches when it isn't windy.  Question for you: Do you have squirrels in the yard? Sometimes those rascals will bite off branches, usually making an angled "cut" with their teeth. I've seen this occur on spruce trees, and yesterday one client had the same thing happening on her white oak. The nipped branches are usually shorter than yours, but they can still be over a foot long.

Cathi: We have lots of squirrels!  However, these limbs don't look eaten.

Bob: Twigs won’t look gnawed, it is usually a fairly clean-cut like pruners.

Q: Last year deer rubbed on my 3-year-old weeping willow tree so hard that the tree was broken off to about 2 to 3 feet above ground. The trunk no longer grows any taller; it just has a lot of leaved shoots coming out of the sides. How can I get it to grow like a tree again? Thank you, Wanda

A: Try taking an old broomstick or dowel rod and loosely attaching it to the main trunk, then loosely tie the most dominate side branch to the top of the broomstick in order to train it to grown upwards. Hopefully the side branch will take over as the tree's new leader after a year. Check your ties occasionally to ensure they are not girdling (choking) the tree trunk and branch, and loosen them if necessary.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In areas populated by deer, it is important to protect tree trunks from antler injury during the fall and early winter period, when bucks are rubbing the velvet off their antlers. This sort of damage can easily prove fatal to a tree, if not providing it with a major setback.

Plastic drain pipe used to protect a tree trunk from deer antlersOne of the simplest forms of tree trunk protection uses 4-inch diameter corrugated plastic drain pipe. This flexible pipe is cut to length, so it reaches from the ground to just below the first branch. Then the pipe is slit vertically, creating an opening for the pipe to be slid over the tree trunk. Caution should be exercised cutting and installing the pipe, so that tender bark isn't damaged when the pipe is opened up and slid over the tree trunk, since the pipe can be difficult to force open and the plastic edges are sharp. It helps if two people do the work together. This corrugated 4-inch pipe can be purchased at most lumber yards and home centers, costing less than $5 for a 10-foot section, which is enough to protect a couple trees. The perforated type of drain pipe is best since the holes aid air movement around the tree trunk.

Q: We bought 20 aspen trees in February. My husband became sick and did not get them in ground for about 2 months. I think I kept the balls wet enough.  They were bound in burlap and kept outside where they got sunlight. Tree rootballWe live in Colorado. They trees had buds, but have not gotten leaves. The buds appear dried out.  The bark on the trees varies from greenish to greyish, brownish.  Bark is a bit mottled looking on some of them (parts green and parts grey or brown). They seem to be pliable. Do you think they are dead? Thanks for your help.

A: It sure sounds like you may have lost them. It is very difficult to keep B&B trees sitting on top of the ground moist, especially without heeling them part way into the ground or putting some mulch around the rootballs.... it sounds like these trees dried-out and died. If they don't have any leaves by the end of June it is time to give up on them for sure. Photo: Balled & Burlapped trees on top of the ground.

Q: We got a maple tree out of the woods behind our yard and the main root broke a short ways from the trunk of the tree... Will it survive the transplant to my front yard?

A: A bigger issue than the root loss may be the time of year you have chosen for transplanting. It is always best to transplant trees during their dormant stage, when they don't have any leaves on them: Fall - right after they drop their leaves, Spring - before they put on any leaves or new growth.

Q: We bought a large burgundy maple tree last week and dug the hole 4ft wide by 2 ft deep. We were unable to get the tree to the backyard immediately to get it in the hole so it sat outside for about 24 hours. It looked beautiful when we got it, but the leaves started to look wilted before we planted it, but we knew we needed to get it in the ground immediately. The nursery told us to water it 3 days in a row so each day the water went further and further to the roots. So we did. The leaves continue to look wilted and dry and many of them are falling off. What can we do to help our tree or do we just need to give it time to recover? Is it dying? I contacted the nursery and they were not very nice about it asking if we watered it, saying it should not be wilted if it was watered! Thanks for your help.

A: It sounds as though your tree was in shock from being moved. You didn't mention if it was in a plastic pot or B&B (balled and burlapped). In either case, it is easy for the roots of trees to dry out quickly when they are above ground, especially in the sun. Transporting a tree without proper protection (in order to keep the wind from buffeting the foliage) can also have a drying effect.

While watering a potted tree is fairly simple (water the tree slowly until water is coming out of all the holes in the bottom of the plastic pot) it can be much more difficult to thoroughly wet the root ball on a B&B tree (see photo on right). Once your tree was planted in the hole you dug, one thorough watering should have been adequate for the first week in most locations, unless you have fast draining soil. Overwatering a tree can suffocate the roots, since roots also need to exchange gases, and saturated soil prevents that from happening. (It is also important to move a B&B tree by lifting the root ball instead of by the trunk, since this lifting can damage roots).

Old-timers in the nursery business used to always prune away (or thin) some of the branches from a transplanted tree to help balance the "root to shoot ratio," since trees lose a portion of their roots when dug-up using the B&B method. Potted trees tend to grow circling roots, in which case you should cut the roots down one side and across the bottom of the root ball to help break the circling root growth pattern that can lead to the tree being "girdled" (choked) by its own roots as it gets older. This type of root cutting can also put a newly planted tree under stress.

Q: Dug up an orange tree and replanted it at my house three weeks ago. It looks dead. How long before it comes back to the way it was. We water it every day we live in Sarasota Fl, is there hope for this tree? We hope so, it had real little oranges on it.

A: Sounds like the tree was dug-up at the wrong time of year and it may be dead. Trees have the best chance of surviving transplant if they are dug when dormant, as opposed to when they are actively growing (and producing oranges). You may want to speak with the owner of an orange grove or a local nurseryman to get further detailed advice on transplanting orange trees. You could also seek free advice from the agricultural extension of University of Florida.

Q: I have two very large silver maple trees, now all the bark is falling off and down to bare wood. There is sawdust on the bark of the trees. I am afraid the trees will die and fall on my home, what can I do? They are 20 years old and very, very large. Thank you for your help - Violet

A: If they are shedding their bark and in bad shape you should contact a professional arborist to have them removed as soon as possible! Silver maples are not a desirable species of Maple to begin with, but many people plant them since they grow so fast. There is a good reason why dangerous trees like these are often called "widow makers."  Photo: These two silver maples were topped several years ago in an effort to reduce their size, but all that did was create fast growing, weak, vertical sprouts. Money would have been better spent removing these trees and planting desirable ones.

Q: I live in Laredo, Texas. I have a two-year-old Texas Ash that had started to bud in late January. In the first week of February we had a hard freeze. All the buds on the tree turned crispy brown. Later that month the tree produced leaves and new branches but only on the lower middle section of the tree. All of the top branches are bare with only the crispy brown buds on them. Does that mean those branches are dead? The tree also has several new branches sprouting from the lower trunk one and two feet from the ground. Should I remove them? How has I get the part of the tree to produce branches/leaves again?

A: Sounds like the top of your ash tree got frozen back and won't recover. You will know for sure as the living buds finish opening-up and leafing out. Once the good buds have all opened, prune off any dead wood above and beyond the new growth, removing all the dead branches. Sprouts growing from the trunk are not desirable for the long run, but they may temporarily give the tree some added strength, so you need to decide whether to prune them off now or leave them for a few months while the tree recovers. New growth from the top of your cutback tree will have to be trained to form a new central "leader" if you lost the old leader on the tree. A single leader is desirable on most trees, since multiple leaders can lead to branching that is more prone to splitting in storms. An application of fertilizer this spring, following label instructions related to its size, would also help the tree, as well as thorough weekly watering during this year's growing season.

Note: If you lived in the midwestern US and reported the same symptoms on an Ash tree, it would be necessary to determine if Emerald Ash Borer had damaged your tree, since the symptoms you listed are very similar. To my knowledge the EAB has not yet invaded Texas, but it has definitely continued its deadly march across northern states.

Q: I have a Honey Locust tree that I planted last year and was wondering if I could dig this tree up and move it elsewhere without killing the roots?

Bright-colored leaves on a Sunburst HoneylocustA: Move the young tree soon, before the leaves come out, while it is still dormant. Attempt to get most of the roots while digging it up, replant it at the same depth it was growing, and thoroughly water it in. Depending on soil and weather conditions, water it about once a week during the growing season to help ensure its survival.

Q: We have a tree that's growing crooked in our frontyard, what can I do to fix it? The tree is around 4-5 years old, but it looks like crap. Should I remove it and plant a new tree? Is there anything that can be done to correct it? Hope you can give me some advice, thanks.

A: If the tree is still small enough, and it hasn't produced any new growth yet this spring, you could attempt to dig it up and reposition it in an upright position. (Digging trees while they are dormant is the safest time, spring or fall)  This would be worth the effort and risk if you are considering removing the tree anyway. Once it is replanted be sure to "stake" the tree to help stabilize its corrected position for the first year. Water it weekly (depends on your weather and soil conditions) to help ensure its survival through its critical first year of replanting.

Some of the old-time nurserymen believed in removing some branches after digging a tree to help balance the "root to shoot ratio" since many roots are lost during transplanting. They felt removing some branches helped recreate a balance. University research over the past couple decades has disputed the value of that sort of effort, but in any case, it is always good to remove branches that are crossing or growing inwards. Doing this sort of corrective pruning, while a tree is still young, is always the most economical and best practice.

Q: My neighbor has a very large spruce tree and the roots have come onto my property above the ground. My mower is nicking the root, it is also close to electric underground lines. What can I do? Thank you very much in advance, Laural

A: Before doing anything you should discuss this situation with your neighbor. You should also check your legal rights in your particular state regarding this sort of situation. The last thing you want to do is start a property line feud over these roots, and those types of feuds are easily ignited when it comes to property line issues.

Removing a root presents its own set of risks, such as subjecting a tree to windthrow or opening the root tissue to soil borne pathogens. It is usually better to mulch over these sorts of roots than have them cohabitate with grass that needs mowed regularly. Surface rooted trees produce multiple surface roots over time, so these probably won't be the last roots that "invade" your lawn.

If you still decide on root removal... Before you attempt any sort of digging you should always phone ONE CALL (811) so you know exactly where utility lines are located and how close you can safely dig to them. Ideally, you would remove the offending root without digging, since it sounds risky in that area with buried utility lines. A stump grinding service may be able to help if digging is not an option.

Q: We are interested in purchasing a large shade tree for parents in Chewelah, WA.  Since they are in their late 70’s and early 80’s, the tree needs to be more than a few years old.  They have very sandy soil.  The yard has a sprinkler system, so watering is not a problem.  It will be in full sun, as there are no trees near the house.  The current tree line is about 150 yards away and are pine trees.  The $175 Maple tree purchased, did not survive.

A: I would suggest accessing another free resource for some professional help on this tree topic, since a variety of tree known to be reliable (Maple) has already failed. In the case of Washington state this would be the Washington State University Extension at

Unless deep budget cuts derail the agriculture extensions in each state, they will continue to provide an excellent and valuable resource for everyone with horticultural (and other) questions.

Q: My mountain ash tree is about three years old and will not grow. What can I do?

A: As with any tree, one always has to go back to basics and ask the following questions:

Is the tree receiving enough water, but not too much?

Are there any insect pests or diseases present?

Does the soil present any special problems, like with poor drainage?

Is too much shade, or root competition from other trees a factor?

Are any applications on or around the tree adversely affecting it?

Have unusual weather conditions affected the tree?

Are any guy wires or synthetic wraps restricting the roots or trunk?

Is the tree planted in the right temperate zone?

The Mountain Ash isn't really an ash tree, which is fortunate due to the rapid spread of the deadly Emerald Ash Borer. That being said, the Mountain Ash is susceptible to a disease called Fire Blight. Without going into detail, I can tell you that it is best not to overfertilize Mountain Ash, especially with nitrogen fertilizer, since this can increase the tree's susceptibility to Fire Blight. Damaged trees look as though as they have burned by fire, and often have the telltale "shepherd's crook" at their bentover growing tips.

Q: We are trying to find the value of a 300 year old 60 inch caliper Valley oak and a 30-inch 200-250 year old Valley oak in an oak woodland park surrounded by a town. The trees were killed in a construction accident, and we are trying to find a way to place an International Society of Arborists value on them. Can you help?

A: Trees are valued using a formula that takes into account a tree's species, size, location and condition. Caliper is a nursery industry term used for the trunk diameter of smaller trees, while D.B.H. (diameter breast height, which is four and one-half feet above the ground) is used for large trees like your oak. To find a certified arborist near you, go to the International Society of Arboriculture website at:

Q: The electric company contracted with a company to trim trees that were endangering the high power lines. My oak trees were sided (all limbs were cut off the side near the electric lines).  I was not at the house when the cutting was done. When I came home I was disgusted. The last time the trees were trimmed they were not sided only trimmed. I have seven old trees that are in question. These trees are OLD GROWTH, at least 100 years by the measure the trunk and divide method.  Am I now in danger of losing these trees?

A: Your story is indeed very tragic, especially considering the ripe old age of your 7 oak trees. Whether trees are "drop crotched" with a large "U" cut out of their middles, "topped" completely beneath wires, or "flat-sided" like yours, the result often resembles a headless horseman.

Just this week I attended a seminar for landscape professionals and one of the plant pathology professors from Penn State, Gary Moorman, spoke about the worst time to trim oak trees, in regard to creating additional risks from Oak Wilt disease. Since this disease is spread by insects (or root grafts) it is best not to trim oaks from April through October, since open wounds can promote spread of the disease pathogens by insects that are active during that time frame. That being said, White Oaks are less susceptible to Oak Wilt than oaks in the Red Oak group. To learn more, here is an article on Oak Wilt.

Tree under utility wires has been severely prunedFrom a purely mechanical point of view, even if these trees lost 1/3 of their canopies, they stand a good chance of survival. Hopefully the company used "target pruning" and made professional cuts that won't result in an excessive number of dead stubs or lingering open wounds. Unfortunately, this type of trimming, as is also seen with topping and drop crotching, results in permanent structural damage to the tree, where a desirable, strong branching structure is replaced by multiple weak sprouts which actually create a higher risk to utility lines over time. (Photo: Severely pruned Maple tree beneath utility lines)

Q: I'm trying to plan an outdoor spring party after the 15-year-old Bradford Pear in my yard blooms are gone. We moved here to Charlotte, NC and I remember how terrible the tree smelled last spring. I didn't note the dates. Do you have any local history on when these would be finished blooming? Thank you for any help you can give. Rosanne

A: I agree with you on that 'funky' odor from flowering Bradford pears! Some varieties and particular trees seem to be worse than others. Before I answer your question from here in Pennsylvania, where I would guess mid-April, let me suggest you contact the NC State Cooperative Extension people in your home state for their answer. Here is their link:

Tree bloom times can move a little forward or back by early spring weather conditions. It's not uncommon these days for us to see trees begin to open blossoms and unfurl leaves way too early, then get 'nipped' in short order by subsequent, more seasonal cold snaps. Hope you have great weather (..and no pear blossoms) for your spring party!

Q: I have an apple tree and two cherry trees that are dying.  The bark is falling off and the trunk is split.  All this is happening on the southwest side of the trees.  The sun does hit one for a long period of time each day, but there is one that gets minimum sun afternoon.  One limb is dying at a time and there are not that many limbs left.  Help! If they are destined to die, please recommend a viable variety of cherry and apple tree for my area. Albuquerque NMThank you - Chris

A: And thank you for including your location, it makes answering these questions much easier! When trunk damage specifically occurs on the southwest side of a tree we usually suspect "Southwest Sunscald." Think about how cold a tree trunk can get during the nighttime hours, only to be quickly heated by the sun the next day. The resulting temperature extreme -- from cold to hot -- can cause a vertical split in the bark on the southwest side of the trunk. On larger trees this splitting action has been reported to be as loud as a gunshot.

While tree wraps are generally not recommended or necessary for older trees, newly planted trees are often wrapped with a special tree wrap or crepe-paper (that comes in rolls) during the winter months. The proper direction to wrap a tree trunk with this 'stretchy' paper is from the bottom up, with a slight overlap, in order to create a "shingle effect" for water runoff. (If the final top wrap is tied-off with string or twine, be sure to check it periodically to see if it needs loosened due to trunk expansion)  A number of horticultural suppliers also sell plastic wrap-arounds to protect tree trunks from critter damage.... these would also help protect against southwest sunscald.

Regarding recommendations for specific varieties of fruit trees to plant in your area, I would suggest checking with your state's agricultural extension through New Mexico State University at:

Q: We have 2 fruit trees - an apple and a pear - which recently had extensive bark removed by rabbits. Is there any cure for these trees when spring comes?

A: It really depends how deep they chewed and around how much of the circumference to determine if your trees will survive. Those two factors will determine what your trees will look like by early summer. Of course in the meantime it would be worth putting some hardware cloth (metal mesh) -- or even chicken wire if you are sure it is rabbits and not mice -- in place to prevent further damage. People are often thrown off their game when snow accumulates because it elevates rabbits and other varmits to new heights for their chewing activities.

Q: We have two older cherry trees which have some large "knuckles" where smaller branches have come off.  Is it safe to cut these knuckles off or should we leave them and continue to cut the smaller branch sprouts that grow from them? Thanks -- Bea

A: Those "knuckles" you speak of sound like old branch "collar" areas that have compartmentalized the wounds where branches were removed. Instead of replacing tissue like we do with our skin, trees grow new layers of tissue over and around old wounds. This is called compartmentalization. (Photo: Pin Oak closing over a wound where a branch was removed several years ago)

Removing those 'knuckles' would undo your trees' years of work to seal off those old wounds by growing a protective, yet bulging, layer. Even though pruning the sprouts may be a pain, due to constant trimming required, that is much better for the tree than opening old wounds.

Q: We want to level off the ground around our pine tree. How much soil can we remove around the tree? I've heard their roots can't be buried very deep. Thank you.

Soil piled up against a tree trunk also suffocates the root systemA: Any time you change the soil "grade" around a tree you are taking chances. Adding soil on top of a tree's root zone can act to suffocate roots. Most people tend to think of soil as a "solid mass" but the fact of the matter is that soil has pore spaces which allow for the exchange of gases, and this network of pores allows tree roots to breathe. By covering a tree's rootzone with more than an inch of soil you risk suffocating the roots. It is also detrimental to trees to have extra soil piled up higher against their trunks. Photo: Double-whammy! Half of this tree's root system has been buried and soil is piled against the trunk.

In a different fashion, excavating soil away from a tree's root zone can damage fine feeder roots and root hairs, the parts of a tree's roots that do most of the important work. It is usually pretty obvious when you dig into these roots since they are clearly visible and usually difficult to dig through. If you ever do have to cut through larger roots on a tree, it is advisable to make a neat cut and then paint the cut ends with tree paint. This runs counter to the advice on tree branches where "painting" wounds is not recommended.

Q: My swamp maple has broken off a huge branch.  The branch has fallen on my neighbor’s fence.  What type of cut do I use so the tree branch falls back into my yard with out damaging the fence?

A: This may be work for tree professionals. Countless individuals suffer severe injuries when working with trees, since they aren't always predictable. That being said, the branch would probably have to be tied-off with a strong rope (or two) to hold the branch in position while the necessary cuts are made. Once the branch is free, it could be safely lowered to the ground for final reduction and removal.

One danger with tree branches is that they can be "spring loaded." In other words, a branch can get bent against the ground in a fashion where once it is cut, it can release tension unpredictably, possibly striking you or an object like this fence. The weight of a huge branch can also be crushing.

So again, tree climbing and the removal of larger branches is best left for professionals. It's not worth risking personal injury or property damage to save money. Always ensure that the tree services you contract have liability and workmen's compensation insurance, and are true tree professionals instead of just chain saw gurus.

Q: I have a tree in front of my house that was planted by the township 5 years ago that is now starting to mature. It is producing berries that when landing on my cars finish are very hard to remove. A car wash will not get them off. I have had to use a power washer to get them loose. Once off I have notice that they have stained the paint finish and even etched the finish in some cases. I have tried to compound these out but with little or no success. I do not own the tree and complaints to the township resulted in a response of “do not park under it” I have attached a photo copy of the leaves and I hope you can tell me what type of tree it is, if the berries are acidic and any suggestions on how to remove the stains. I appreciate your help. Thank you – John

A: Looks as though it may be a Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) tree. The Serviceberry has a blue-colored fruit when ripe, shaped like a real small grape. As far as questions on berry stains in your automobile's finish, I would suggest contacting a collision shop. If you must continue parking under the tree, you may want to consider a car cover that is weather (and berry) resistant.

Q: I had a teenager mow and trim my yard while I was away and he "whipped" the bark on a couple of my young aspen trees with the weed whacker. What can I do to help these trees overcome this damage? Thank you very much - Karen

A: About all you can do now is trim away any loose bark back to a clean cut edge that is still firmly attached to the tree. You might also consider putting mulch around the base of your aspen trees so that using a weed whacker near them is no longer necessary. Next growing season do all you can to help keep the trees healthy; fertilize them in spring and water them during any dry spells.

Q: I have a beautiful maple tree in front of my yard. I live in South Florida, with the 2005 hurricane season, during Hurricane Wilma; the top most part of the tree bark became separate, now there is a hole. The tree is extremely healthy, all leaves are healthy. My question is there a wood resin I can buy to plug the hole, so it won’t rot the tree? I’m afraid with time it will do just that, because when it rains, water accumulates inside the hole. Thanks - Aline

A: I checked with a friend who has successfully filled dozens of tree cavities with that spray foam insulation that comes in an aerosol can. You can buy it at home improvement stores. It is a bit tricky to use since it swells up after you spray it in the hole, so it is difficult to gauge just how much to spray in.

Allow the hole in the tree to dry out some. Then spray-in the foam, and give it a day or two to dry. Once it dries, shave the foam back with a knife to an inch below the level of the tree's outer bark (so the foam is recessed below the bark) and then paint the surface of the dried foam with roofing asphalt. This should do the trick!

On larger cavities he recommends using a piece of sheet insulation foam board on the surface of the cavity, again keeping it just below the level of the bark before painting the foam board with roofing asphalt. Keeping the foam recessed allows the bark to close over top of the wound without 'pushing out' your repair.

Q: I planted THREE Pyramidal European Hornbeams (Carpinus betulus 'Fastigiata') one year ago, in front of my house.  They do not seem to be growing, but also do not seem under distress. Is it normal? I fear that I did not break up the root ball enough when planting, and perhaps they are still 'pot-bound'? Thank you. Elona

A: Sometimes trees do appear not to be growing during their first year or so. The key is providing them with the basics they need.... thorough weekly waterings during hot, dry weather is one example. An application of fertilizer in the spring will encourage new growth as well. Plus you need to monitor for any destructive insects that may be present by periodically examining foliage (always check underneath leaves too).

All that being said, Hornbeams can be very sensitive to heat and dry weather. In the case of a columnar Hornbeam on my own property, which is growing in a narrow planter next to the driveway and street, I have observed its displeasure with hot summer conditions, especially when I'm not keeping it throughly watered once a week during the July-August time frame.

The leaves tend to brown at the tips, especially on the sunny side where it gets extra heat radiating off the asphalt pavement. Some years it will even partially defoliate by September. I've observed these trees doing the same thing in sidewalk planters in the city.

Q: I live in Ohio and my oak isn’t doing well. It is a regular oak- not a pin oak. I am told that maybe it needs iron as it color is a little more yellowish than some of the others around. Thanks for any help or advice you can give. Barb

A: Sometimes Oaks suffer if they are growing on calcareous soils, in other words, soils with a high pH that are too "sweet" for an Oak's liking. They usually prefer slightly "acidic" soils.

Yes, high pH soil will affect an Oak when it comes to iron, and this can lead to a condition called "chlorosis" where the veins of the leaves are often much darker green than the surrounding leaf tissue.

There are water soluble products available to help address chlorotic conditions in plants ('Miracid' is one often used on Rhododendrons and Azaleas) but the size of the tree might limit how much you can reasonably affect overall conditions. You could do some further internet research using "iron chlorosis" for your search term.

Q: I recently moved into a home, and unfortunately one of my nice trees has profanity carved into the side of the tree.  Is there a way to remove or hide the carvings that is safe for the tree? Thanks, Don

A: A bundle of tied-up dry corn stalks might add decoration and hide the carvings, at least for the fall season!  Or you could drape a decorative seasonal banner in a key location to hide this part of the trunk.

Seriously though, you might consider using a "tree wrap" which is sort of a stretchy crepe paper that comes in rolls about 4-inches wide and maybe 25-feet long. This would work best on small trees, not so much on larger trees.

This sort of tree wrap is best rolled around the tree from the bottom up, placing enough tension on the wrap to hold it firmly in place, while overlapping each successive go-round slightly, sort of like roof shingles. The top can be tied off with some twine as long as you check it periodically to make sure it isn't "girdling" (cutting into the bark) the tree.

While tree paint isn't recommended for most trunk wounds, it would be a viable option for camouflaging any color differences, even though the standard color is black.

You can mail order these sorts of supplies from someplace like A.M. Leonard in Ohio. We have used their catalog for several decades with good results. (Hey Leonard's, you owe me one!)

Q: I started a Northern Red Oak from seed and it is 8 inches tall with 2 sets of leaves. Is it too late to plant this year -- I live in Cadiz, Ohio. Bob

Red Oak in front of a houseA: Oaks are usually considered best transplanted in the Spring of the year. However, if it can be planted without disturbing any of the roots, fall would still be OK. Being that small, you may want to put some metal mesh around it to protect it from rabbits, rodents and deer browsing. 

Late October is also a good time for everyone to consider protecting tree trunks from whitetail deer. Bucks are known to severely damage trees this time of year. Even a section of corrugated black plastic drain pipe is usually enough to discourage them.

Q: About one year ago we planted shrubs (soft touch hollies) and flowers (Lavender & Stella De Oro daylilly) on both sides of our driveway.  On the West side all are doing well.  But on the East side, within the drip line of a mature bradford pear tree, these plants are struggling and, in some cases, dying.   Both sides receive the same amount of sunshine. Is there a toxicity problem with Bradford Pear roots similar to Black walnut tree roots or is the Bradford simply sucking up all the water and stressing the shrubs & flowers.  We have been watering frequently to try to overcome the lack of rainfall. Thanks for the help, Dan

A: If all things are equal with the amount of sunlight like you say, then you would probably be looking at a soil or tree root issue. You didn't mention what size the Pear is, but a larger tree could have enough roots sharing the same space with your hollies, lavender and daylilies that it is robbing them of moisture, especially "within the dripline." As a general rule of thumb, most feeder roots are concentrated around a tree's dripline.

You also mentioned being next to a driveway... not sure how much ice or snow you get in Maryville, TN, but perhaps that side of the driveway was affected by deicers? An application that can help minimize plant and lawn damage in those sorts of areas subjected to de-icing salt is GYPSUM. It is best applied in the fall before winter weather arrives, follow label instructions.

Heat issue... Does that side of the driveway get more heat from prevailing winds, etc?

We aren't aware of any toxicity-type problems with Pears resembling the juglone exuded by Black Walnut trees. When you do water, always try to apply water slowly and thoroughly so the water has time to penetrate the ground. Early morning is the preferred time of day for watering.

Q: I have a what I believe a Mondale pine tree that is three years old and is starting to turn yellow on the top branch and has brown needles in the center of the tree.  I live in the Mojave desert, California and it is quite hot.  The tree gets water every day. The large basin is filled everyday at 4:30 a.m..  My other trees look fine.  Can you give me any advice?  Thank you, Vicki

A: I would suggest checking with your state's agricultural extension branch at UC Riverside.

Brown needles toward the center of a pine (in the northeastern US) can be a normal occurrence in August. Pines usually shed their older needles late in the growing season. You might closely inspect the wood of the top branch to see if there are any signs of insect damage (bleeding sap) or boring into the wood.

Q: My parents have a walnut tree in their front yard.  It is the only tree there and it has a nice shape to it.  it has reached a point where it's branches are near the house and close to a power line coming into the house from the road on one side.  I hate to see the tree removed.  We have been told that if we trim it properly, it could last about five years without trimming again.  They live between Canton and Waynesburg, Ohio.  Can you offer any advice?  I am wondering how we can find someone who will know how to properly trim the tree -- I don't want to see it topped as the power line people have a tendency to do which ruins the look and shape of the tree.  My parents are elderly and every job is a big job and a difficult decision to them. Thank you, Judy

A: It sounds like the solution to your problem is locating a professional arborist who knows how to properly trim a tree, not just top it. You might want to check the database of listed professionals at the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) web site for a reference.

Q: Our dwarf fruit trees were doing well until this year, now they are dead or dying. Most have been with us for 3 to 4 years.  Cherry, apple, peach, pear, etc.  They've been sprayed, watered and cared for. Any idea what caused this? Jane

A: Have you carefully examined the base of each tree to see if some sort of rodent chewed the bark off just above ground level? You would probably have to remove what appear to be plastic rings (in Jane’s emailed photos) that are also holding several inches of mulch to inspect the tree trunks. It is recommended not to have mulch piled-up around the base of a tree trunk, partly because it can provide cover for mice and other rodents to do their bark chewing over the winter. It also holds moisture against the bark. When did the leaves die-off / shrivel on these trees?

Jane: I think we noticed a problem in May.

Bob: More questions then Jane: Did the leaves come on the tree and then die as if burned by fire? Did you fertilize the trees?

Jane: My husband says the trees were OK until he sprayed with the fruit spray preventive.  New info to me.

Bob: If sprays are applied at the wrong time or wrong rate, they can severely damage or kill trees. Examples of wrong times would include 'muggy' weather -- you shouldn't apply some insecticides in hot, humid weather that is typical during July/August afternoons. Another example would include 'dormant oil' spray being applied either too early in the fall or too late in the spring, especially on trees with thin bark. I saw a case where several thousand dollars worth of beech trees were killed by a dormant oil spray being applied too late in the spring. As the old saying goes, always read and follow label instructions on the product you are using (before you use it).

As a general rule of thumb with most tree and shrub spraying, it is much better to make your spray applications in the cool of the early morning instead of in the heat of the day. When it is still cool there is much less chance for damage caused by 'phytotoxicity.' Since wind can cause spray "drift" onto non-target areas, morning is usually a much better time to spray since air is calmer. And of course, you don't want it to rain right after you apply a foliar spray, so check the forecast.

While we are on this topic: Dress for the job when you are spraying. Change out of the flip-flops, shorts and t-shirt into something that gives you better protection from spray drift. Shower when you are done. Remember that most cases of pesticide poisoning are DERMAL, meaning the poison enters through skin. Your highest risk of exposure comes when you are mixing the concentrate. Protect your eyes from splashing. Some skin areas are much more "absorbent" than others. One symptom of exposure and pesticide poisoning is pinpoint pupils, where your eye's pupil is very small or pinpoint. Some people are susceptible to various pesticide formulations that can act as cholinesterase inhibitors. Again, read and follow label instructions, they are there to help YOU as much as the plant! And always remember to keep pesticides in their original containers and out of the reach of children.

Q: I developed a severe case of contact dermatitis after purchasing and spreading dyed red mulch around my landscaping. I purchased it from a garden shop in bulk (it was not bagged mulch). Is there a common skin irritant found in commercial mulch?  Poison ivy perhaps?  I am very reluctant to use mulch again after this experience. The rash was horrendously itchy and I had a strong allergic reaction with swelling and burning pain in addition to itching. It was a horrible week!!!  Beth

A: This is the first time I ever heard of anything like this, but that doesn't mean it is uncommon. Did you ask the supplier for a product information sheet or MSDS that might identify the colorant used on the mulch? Looking online at a MSDS for red colorant used on mulch, under Summary of Health Risks and Symptoms of Exposure: "May cause mechanical skin and eye irritation."  IRON OXIDE is the primary ingredient of this particular red colorant, along with some lesser ingredients listed as "proprietary."

There is an outside chance that poison ivy could get into shredded bark mulch products since debarking machines at sawmills strip off the tree bark (and probably any attached vines) prior to sawing the logs into boards. (See: Where does shredded mulch come from?) Other mulch products are made from chipped pallets or wood. We have used a product called TECNU when we suspect any contact with poison ivy. Always read and follow label instructions. You might want to try using natural shredded bark mulch (un-dyed) next time around.

Q: I just had two Silver Maple trees removed (the roots were crazy and completely destroying my yard and branches falling like crazy) and they have not ground-out the stumps but are suppose to soon.  My question is a three part one: first is it too hot to plant another tree (80 degrees today) as soon as they remove the old stump?  And second what is a good fast growing tree that will not produce surface roots?  Or fall apart like the Poplars, Silver Maples and Bradford Pear trees?  Third:  I am interested in the Red Maple what do you think? I want to replant as soon as they grind out the roots. Thank you in advance - Mattie

A: The words "good" and "fast growing" don't often accompany each other when it comes to tree selections. Silver Maples are probably the worst! You might have to scale back to a tree with a "moderate" rate of growth to be happy. If you can, I would wait until cooler fall weather arrives to plant a new tree. That being said, most nursery trees these days are grown in black plastic pots and don't suffer the same transplanting shock that dug trees will. That is why nurseries dig larger B&B (balled and burlapped) trees when the tree is dormant in late fall or early spring.

The Red Maple is a dependable tree with a moderate rate of growth. We happen to have one in our front yard on the southwest side of the house, and it has reached an age (35) where it helps cool the house on hot sunny summer afternoons. The problem with Maples is always surface roots, one of the characteristics you said you don't want in your new tree.

The best way to select a new tree is determining how tall it can grow without creating problems, so that you don't get into 'the right tree in the wrong place' situation that often occurs with trees under utility wires. Once you have determined ultimate size constraints, you should visit a nursery with your specifications to see what they have available.

It is always safest to select a tree that is full hardy in your temperate zone. And in the case of trees like crabapples, be sure to get one of the varieties that has good ratings for disease resistance. During the first year or two of growth, be sure to remove any inward growing, or crossing branches, creating a good basic branch structure for your tree while it is still young. This can save major pruning later that creates large gaps.

Q: I normally buy my mulch in bags from our local Scout Troop or High School. I just had a very large tree removed, however, and had it's stump removed as well. This produced a small mountain of shredded wood that looks suspiciously like the shredded hardwood mulch I buy for my garden, though it's a bit more 'coarse.' Could I use this as mulch in the less visible parts of my garden where I'd like to mulch the sail and add-in some organic matter?  It's OK with me if it takes a couple of years to decompose, I'm more worried about inviting termites and other bugs in.

A: I don't think this new chipped wood will create any risks that you haven't already had with other wood-based mulches you used in the past. However, decaying wood chips will take nitrogen out of the soil during the decay process, so it would be a good idea to balance that out with an application of nitrogen fertilizer, just don't overdo it.

Just about any mulch holds moisture and provides a good home for insects. Another concern is artillery fungus, which can form on most wood mulches and shoot black spores 10 feet. You will often find these small black spores on the sunny side of light colored houses. It will even fire its sticky spores at cars parked close to mulched beds, and may be mistaken for road tar spots. It is most common in beds that aren't mulched regularly. Fire!

Q: I was wondering if you could help with my tree problem.  I love my 14 year old willow oak, but, the roots are getting pretty big.  I'm afraid the lawn mower will cut them.  I have seen a metal tree root fertilizer rod, and, was wondering if this would help with my problem of exposed roots.  I don't know how to use it though.  The instructions are not very clear.  Is there a way to encourage the roots to go down below the surface of the soil.  Will they always be exposed? Thanks for your help! Carole

A: Many trees just naturally have high root systems and there isn't much you can do to change that. Other roots have just grown very large over the years, especially those in close to the tree. Therefore it is often best to mulch those areas or plant a vine or ground cover so you don't have to mow over them.

Q: I live in Sanderson, Texas--semi desert. Two years ago, something black appeared on my pear tree. The next year, it killed it. In the end, there were only a few leafs and they were black even as buds. It seems to be IN the leaf, rather than ON it. I found it on a redbud and two other pear trees--couldn't control it with sprayed on fungicides or insect repellents, so cut down four trees to protect the rest. Now it is on my beautiful 15 ft. cotton wood--- I've been to three nurseries-- am told it is a fungus, a virus, a chemical burn, over watering, underwatering-- I can't get help anywhere. Have you any ideas?? PLEASE???

A: If I were to guess with the odds, I would probably take "fungus" out of your list of choices. That being said, Pears also get a bacterial disease called fire blight where the foliage will look scorched and turn black. For trees that are susceptible to fire blight, it is best not to over-fertilize them.

Black looking branches and leaves will also appear if a tree is infested with any type of insect that excretes honeydew, sticky stuff that eventually grows black sooty mold, and makes branches look black. You will usually see ants in the tree if this is the case.

In addition to the local nurseries, you might also try your agricultural extension of Texas A&M. Plant diagnostic labs at universities usually want to see a sample with a combination of unaffected tissue leading into affected tissue. They can tell you how to gather and mail samples to the university. You can find your county branch listed here.

Q: We had a Maple tree that died about 5 years ago and had the stump ground down about 12" below the surface. I can tell that it is rotting away because the ground is sinking in that area. Can I plant a new tree in that spot?  Thank You

A: It would be best to remove the rest of the decaying wood beneath the new tree prior to planting, to help avoid settling. We have also seen situations where old stumps beneath new trees cause a new tree not to root properly since it is “perched” on the old stump and the root ball can easily dry out. Do some digging and remove the stump, if it is as rotten as you think, the rest of the old wood will come out very easily anyway.

Q: I have a cherry tree that has yellow and red cherries. The problem is the tree seems to have some type of fungus on it. The cherries bloom fast and the cherries are not that sweet. Also the cherries seem to die fast and I believe some are not even blooming. Is there someone who could come and give me a free consultation on what I need to strengthen the life of my tree. Thank you! Leslie

A: I would suggest contacting your state's agricultural extension for some help with these issues, much cheaper than flying me round trip coast to coast!  Check with the Washington State University Extension.

Q: We have a 4 year old Maple Crimson Royal Red and many of the top branches did not leaf out this year and look dead. Is there anything we can do to save this tree or should we replace it? Jean

A: First you might try pruning out the dead areas all the way back to branches that are fully leafed-out. Always prune back to just above a strong side branch so that new growth can takeover from there, without leaving any stubs. Water your young tree weekly this summer if weather is dry. You should also fertilize the tree once this spring, but discontinue fertilization after July 4th so that new growth on the tree can harden-off for winter. (Late-summer and early-fall fertilization can create lush growth that doesn’t properly harden-off for winter weather, increasing the chance of dieback).

Q: I have a 2 year old Modesto Ash that seems to be growing on top faster than its trunk can support it.  The top half is leaning over (about 90 degrees) and almost hitting the ground.  It is stable (even in high winds) but I am wondering should I trim it (top it?) or leave it alone? Thanks! Jon

A: Perhaps with your young 2-year old tree it may be possible to stake it, or use some supports to hold it upright, in order to encourage a strong central leader. Also, stop fertilizing the tree if you have been fertilizing it, since some trees tend to outgrow themselves if "pushed" too hard with fertilizer (Thundercloud Plum, Sweetbay Magnolia).  You might also want to thin the side branches, or shorten them, to take some of the weight off the top of the tree. It is usually best not to "top" a tree unless you have no other choice.

Q: I have a yellow locust tree and it looked great a few days ago but now it has turned brown and droopy.  The trunk and limbs seem to be ok.  We had a bad frost and I was wondering if the tree could have froze? Joanne

A: Your yellow locust is probably a Sunburst Honeylocust, which is one that has bright yellow new growth and foliage. With this tender new growth exposed, a hard frost or freeze could cause the type of damage you describe. Trees usually recover from one freeze-back, but more sensitive ones may suffer if they push out a second set of leaves and get hit again with a hard frost or freeze. Hopefully you are getting past that weather trend now and summer is on the way!

Q: I have a Blue Spruce that continues to grow outward and not up. The top of the tree does not have a branch that continues to go up like all my other trees. My tree looks short and fat. How do I get it to continue to grow upward and not outward? Thanks – Michael

A: Chances are this particular Blue Spruce lost its "leader" in some sort of mishap or storm. Spruce trees do best if they have a single central leader. What you can do is help your spruce create a new central leader. Pick a good side branch near the top of the tree and train it vertically by gently bending it upward and tying it to a wooden dowel rod, or some other sort of stake, in a couple places (even a small tomato stake would probably work). Then tie the other end of the stake in a couple places to the main trunk. You should use strips of cloth or something soft (your old dress ties?) and somewhat flexible so the ties don't cut into the bark. (Check the ties periodically to ensure they aren't constricting growth and cutting into the bark). The finished product should look something like a splint on a person's broken leg. If this is left on the tree for one year, this side branch will begin to grow vertically and take over its new role as the central leader.

Q: A light sticky substance is coating everything on the ground from our two ash trees (Fantax? ..not sure of the spelling) with branches hanging over the driveway and walk. We have to move our cars and cannot let the dogs out front. If tracked into the house, it resembles black tar (probably mixes with dirt), hardens and has to be scraped with a blade. Also sticks to dog's paws. What a mess. Do you know the cause and when it will stop? Thanks – Caron

A: While I am not familiar with the tree species you mentioned, this sounds like it may be caused by an insect infestation on your trees. We have a similar situation here in Pennsylvania with several species of trees, and the classic symptom is 'sticky stuff' dripping on cars, often from Maple trees. In our case it is usually aphids, which excrete a sticky honeydew while feeding on trees, usually near the tender growing tips of branches. Aphids often have ants as their allies, in a symbiotic relationship: The ants get the excess sticky stuff as food, and the aphids get moved around to the best feeding sites by the ants. Some deal, eh? Branches of infested trees will also turn black over time since this sticky excretion grows 'sooty mold' which makes the branches appear to be black.

Therefore, inspect the growing tips of some of the lower branches to see if you have clusters of aphids near the growing tips. They will be small insects (often green or black, but can be other colors) clustered in a group and visible without a magnifying glass.

If by chance this insect is not your problem and it is caused by a different insect, cut 12-inches off the end of a branch and take it to a local tree nursery or garden center to see if they can help you identify the problem. Photos of the rest of the tree may also help them with their analysis. Each US state has an agricultural extension service that can also help with insect identification and treatment advice, in your case that would be the University of Nevada.

Q: I have been having water seepage into my basement/foundation. Instead of French drains around the perimeter of my home, somebody suggested River Birch tree to plant since they would drink overly large amounts of water. Please suggest anything-since I’m in need of landscaping my front yard with more vegetation. Many thanks - Kathi

A: That is certainly a new approach to a leaky basement!  Never heard that suggestion before, but seriously doubt that it would accomplish what was intended. That being said, if you decide to do some digging around, check all your downspouts first to make sure the connections haven't come loose underground, since we have seen that happen in the past when settling occurs around backfilled foundations. This is often the case if water leaks inside the basement correspond to the location of downspouts on the outside.

Like Sycamore and Willow, River Birch (Betula nigra) does like moist areas. However, keep in mind that River Birch grows large enough, fast enough that it should be thought of as a shade tree instead of the smaller clump birch (European White Birch) that were typically planted closer to house foundation corners. River Birch is more desirable with its resistance to the deadly bronze birch borer, but instead of the bright white smooth bark that many desire, it has an interesting orange-colored exfoliating style of bark (see photo).

Other plants that like wet soils are: Red 'Swamp' Maple (Acer rubrum), Bugleweed (Ajuga), Serviceberry tree (Amelanchier), Astilbe, the fragrant Fringetree (Chionanthus), Cornus stolonifera (Dogwood shrub), Forsythia, Daylily (Hemerocalis), Hosta (if you don't have deer), Itea, Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia), Maiden Grass (Miscanthus), and Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum).

Q: We have two large walnut trees in our back yard, they are beautiful but a lot of work when the nuts fall. Is there a way to keep the tree fromproducing walnuts? Nancy

A: You are going to disappoint a bunch of squirrels if you inhibit their walnut gathering!  The squirrels we have around here feel our entire yard should be a grove of walnut trees. As an aside, you probably already realize that many plants won't grow near walnut trees due to juglans, a chemical exuded by all of a walnut tree's parts - leaves, nuts, etc.

Generally speaking, Florel brand Growth Regulator is a product used to eliminate nuisance fruit from many species of trees, but I'm not sure if Walnut trees are on the label. Always read and follow label instructions before using any garden product. For trees that are listed on the label, a tree is sprayed once with this product at the mid- to full- blossom stage to eliminate undesirable or nuisance fruit. You should phone the manufacturer to check the label for Walnut trees, while also making sure the product is registered for use in your state.

Monterey Lawn and Garden Products - Phone: 559-499-2100

If you were to find a spray that worked on your Walnut trees, the next challenge would be applying the spray, especially if they are tall trees. Note: Some tree sprays will spot paint, especially on vehicles!

Q: I have a maple that was damaged recently.  We just trimmed it up and now after almost 24 hours it is still dripping large amounts of sap.  Is there anything we should/could do?  Or are we better off leaving it alone?

A: When Maples are trimmed or damaged during their dormant season (no leaves on the tree) they will often 'bleed' by dripping sap. This is more alarming to watch than it is to the tree. As leaves come on in spring the 'bleeding' will cease. Even though this sort of bleeding hasn't been shown to harm Maples, this annoyance is one reason that Maples are often trimmed while they are in 'full leaf' so this dripping does not occur.

Q: We purchased our home 17 years ago and a beautiful 30 ft Maple tree in the backyard was one influence in our decision to buy. Then the electric company entered our yard to completely shave one side of the tree 10 feet from the power lines. It's been about 10 years and our tree still looks awful. It's heavy on one side and has nothing but water spouts on the other side! Should we radically thin the heavy side and leave the spouts? HELP!!! Carole

A: As the saying goes, "Two wrongs don't make a right"… Not that the power company was wrong to prune their utility right of way. Many folks in our area lost power for several days to a full week during the heavy February snowstorm, mostly due to trees being too close to power lines.

It is still unfortunate when utilities have to shave one side or "drop crotch" beautiful trees by pruning them right through the middle. What my “two wrongs” comment implies is that I would not suggest whacking back the good side of the tree just to make it match the bad side. Instead, I would work with the tree's lopsidedness and continue to trim both sides as needed, removing or thinning the vertical sprouts from the chopped side, and periodically thinning the good side using proper tree pruning standards.

Q: What is the proper way and time of year for trimming my newly planted (August 2009) Magnolia tree in Bakersfield, CA?

The Star Magnolia blooms in early spring before its leaves appearA: You didn't mention which variety of Magnolia you have, but the general rule of thumb when trimming flowering plants is to trim them within a couple weeks of when they finish blooming. This allows trees that set flower buds on "old wood" time to set their buds for next year. The reason for this timing is that if flower buds are already set, and you trim in the fall or early spring, flower buds will be removed.

When trimming trees, try not to leave any stubs, but don't cut so close to the trunk that you damage the swollen area at the base of the branch known as the branch collar.  To direct growth, trim branches just beyond side branches that are growing in the direction you wish to promote growth, which is usually outward. Remove branches growing inward, crossing branches, and of course, dead branches.

Always try to make clean cuts and prune with the proper tools: hand pruners for smaller branches, loppers for medium sized branches, and a pruning saw for larger branches. Try not to tear the bark when making saw cuts by removing the bulk of the branch first, then removing the final section of branch with a short undercut then a finishing top cut. On smaller branches you can support the weight of the branch while finishing your saw cut to prevent torn bark. If you need to sterilize pruning tools after trimming a diseased plant you can use isopropyl alcohol.

Q: I am having my house leveled. The company that is doing the work has temporarily put some of the extra dirt around two of my oak trees (one is a live oak and the other I am not sure what type of oak it is) the dirt was placed there on 10 Feb. and should be removed by 25 Feb.  In some areas the dirt is approx. 3 ft. high in other areas it may be 1 ft higharound half of the trees there is no extra dirt.  The trees are approximately 40-50 yrs old.  Will this harm my trees?

A: If it is at all feasible, a tree's root zone should be fenced off from construction activities. Since we are beyond that point, let's try to answer your questions. Considering the soil will only be there for 15 days, and since the trees are probably in a dormant state this time of year, root "suffocation" shouldn't be a big factor. However, heavy equipment driving repeatedly over a tree's root systems can cause damage from the shear weight of the equipment and resulting soil compaction. Compaction is more of a problem with wet soils. You will want to ensure that the previous grade is restored around your trees, making sure there isn't more soil over the roots than before, and that the machine grading the area doesn't dig too deep and cause physical damage to the tree's roots near the soil surface. Some contractors will try to grade out extra dirt instead of hauling it away. You don't want that to happen. Finally, care should be taken so careless equipment operators aren't 'skinning' bark off any of your trees.

Trees reveal construction damage to roots years later, when their tops thin. Construction root damage can take up to 5 years to reveal itself, usually with a decline and thinning of leaves near the branch tips at the top of the tree.

Q: Recent snow and ice storms have severely damaged our Flowering Pear tree, splitting open many of the largest branches. Can the tree be salvaged or should we have it removed?

A: Rapid growth and weak branching set the Flowering Pear up for frequent storm breakage, especially in those trees over 15 years old. While you can probably "salvage" your tree, you shouldn't expect it to regain the proper branching structure that you once enjoyed. That being said, Flowering Pears do take well to very heavy pruning. They will produce vigorous sprouts from areas that have been severely cutback, and even regain some of their shapely appearance during summer. Just remember the new, fast-growing, vertical sprouts will be much weaker than the branch structure that originally failed during a storm. Therefore, it is advisable to perform annual or semi-annual pruning to limit the height of any refurbished tree that is full of these weak vertical sprouts.

Q: Back in September, I cut down a pine tree that was coming out the top of an Alberta Spruce. The only way I can think it got there was that birds were making nest there. But my question is: Since September I put it in a 5 gallon pale, with water in my basement. Obviously there were no roots, so I was waiting for them to grow. As you know the ground is frozen. What can I do to keep the tree living till spring. Thank you.

A: I am familiar with the condition you mention. Some Alberta Spruces have a tendency to grow "bud sports."  These sports develop on various plants and grow sprouts that look entirely different than the parent plant. In the case of Alberta Spruce bud sports, they look like small Norway spruce trees with more open branching and needle configurations than an Alberta. While you may be able to keep your cutting "green" in a bucket of water (just like you do a cut Christmas tree) there is little chance of it sprouting roots and supporting itself when it is transplanted outdoors. You might want to purchase a small potted tree in spring and plant it instead.

Q: A very old oak tree in our back yard is missing a large hunk of bark on the front of the tree. Underneath where the bark was, is very soft wood, rubbery and rotted. There are some holes in the wood like something is boring in the tree. I am afraid of losing the oak tree to some insect infestation or some other kind of bugs etc. Do you have any idea what would be doing this? Thank you, Gary

Carpenter ant damage to cherry logA: Sounds as though your Oak may be diseased. As far as holes in the rotten heartwood, they could be caused by just about anything. Sapsucker woodpeckers make holes close together in semi-straight rows, even in healthy tree bark, and come back occasionally to snack on whatever insects may have taken refuge. Carpenter ants favor wet wood and can mine-out extensive areas (see photo). Ant activity should be clearly visible.

You didn’t mention what state you live in, but every state has a land grant university that serves as an agricultural extension for homeowners (example: Penn State for Pennsylvania). Most of them have plant diagnostic labs where a homeowner can send samples to be analyzed. These universities are also familiar with local growing conditions and regional plant problems. I would suggest contacting your state agricultural university for help in diagnosing your problem.

Q: I went to a local nursery to buy a pineapple guava fruit tree and they told me I need 2 trees in order to get fruit. Is this true? Or are they trying to sell an extra one to make money?

A: Some plants like Hollies (Ilex) require separate male and female plants for pollination, so those plants are known as being dioecious (two households). Other plants have both male and female reproductive units and are known as monoecious (one household). Even though Pineapple guava is in the second category (self fertile), two plants are still needed for cross-pollination to bring about better fruit quality. Therefore, the nursery is looking after your best interests by recommending two plants. The California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) has a webpage here to explain much more about specific cultivars of pineapple guava.

Q: I have a very large pine tree that has dripped sap all over my deck and patio furniture.  I am not sure why this year it has started to do this but I was wondering if I tapped the tree, would it stop it from dripping? The tree is approximately 4 - 5 stories high.  The needles are 3.5 inches long and are connected at the tops in groups of about 4 - 5 needles together and are very flexible. The pine cones that fall of the tree are long and narrow vs short and fat and they are covered with the white sap.  In fact the pine cones are the only place I can actually see sap. Cindy

A: Good description of your evergreen tree, which sounds like an Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) with bundles of 5 soft needles that are nearly 4-inches long. Tapping the tree would not be the solution to your problem with dripping sap. This is more likely to be an insect problem shared by deciduous trees: Aphids. We most often hear of sticky sap dripping on parked cars under shade trees. However, there is also an insect called White Pine Aphid that behaves in a similar manner, sucking sap out of the tree and dripping the excess honeydew onto objects below, like your deck. This dripping often causes black sooty mold to grow on tree branches, giving them a black velvety appearance (see photo below of black sooty mold on tree leaves). Another symptom is ant activity in the tree, since ants form a symbiotic relationship with aphids, moving them to the best feeding spots (usually branch tips) while the ants benefit from their honeydew excretions. While aphids that feed on most shrubs are green, White Pine aphids are black.

So if this hypothesis is correct, your solution would be to eliminate the aphids. If your tree was smaller and the infestation was light, you could try removing the rows of shiny black eggs on the needles and twigs over the winter. With a 40 to 50 foot tall tree, your options become more limited. For spraying, it would require the big sprayers of a tree service to reach the top of the tree with a spray application, the least toxic being an insecticidal soap or dormant oil. Another option would be applying Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Insect Control, which gets mixed with water and applied at the base of the tree. Always read and follow label directions. If you decide to use the Bayer product, I would suggest waiting until March (in Massachusetts) to make the application. If you chose a dormant oil instead, it would have to be applied by a tree service in late winter. If insecticidal soap was your choice, that application would work best in Spring while the insects are active.

Q: I had a sweet gum tree cropped way back. There is new growth on the branches that were cut back at the end of May. But now I’ve got all the roots coming up from the ground. I cannot mow around them... I want to stop the roots from coming up above ground. How do I do that?

A: Trees are known for 2 types of fast-growing, vertical sprouts: water sprouts and suckers. Water sprouts grow from the branches, while suckers grow from roots. It sounds like you have suckers growing from the roots. Sandy has a good article about shoots from tree roots.

Sweet Gum trees are known for two major annoyances; one is the spikey gumballs they drop and the other is surface roots. Again, Sandy's Tree Tips has a good article about surface roots.

Most trees have attributes people don't like, after all, consider how many people complain about raking-up fallen leaves once a year, even after their trees have provided them with cool shade for an entire summer. It's human nature. Sweet Gums are annoying on many counts, but I still value them for their unique star-shaped leaves and that fantastic 3-level fall color shown in the photo.

Q: About 2 years ago we purchased a tri-color beech. The problem we are having is that it is not getting any new branches. When we purchased it, it was very thin and sparse. I was hoping it would start to fill in with new branches but it hasn't. It has grown a little taller and there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the tree. It reminds me of the Christmas tree Charlie Brown had in the Christmas special. Is there anything I can do to encourage new branches? I know it is a slow growing tree and I plan on watching it grow for the next 40 or 50 years God willing, but it would be nice to see it fill in a little. My husband and I live in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Thanks - Lori

A: Beech trees are some of my favorites (got 3 different purple leafed varieties). Tri-color Beech trees, as well as other Beeches, usually do look sparse and stick-like the first five years they are in. That fact alone causes many tri-colors to get planted way too close to houses. After years of waiting for the tree to get bigger, they finally have to be removed, just as they are getting nice. Like any tree that will eventually get some size to it, they should be planted at least 15 feet from a house. The Tri-color Beech in the photo went from a small whip to a specimen in about 30 years with spring fertilization, and light trimming in earlier years mostly for shape.

As far as encouraging your Beech to grow, the best you can do for the tree is to water it weekly during dry spells and fertilize it every spring to encourage new growth. Also check the underside of leaves periodically for insects, and control them as needed. Most young trees also benefit from having an area around the base of the trunk free of lawn grasses, since turf does compete with trees more than people realize. An area free of grass also gives some protection from weedeaters and lawnmowers damaging the thin bark.

Q: I have a southern magnolia that was planted in Zone 5 about 10 years ago. It has been doing very well but it will soon grow too large for the area – too close to the house. It does have new stems growing from the base of the root. I have been considering removing the tree and allowing the new growth to take over or would I have success with some major pruning? Mike

A: Most Magnolias seem to be very resilient when being pruned or cutback, provided they are in good health, and not weakened by anything (like scale insects). Either method you mentioned should work if you do your cutting in spring, right before new growth starts. This will remove spring flowers of course. Follow up your pruning by fertilizing the Magnolia, according to the label instructions on whatever fertilizer product used. While most trees prefer a 2-1-1 ratio fertilizer (like a 20-10-10) most flowering plants do well with more phosphorus, as in a 1-2-1 ratio fertilizer. However, some states now have restrictions on the use of phosphorus fertilizers.

Q: I have several Roses Of Sharon's, when should I trim them? Thank You, John

Large pure white flower of 'Diana' HibiscusA: The old rule of thumb for trimming flowering shrubs is to always prune them within a few weeks after they finish blooming. That way you never take any flower buds off. This advice applies best to those plants that set their flower buds over the summer for next spring's bloom (like Azaleas and Rhododendrons). You have a bit more wiggle-room with Rose of Sharon (formerly labeled ALTHEA, now labeled HIBISCUS) since they form their flower buds on new growth that develops in the spring. Therefore, long story short, don't prune your Rose of Sharon after it starts putting on new growth in the spring through the bloom period in the summer. Anytime after that (fall or early spring before they push out new growth) should be fine for pruning them. The white blooming 'Diana' is a very striking one if you like a multitude of large, pure white blossoms, and have room for another shrub.

Q: We have several apple trees and a couple of cherry trees that need trimming next spring. The problem is they were victims of locusts or cicadas last spring there are several branches on each tree that have damaged limbs due to the bugs. How much of these damaged limbs should be trimmed? Or will they recover from the damage? Thank You, Tommy H.

A: Depending on the extent of the cicada damage, some smaller twigs may die back from the "slitting" damage (from egg laying) while larger branches may have enough remaining tissue on their circumference for them to maintain adequate structural strength and survive until the branches can put on some new growth. You'll almost have to judge each branch individually as you are trimming, or wait until next spring and determine which branches are putting on good new growth, and which ones are struggling. It may not be necessary to remove entire branches, instead pruning off only the damaged areas. Always prune a branch back to a bud pointing in the direction you would like new growth to go. These are almost always the "outward facing" buds.

Q: I have three very large trees that have sawdust at the base.  I suspect a borer of some nature.  What would you recommend to kill the borer.  I live near Charlotte, North Carolina and each of these trees are about 25" in diameter so I do not want to lose them.  The type of tree is a hardwood, not an oak or maple as it has rough bark.  Also the leaves fell off the tree most of the summer. Please help.

A: Upon closer examination you should be able to spot exit holes if your trees are infested with borers. These would resemble holes you might make if you drilled into the tree with an electric drill, but they aren't always round holes. The exit holes of Bronze Birch Borer and the deadly Emerald Ash Borer (photo on left) that is leaving a trail of death down through the upper midwest, are both "D" shaped holes. The bark of ash trees gets kind of roughed-up looking around these borer holes. Most borers are considered an insect you prevent instead of "cure." Both ash and birch trees are now being preventatively treated with Bayer's Tree & Shrub Insect Control, which advertises 12-month effectiveness against labeled insects. Always read the label and follow the instructions. It is important to identify what type of trees you have prior to treatment with an insecticide.

Your agricultural cooperative extension professionals at North Carolina State should be able to assist you with that, and answer any additional questions. NC State may even have an extension office in your county. You could have carpenter ants working in the heartwood of your trees. Ants aren't usually present unless the outer bark of a tree has been compromised or there are some dead branch stubs to ease their entry into the heartwood.

EAB UPDATE: April 2010 - Emerald Ash Borer has now been detected in 13 US states and 2 Canadian provinces, tracked in this order: Michigan 2002, Ontario 2002, Ohio 2003, Indiana 2004, Illinois 2006, Maryland 2006, Pennsylvania 2007, West Virginia 2007, Missouri 2008, Quebec 2008, Virginia 2008 (originally 2003), Wisconsin 2008, Minnesota 2009, Kentucky 2009, New York 2009.

Q: I have a silver maple that appears to be bleeding sap and it is attracting bees and flies. I'm not sure if the wound is from woodpeckers/sapsuckers.  The tree is near the path to our front door.  How do we get rid of the bees and flies without further damage to the tree and what should I do for the tree? Thank you - Robin

A: It sounds like we may be dealing with a couple different issues here. When I hear “maple” and “dripping sap” in the same sentence, the first things that come to mind are aphids and ants. Aphids (“ph” in aphids pronounced like “f”) are small sucking insects that remove sugary sap (honey dew... the other kind) and inhabit mostly branch tips. Since they remove an excess amount of sugary sap, ants co-habitate with them, creating a symbiotic relationship. Ants get the extra sugar, and in turn, the ants move the aphids around to the best feeding points on the tree, usually the succulent new growth. If you have ever parked your car under a tree like this, you’ll get that sticky drip all over the paint and windows. If you see ants busy going up and down a maple trunk, this is usually the problem. The solution is to get rid of the aphids by having the tree professionally sprayed or by using an insecticide like Bayer’s Tree and Shrub Care (Read and follow label instructions). Large trees may be hard to properly treat due to their size.

Sooty mold on Magnolia leavesAnother aspect of this problem with dripping honeydew is that collects on leaves and stems, becoming very attractive to bees. This sticky substance will begin to turn black, as it grows black sooty mold. Once you solve the source of your problem – aphids – the other problems will clear up by themselves.

Sapsucker damage is easy to identify since there is usually a row of holes in the tree trunk. These woodpeckers will come back on occasion for a snack on whatever insects may have moved into those holes, so they are continually reopening the same holes. While these openings in a tree trunk are not desirable, they rarely seem to cause serious damage. I haven't seen many of these holes that bleed, but it is possible that when "the sap is up" in a maple they could. I'm still guessing your main problem is aphids.

Q: When is the best time to trim the lower branches of an apple tree? We were told to trim all lower branches from the trunk because it is hard on the tree to keep those branches healthy and strong. Is this true?

A: Most apple orchards in Pennsylvania trim their apple trees in late winter. Production apple trees are usually trimmed to encourage horizontal branches that are evenly and adequately spaced apart, sort of like rungs on a ladder (see photo). Low branches are considered desirable since they are easier to reach when it is time to pick the apples.

Q: I have a beautiful Tri-color Beech planted 5-1/2 feet off the front of my home, 3 feet in circumference and between 35 and 40 ft. tall. I love the tree but there are two issues: It covers a third of my 3 story home and I am especially worried about the roots damaging the foundation and plumbing. What do you recommend?

A: For some reason, Tri-Color Beech trees tend to get planted way too close to house foundations. Maybe it's because they look so spindly when they are first planted. Keep in mind that most foundation plantings have a 17-year lifespan, and need to be renovated periodically. Sounds like you are at the point where this tree needs to be removed. Most trees should be planted at least 12 to 15 feet away from the foundation of your house, even if they are slow-growing varieties like most Beech trees. Otherwise, plant a tree you can only enjoy for a limited number of years, knowing it will have to be replaced with a new tree in 10 to 20 years. It's always hard to cut down anything you planted, especially something as beautiful as a Beech!

Q: I have two Bradford pear trees that had blight last year. I had them trimmed and they were beautiful this spring.  I live in North Carolina and we had lots of rain early spring. One of the trees is absolutely beautiful, green beautiful leaves; the other one did not have green leaves after it bloomed in the spring.  It has, for the last month, had a loss of leaves as if it were late fall. Is there any hope for this Bradford pear or should I just give up and have it removed? Thanks!

A: It sounds like your Pear might be on its way out, but you may want to give it another 9 months to see for sure. You should know which way things are going after it develops its new growth next spring. Remember not to over-fertilize Pears (with nitrogen) since they are susceptible to fire blight disease, and lush growth is more vulnerable. Fire blight makes affected leaves look scorched.

Q: I noticed one of my trees has a branch of leaves that is turning yellow. I went over and the bark is split from the base going up the tree. I am wondering if it was struck by lightning and if so, what can I do?  Is there something I should be doing, or just leave it alone.

A: Thanks for the photos Nancy, they really helped. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that your tree is a Silver Maple that suffered from Southwest Sunscald one winter about 4 years ago. What is "SW Sunscald?"  During frigid winter days that are sunny, the bark on the southwest side of a tree trunk can get heated-up and split, causing this type of injury. The good news is that your tree appears to be showing good callus growth in an attempt to compartmentalize the wound, and there doesn't appear to be any bleeding or wet spot in the trunk wound.

Q: We have two 10-year-old weeping cherry trees, that do not weep, whatsoever. When we first bought them they had a dozen or so little twig branches that were weeping.  Now there are 15-20 and nothing weeps. They look gangly and sparse...what can I do to help them get healthy and can I ever get them to weep again? Fishing line, rope, something?

A: Weeping cherries are "grafted" meaning they are two different trees joined together. It is possible that the top part of your tree (the grafted "weeping branches" part) died off and the branches you are seeing are growing from the lower part of the tree. On weeping cherry trees that have both types of branches, the branches growing straight up should be removed (yellow line in photo indicates where to cut off vertical sprouts) leaving only the weeping branches in place.

Q: We have a 15 year old Bradford Pear in a neighborhood of 20-year-old Bradford Pears, they are all so healthy except ours. We lost one 10' tall one to wind last year and found that the base was rotten. We have the 15-year-old, about 30' tall, and it is dying. I inspected the base of trunk and found the same rotten bark with insects boring into the trunk. Can we save it? Why is this happening to our trees and not the neighbor's? The whole street is lined with them. Thank you.

A: The fact that your neighborhood developer practiced "monoculture" reminds one of midwestern US streets that were full of nothing but Elms, that were later decimated by Dutch Elm Disease, and the ongoing decimation of Ash trees by Emerald Ash Borer. It is always best to mix a few varieties of trees so that one tree ailment can't annihilate an entire population. In the case of your neighborhood's Bradford Pears, the time-bomb in this case is their fragile structure with "V-crotch" branching and fast growing, weak wood. It seems to be around the 15 to 20 year point that a wind or ice storm breaks them in half, vertically. Without attempting to diagnosis your remaining tree, I would suggest replacing it with another variety of tree that does well in your area, and a good local nursery can provide their recommendations. TreeBoss recommends "mom and pop" nurseries instead of big box stores when it comes to buying trees and plant material.

Q: We have a dogwood planted in front of our house that has been there since we moved in 7 years ago. Is this a good time to prune this tree as it needs a haircut and is quite overgrown.  What tool(s) should be use to prune??? Please advise. Thank you - Debbie

A: Trimming Dogwoods in late summer, fall, winter or early spring will remove the flower buds that have already "set" for the next spring (these buds are shaped like Hershey kisses). That being said, it is often more important to do the trimming than miss one season's flower show. It is best NOT to trim Dogwoods during the flight of the Dogwood borer, which occurs in late spring or early summer.

Prune your tree with three basic tools depending on what size branch you are cutting. These 3 tools are hand pruners, loppers and a pruning saw. Hand pruners should be used for the smallest branches, and a pruning saw on the largest branches. Mid-sized branches can be trimmed using loppers. Make your cuts close to the remaining branch so that you don't leave a stub, but don't remove the swollen area at the base of each branch known as the "collar." On larger branches, remove most of the weight first, before making your finish cut, by cutting-off the branch 12-inches or more away from the trunk (undercut the branch 1/3 of the way through, then finish your cut from the top -- This helps prevent torn bark). Photo: "Red" flowering dogwoods tend to look pink when they bloom.

Q: About 4 months ago, my husband and I planted two pin oaks in our backyard.  We live in NW Georgia about 30 miles from Alabama. Anyway, as you know we’ve had drought conditions for a few years. One tree is fine, the other appears to be dead. We’re wondering what we should do with the one that looks dead, because there are offshoots at the bottom of the trunk that look healthy. Please advise.

A: Sounds like you "lost" your one Pin Oak, but the root system is still alive. If you want to nurse along what is left, pick the best looking sprout and train it into being your new single-leader tree. Remove the other sprouts. This wouldn't work with a grafted tree, since the root stock is a different type of tree than the top part of the tree, but it is doubtful your Pin Oak was grafted. Oaks are usually best transplanted in the Spring of the year, so if you do replace it, make plans for doing that next spring. Try to thoroughly water new trees once a week for their first year during droughts. Photo: Pin Oaks are one of the fastest growing Oaks, also forming swooping lower branches, so give them room to grow.

Q: I've had 2 estimates from reputable tree services. One recommends topping of my 5 maples, the other says they 'don't top trees - it's bad for them'. How am I to know what is right? Thanks

A: Topping of trees is an undesirable practice, especially when the trunks and branches being removed are over 4-inches in diameter. Remaining branches that large may never properly compartmentalize the wound. Also, the new growth that results from heavy cuts results in vertical sprouting ("water sprouts") which ruins the tree's natural form forever. Anyone with a chainsaw can top a tree, and it takes much less time, but it takes a professional arborist to properly reduce tree size without topping. Most trees that need topped should be removed with the stump ground-out, then a new tree planted to replace them. One topping leads to many more toppings in the years to come, often every few years. Super-fast growing Silver Maples are the most-topped trees in the Northeastern US. Try to plant trees that will be the right size, in the right place. Many homeowners inherit these problem trees from their predecessors.

Q: The neighbors cut down a silver maple tree a couple of years ago. They now have a large patch of what appears to be hard, white mold in that spot.  Does this sound like something you have heard of, and if so, how should it be gotten rid of? Mark

Large stump grinders make short work of big stumpsA: That hard white mold you describe sounds like a fungus growing on the decaying stump. Another symptom you will often see from decaying underground tree parts are "fairy rings" which expand outward and kill lawn grasses behind the ring. The solution to these problems is having tree stumps and major roots ground-out with a stump grinder when a tree is removed. Unfortunately, many Silver Maples grow so large that it becomes a major job (and expense) to grind all of the stump, let alone a majority of the roots. All the same, your neighbor could still rent a stump grinder and attempt the task, or contract with a stump grinding service.

Q: I have an aspen tree that we needed to attach to another aspen tree to encourage its straight growth. We used rubber/vinyl perforated piece of material to cover the bark and then a small gauge rope to attach them. Well, no doubt you where I’m going….the tree grew enormously this year and the rope seems to be cutting the bark…how can I save this tree?  I wonder if I remove the rope and material if I will kill the tree?  It does not go around the whole circumference of the tree?  Do I leave it alone?  Please and thanks and oops! Jeannie

A: It's not uncommon for bindings around tree trunks to become constricting before they are noticed, so at least you noticed your problem, hopefully in time. Unfortunately, commercial plantings around businesses and apartment complexes seem to rarely get checked for this developing problem one year after new plantings are installed, and we've seen many trees die from 'girdling' by support wires and synthetic ropes.

Without a photo it is impossible to know how deep your rope has cut into the bark, but I would suggest using a box cutter or snips to cut the constricting rope in one place, just to relieve the tension. If the rope isn't very deep into the bark it can be removed, but don't cause excessive bark damage just to remove the rope. Relieving the tautness of the girdling rope may be enough to save your tree.

Q: I have a large broad leaf tree. After a freeze last winter it is not growing or showing any leaves above the approx. 3 foot mark. This is a 10 foot tree, that I planted 2 years ago that I bought from a local seller. Only now it is a 3 foot bush with 7 feet of dead growing out of the top. Can I cut the top off or is it best to lose the whole tree? Please help or lead me in the correct direction!...Thanks for your time!!

A: Sounds like a classic case of freeze damage, as you suspected. The lower portion that survived may have been insulated by snow around the base of the tree. Your best bet would be to cut-off the dead top just above a living side branch. Slant your cut to encourage water runoff.

If you want to turn your tree back into a single-leader tree instead of letting it remain a bush, select one of the best side branches near the top and train it upright to become the new leader. This can be done using something like an old yard stick or heavy dowel rod that is several feet long. You'll be using that stick or rod like a "splint" wrapping the lower portion around the existing tree trunk and the upper portion around the side branch. It may be impossible to get the side branch completely vertical without snapping it off, so don't overdo it. Check your wrappings each month to make sure they aren't constricting the trunk or the branch "in training." After a year or so, the side branch will stay in the upright position on its own and become the new tree top. Keep in mind that if this tree isn't hardy in your area, it could freeze back again during future winter cold snaps.

Q: I have 20 year old sugar maple that has split-off a quarter of the tree. What can I do to this tree if anything?

A: I'm guessing this splitting-out created a large open wound in the trunk of the tree where some branches were previously located. There may not be much you can do to restore the tree if the damage is significant, but you can still follow some basics by removing any damaged branches or branch stubs, and cutting loose bark back to where it is firmly attached. TreeBoss does not recommend sealing large open trunk wounds with paint.

Q: I am having a BIG problem with Trees of Heaven and I don't know what to do. I believe the invasive roots and small trees that come up everywhere are lifting my home. I would gladly take down the trees (even though I don't believe in downing trees). What can I do??? If I take the trees down how do I kill the roots? They are now coming up in my neighbor’s yard going under a cement block wall. I feel that my house is being pulled apart and I'm very worried. Is there ANY kind of help or advice you can give me. Thank you for any help.

A: If indeed these trees are lifting your house and damaging surrounding property, you may have to break your rule of not downing trees and whack `em. Once a tree is removed that has roots that continue to sprout, you need to stay vigilant and keep removing any new shoots that appear. Eventually the roots will weaken and die. If you decide to use herbicides to kill the shoots and roots faster, check with your local garden center for the appropriate product to use in your area. Always read and follow label instructions.

Q: I have a large tree in my backyard that has a split in the trunk but the tree is still growing and looks fine. Yesterday I noticed some fresh saw dust at the base of the tree. In reading your website I saw you explain “southwest sunscald” and talked about bleeding wounds. The area of my tree that is split does face southwest and there is a small area that is bleeding. Can the saw dust be the result of carpenter ants; or termites? What can I do to save my tree? Thank you.

A: You mentioned two troublesome symptoms with your tree: an area that is bleeding (wetwood) and fresh sawdust. Ongoing bleeding is a sure sign of disease, and you named two of the likely culprits for sawdust: termites and carpenter ants... borers would be the third. You didn't mention what kind of tree it is, so it is impossible to make specific recommendations.

Q: What time of the year is best - for trimming a very old honey locust tree?

A: The old saying is to trim trees "anytime the saw is sharp." While this applies in most cases, there are some trees that shouldn't be trimmed at certain times of the year. Oaks shouldn't be trimmed April thru October due to the prevalence of Oak Wilt disease pathogens, and Dogwoods shouldn't be trimmed in spring while their nemesis, the Dogwood borer, is active. To avoid the "drip" of freshly trimmed Maples, they should be trimmed while fully leafed out. Bob isn't aware of any limiting factors or specific timing requirements when it comes to trimming a Honeylocust.

Q: We recently moved to a new home, and what we think is an ash tree, was mostly dead.  Once we started a sprinkling schedule it got shoots on the trunk, which is only about 2 inches in diameter.  It also got a couple of suckers growing at the bottom.  We cut off the dead trunk and branches. It has been about three weeks now, and the new growth looks nice and healthy. What would be the best to do?  Encourage one of the side growths, which are about two feet above the ground, to grow straight, or to allow one of the suckers to grow and cut the original trunk away?  David H.

A: You didn't mention where you live, but most Ash trees in the north central US (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and surrounding states) are now subject to being totally wiped out by the Emerald Ash Borer. Perhaps your Ash was already infested and is making its comeback attempt. Affected Ashes will reveal themselves with dieback in the crown of the tree, and bark on the trunk exhibiting "D"-shaped exit holes from the EAB. If it is an Ash, you are probably best off to remove it and plant a hardier and more desirable species. To answer your other question in a more general sense, I would go with culturing one root sucker, assuming the tree isn't grafted (the roots and trunk belong to the same original tree).

Q: I have six 14-ft tall white pines, and I use a 10' ladder to stand on to trim the tops... I took a wooden 1x2, made a holder on the end to attach my hedge clipper, lay the ladder against one side of the tree to trim the tops of each tree. Unfortunately due to the landscape on the opposite side I can not use my 10' ladder but can use an 8' folding ladder on a terrible angle but can reach the opposite top. I am getting too old to continue this process and do not want the trees to grow higher and get out of control. I would like to consider making the trees shorter so I can trim them without the effort I currently have. I am concerned that if I were to bring them down to about 10-ft tall, would that be too drastic and kill them or should they sprout enough so they can be trimmed? Thank you - Doug

White Pines can be kept shapely and compact by trimming the candles in JuneA: "Topping" trees to reduce their height always presents risks, but it may be a much more acceptable risk than you over-reaching from precarious ladders and scaffolding set-ups. You didn't mention your age, but falls have proven to be the beginning of the end for many senior citizens. If you were to purchase a lightweight pole pruner (TreeBoss uses one with 6-foot fiberglas pole sections that lock together, with a lightweight pruning head on top pulled by a rope to activate the cutter) you could do your trimming with your feet planted firmly on the ground. A second alternative to topping the trees would be hiring a landscaper or arborist to trim your White Pines every June. If you are forced into topping your trees, try to make your topping cut just above a "whorl" of side branches while leaving as little of a trunk stub protruding above the branches as possible. Slant your cut slightly if possible, to promote rain water runoff. This will definitely ruin the shape of your pines for several years, making them look "flat-topped." (sheared White Pine in accompanying photo)

Q: The bark at the base of the trunk on our 10-year old Red Oak, is splitting and falling off on one side. The tree appears healthy. The leaves are green and it appears to be growing well. We need to find out if the bark problem is normal bark loss due to growth, or if there is a problem. William P.

A: Your bark splitting could be caused by a few different things:

1. It could be some sort of a canker disease causing the splitting.

2. If it is occurring on the southwest side of the tree, it might be caused by "southwest sunscald" which is due to a strong winter sun heating up the bark on a frigid day and causing the splitting due to a temperature difference. You didn't mention if the wound is bleeding (wet) or not.

3. Weedwhackers are also problematic when they are used around the base of trees, damaging the bark and causing basal wounds on trees that open them up to various destructive pathogens. Try to keep grass away from your tree trunk by using mulch or hand-pulling any weeds.

If you have a digital photo of your bark split, please send it, as photos always help with any distant diagnosis. You didn't say what state you live in, but you might also consider taking advantage of your state's land grant university's agricultural cooperative extension service as a great source of local information.

Q: I live in northern New Jersey and last week one of my pine trees showed lots of inner needles that have just recently turned yellow and shed. It is May now so I was wondering what could cause that quite heavy shed, that has since subsided significantly. Is the tree dying? Y.B.

A: Thank you for the photo, they always help answer these sorts of questions. It looks like your pine has a "needle cast" disease, not sure which one. You can send a sample to Rutgers for ID and control suggestions. See the bottom of page 3 on this PDF fact sheet from your state's land grant university, Rutgers.

Here is the URL for their diagnostic clinic – they do charge – but it's worth finding out which disease it is and follow any actions that can be taken:

A note to other readers: Every state in the U.S. has a land grant university with a wide array of agricultural support services available for residents. I would encourage use of them (most are free of charge) and then remind your state legislators how valuable these agricultural extension services are to all of us.

Q: I just planted an Austrian pine 10 feet from a buried gas line. Is that far enough? Also, my thundercloud flowering plum is 2 feet from the phone line, 4 feet from electrical and 10 feet from the same gas line. Is this okay? Thanks! Lori B.

Most tree roots are in the top 12 to 18 inches of the soilA: Believe it or not, most tree roots are in the top 12 to 18 inches of the soil. This becomes more obvious to people when they see a tree that has blown over, like the evergreen in the photo. Most residential utility lines (like water and gas) are usually buried several feet deep, but depth can vary. Telephone lines are more likely to be shallower, but it also varies from house to house. The lines we encounter most often when digging are cable TV, electric dog fences and lamp post wires.

Silver Maple roots are often an issue with older sewer lines that were constructed using terra cotta pipe, the type with the "bell" ends. Roots often find their way into those pipes through leaky joints and will completely clog them eventually, leading to sewer line excavation and replacement. Newer sewer lines use plastic pipe with water-tight glued joints, so we rarely see root clogging issues with them.

Rights of Way: The planting location of trees may be most important as it relates to existing rights of way within what appears to be all your property. A good example would be the street in front of a house, often times being a 50 foot rights of way. Therefore, if the paved street is only 25 feet wide, the actual rights of way extends another 12½ feet into your front lawn from the curb. If your municipality ever decided to widen the street, or add a sidewalk, anything planted in that area would be subject to removal. The same would apply to trees planted in a rights of way for any other major utility line running through your property, if that line has to be excavated, you will lose your trees. Major gas line rights of ways are kept clear of trees, since windthrow could cause the line to be ruptured. Therefore, it is best not to plant in any rights of way, or too close to overhead lines, since your utility company may have the right to prune (or remove) trees without your permission.

Q: I am replacing a Bradford Pear with another tree in front of my very small townhome in Maryland. The Pear is 10 years old and came with the townhome when they built it. I had it pruned about 2 years ago because the neighbors were complaining. It is totally overgrown and has that V-split and I'm now worried because I keep hearing this knocking sound when the wind blows. Last summer our neighbor's Bradford Pear split and fell on the cars.  I was wondering if you had any advice for what type of tree to plant there? I would like it to get a little bit of height so that it doesn't totally cover our view from our kitchen windows and I do appreciate the shade trees provide. Thanks for your help. Madeline P.

A: Knocking sounds, especially in the night, aren't a good sign, so you were smart to remove the tree. It sounds like you want a high-branched tree that you can see under, while also having one that provides shade in a narrow place. That puts us into the category of columnar trees -- those that grow fairly tall yet have a narrow growth form. There are three columnar trees that come to mind: Armstrong Maple, Columnar Hornbeam and Columnar Oak. We've found that Columnar Hornbeams do best in locations that aren't too hot and dry (like those with extensive pavement around them). An Armstrong Maple would grow a bit faster than the Columnar Oak.

Q: Are the fruit on a weeping cherry tree edible? Thank you - Charles H.

A: Even though we don't often see it on weeping cherry trees, some ornamental cherries can produce fruit, like Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula.’ Those cherry trees with single blossoms (that retain their stamens and pistils) are more likely to produce fruit than double-flowered types (the second ring of petals replaces the stamens and pistils). The University of Arkansas rates the toxicity of plants here. These fruits are listed there as being generally considered non-toxic to humans.

Q: We are replacing trees in our condominium complex due to old age and tree roots coming up in people’sbasements. Are there any trees that have better root systems than others that can be planted that grow down to alleviate this potential problem in years to come. lt would have to be able to survive winter as I live in the Detroit/Windsor, Ontario area. Thank you very much - D.K.

When asked to provide more details: I think they were silver maple and some trees that have surface roots-a different kind that makes it hard to cut the grass. Are there any varieties that have a tap root that go down first and then spread to lessen basement damage? Are evergreen trees acceptable?

A: In many cases, it's not so much of planting the right tree as not planting the wrong tree. Sure, that sounds like double-talk, but most problems are caused by a relatively small number of trees. From my experience, I'll narrow my list to two trees:

#1 - Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) causes more maintenance and service calls than any other tree I have come across. Why do people plant them? Because they are fast growing and provide quick shade. That is where the benefits end, since they soon become too big and form dangerous "V" crotches, while their roots are busy clogging older terra-cotta style sanitary sewer lines. To deal with their size, tree owner's often compound their problem by having them 'topped' instead of just removing them and planting a more desirable tree. Silver Maples are very surface rooted.

#2 - Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford') is what looks like a great tree during its first 15 to 20 years of growth; white flowers, glossy green leaves and a neat shape. However, rapid growth and weak "V" crotches set this tree up for wind storm or ice damage just about the time they are really looking good. 'Cleveland Select' is a better variety to plant if you still desire a flowering pear.

Roots: Most tree roots are within the top 12 to 18 inches of the soil surface, but surface rooted trees like Maples, become more objectionable in lawn areas as trees age. I wouldn't necessarily avoid planting all Maples for this reason, since the fall color of varieties like 'Red Sunset' can be hard to beat, and the burgundy summer color of 'Crimson King' is classic. Oaks are deeper rooted trees, and while Pin Oak is usually the most commonly planted lawn Oak, you would probably find it's swooping lower branches a problem eventually. For a stately Oak, my favorite is still Red Oak, but large trees need more of a park like setting with plenty of room and time to grow. Other long term investment trees are the Beech family, purple-leaf, tri-color, fernleaf and weeping, just to name a few.

Choices: Other issues to consider when planting and placing trees in your condo area would be whether or not they are "messy" trees that drop twigs, seeds, spent flowers or fruit. Avoid trees with recurring disease and insect problems by looking for 'resistant' varieties. An example would be planting River Birch instead of European White Birch, since it has natural immunity to the birch borer. Crabapples are very popular for their spring color and winter fruit, but many varieties have considerable disease issues, so make your selections carefully. 'Snowdrift' is still one of my favorite white crabs.

Evergreens: As much as I love White Pines in the right place, they are overused in commercial plantings in many areas and become too much for property owners to handle, since they grow 3-feet a year without timely candle pruning every June. For an evergreen with more compact growth that requires less trimming, and whitetail deer resistance as well, the Colorado or Norway Spruce is an option.

Summary: Plant a mixture of trees so you aren't wiped-out by one blight or insect infestation. Allow trees room to grow by only planting smaller varieties near buildings. Use 'improved varieties' when possible. Plant container grown trees carefully by slicing circling roots, and remove all bindings from root balls and trunks that won't decay. Establish a tree inventory with a monitoring and maintenance program for the coming years, and then practice preventive maintenance, just like you would with your automobile. Water young trees weekly during droughts. Find a reputable nurseryman in your area who can visit your condo property and make specific tree planting recommendations for your climate and location. Also locate an arborist who knows how to properly prune trees (not just run a chainsaw) and have him perform periodic pruning as the trees age.

Q: An oak tree is growing right next to my foundation and I am concerned about the roots damaging my house foundation. Can you tell me the most efficient and least expensive way to get rid of the tree growing under my window and the stump? Right now it is about as tall as the top of my window; maybe 7 or 8 feet tall. Sincerely – Dana B. in Texas

A: Sometimes squirrels and rodents manage to plant acorns in the wrong spot, and this would be one of them. I would definitely remove the tree since it is so close to your foundation and will never cohabitate well. (Imagine the 'Mighty Oak' in the photo growing next to your window) The least expensive way to get rid of this oak is using a small pruning saw -- we like the folding-type pruning saws that lock open, and fold-up small enough to fit in your back pocket. We prefer the Felco 60 folding saw (with a 6-inch blade) that costs around $20). These are small yet mighty tools, and very sharp, so be careful.

Begin by cutting down the tree that is currently there. Since it is over head height, it would be best to remove individual branches first (you could even use pruning loppers for many of these), then cut the trunk down in sections. Cutting the tree into 3-foot lengths will also make it easier to bundle and dispose of, possibly with your curbside trash pickup. Check the tree stump every two weeks for any re-growth and continue to remove all sprouts. Eventually the tree and stump will fade away due to depleted energy reserves.

If you go further and attempt to remove the stump, it would require some tedious hand-digging or stump grinding in tight spaces. Those would be more expensive jobs best left to professionals. You need to locate your private and public utility lines (gas line, water line, electric, sprinkler lines, etc) before any stump removal work is done.

Q: What zone is okay for planting a Norfolk Pine outside? Barbara

A: Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is a warm weather plant native to southern latitudes and doesn't like frost or any sort of cold temperatures in the 30-degree F. range or below. Therefore, Zone 11 would be your answer.

Q: I had two very small White oak saplings growing in pots on my deck that I grew from acorns. Both were ripped out of their pots by some neighborhood kids and I was wondering if they (the saplings) could be saved.  I am not sure how long they were laying on the ground, but I repotted them as soon as I found them and watered them well.  Is there anything else I can do? Any chance these might actually live? Thanks - Sean

A: You did the best thing you could, repot the seedlings, water them in, and hope for the best. You should know the final outcome by June. Keep them watered but don't overwater them and kill them with kindness. I've seen wildlife, like squirrels, do similar uprooting work in my own yard. Also, some animals are drawn to organic fertilizers placed in the root zone of plants, especially those planted close to a woodsline or natural area. In the chance that yours were uprooted by wildlife, you may want to protect them in some fashion.

Q: Are the needles on a Washington Hawthorn tree poisonous?

Bob’s reply: You mean to eat?

No. My husband was pruning the tree and one of the thorns stuck him in the finger. It swelled up and that has been a week ago. It still isn't right. So we were wondering if the thorns have a numbing or poison on them. Thank you, Mrs. H.A.

A: Take him to a hospital emergency room, he may have sporotrichosis or another infection! Years ago, while trimming for a local dermatologist, he warned me about thorns and sporotrichosis. While usually associated with rose thorns, this fungus exists in nature and is common on baled hay, conifers and particularly sphagnum moss. All wounds from thorns should be treated with special attention, especially on people with compromised immune systems.

When working around Hawthorns, wear leather gloves and a heavy jacket if possible, as well as some eye protection. When it comes to shrubs, Barberry is the very worst for having thorns that break off under your skin.

Q: During this past winter 3 of my Japanese Maples had the bark chewed away around the entire circumference of the tree, up to a height of eight inches. On two of the trees the bark stripping continued onto the lower branches. We had a large amount of snow cover and when the snow melted there were both rabbit and what appeared to be mice type droppings. I am wondering if these trees will survive? And if I should do anything as far as covering or treating the damaged areas. Thanks much! Deby from Michigan

A: This type of bark damage is usually caused by rabbits or other small rodents like mice, often under the protection of snow cover. I see this type of chewing most often on Burning Bush and have included a photo below of similar, but much less severe damage. This is one reason it is not recommended to mulch up around tree trunks. The first nurseryman I worked for in the early 70's had the economical solution of having his daughters wrap tree trunks over winter with several layers of newspaper. These days, there are white plastic spiral covers that you can place around tree trunks to protect them from this sort of damage, plus you can always install a basic hoop of hardware mesh around the trunk for winter protection. Plan for snow accumulation since rabbits and rodents may be chewing at an elevated height due to snow depth.

The bark of this Burning Bush was chewed off by small rodents over the winter monthsIn your already-gnawed-off case, about all you can really do is cross your fingers. It wouldn't hurt, but also won't help much, to place some of those spiral protectors around the lower trunks of those trees for some protection from sun and wind. They have holes in them to provide ventilation. Hopefully the chewing wasn't deep enough to destroy the phloem and cambium, since the damage covers the entire circumference and could effectively 'girdle' your trees. Be aware that your trees may give you false hope by leafing-out this spring, but then collapsing when they can't get food reserves back down to their roots through the phloem. You'll know for sure by mid-July. If the trees do survive, it goes without saying that some sort of protection will be in order for subsequent winters. Good luck!

Q: We have a large (30-40 foot) Austrian Pine in our backyard that we understand is infected with Diplodia tip blight. The needles have started turning to light green from a vibrant green, and will likely go yellow before going brown. We had a similar tree beside this one removed last year with the same infection. Is there any way to treat/prevent this disease from spreading? We would like to save this last tree if at all possible. J.K.G. in Canada

A: The fungus is so bad it even changed its name.... Sphaeropsis sapinea was formerly Diplodia pinea. Seriously though, it does affect Austrian Pines and I frequently see it on Scotch Pines (photo on right - often grown as cut Christmas trees). Older trees that are well fertilized with nitrogen are most susceptible, and wet weather favors splashing of this pathogen's spores throughout the tree, with lower branches usually succumbing first. As with many other destructive plant diseases and insects, weakened trees are the most susceptible.

Like many other destructive plant fungi, control measures are directed at protecting new growth. For Austrian Pines, this is a 2-week period during, and immediately following spring bud break (April-May depending on your geographic region). Here's a link to Penn State's page on Sphaeropsis (Diplodia) Tip Blight with specific product recommendations, which you will need to compare with registered products in Canada. Always read and follow label directions.

Finally, trees should not be pruned during highly susceptible periods. If and when deadwood is removed, pruners and saws should be disinfested with Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol between cuts. Avoid planting young 2 and 3 needled pines in the vicinity of your Austrian Pine. (Note: Eastern White Pine - Pinus strobus - is a 5-needled pine)

Q: I have a mature red oak multi trunk tree with three trunks that create a reservoir in the middle that holds water. I have tried to “wick” the water out with a rope, but not sure how successful that is in the long run. The tree provides our house with shade from a western exposure. I do not know how deep the reservoir is but would guess it is about 12”. Can the trunk rot? Can I fill the reservoir with a material so it will shed water? Thanks very much for your help - Don L.

A: It's interesting to note that I've probably seen more multiple-trunked Red Oaks (Quercus rubra) than any other variety of Oak tree. People usually think of a "clump Birch" when they think of multiple tree trunks (photo on left). While your case creates an unusual situation with water ponding in the junction of the three trunks, it's not necessarily going to threaten the health of the tree, provided the outer bark is intact on each trunk and still showing healthy new growth in that area (as opposed to an open trunk cavity that exposes the heartwood). Removing the water is probably still a good idea, especially for mosquito control, but try not to damage the bark.

Attempting to fill that area with any sort of material may actually make matters worse. Tree cavities have traditionally been filled with solid material, but of course, the outer bark grows around that material, eventually compartmentalizing it. In your case, any sort of solid material would be outside that same bark, restricting growth and potentially increasing the length of the wet period.

Q: Can I "top" a Norfolk Pine without killing it? It has grown to 10 feet tall which is right at my ceiling, and it has no more room for growth.  I've had it for a long time and hate the thought of having to toss it out. However if I can't top it I have no other choice, because I'm not cutting a hole in my ceiling. Terry

A: I think you have a pretty good handle on what needs to be done if you plan to keep your Norfolk Island Pine indoors: 1) cut a hole in the ceiling, or 2) top the tree.

What the pruning cut should look like when you are doneI would suggest using a sharp set of hand pruners (similar to what you would cut roses with) since the tree tissue may be difficult to cut with any lighter weight hand tools. To play it safe by not spreading pathogens with your pruners, you can disinfest the blades of your hand pruners with isopropyl rubbing alcohol first.

You can buy a small inexpensive bottle at your local pharmacy. Read the label.

Your pruning cut should be made directly above the top whorl of branches, so you don't leave a stub protruding upward. It's not necessary to dress the wound with any pruning paint. Your Norfolk Pine will probably attempt to initiate new growth from around the pruned area on top, so you will need to prune off new growth as it appears in order to maintain the trees new height

Q: When a Fraser fir tree is a cut Christmas tree does it have a chance to be planted back and grow again?

A: Believe it or not, this isn't the first time TreeBoss has fielded this question! Last year a family in Florida sent me the same question and included the photo on the left. It's easy to see why this phenomenon tricks people into thinking their Christmas trees have a second life. Eight weeks after Christmas you would expect your cut Christmas tree to be turning brown, not sprouting new growth! Especially when you consider that most trees are cut and shipped before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the answer is the same, that new growth sprouted due to stored energy in the branches and buds. Cut Christmas trees don't have any way to sustain life without roots. On the bright side, look at the extended period of time your family has had to enjoy this evergreen tree. You could always buy a B&B tree next year if you wanted one to plant outside, but there are additional considerations: 1) the tree will be heavier to move and should only stay indoors for two weeks, and 2) it will have to be a variety of tree that grows in your area.

Q: I have a HUGE black walnut tree in my backyard. I would like to have it removed as it drops very large branches from time to time, and I worry about my grandchildren who live next door playing beneath it. I’ve been told that these trees are very valuable, especially one this large. It’s approximately 60 inches in diameter, and about 50-60 feet tall. Do you know who I would contact to sell this tree? I live in upstate NY about 25 miles north of Albany. Thank you - Judy

Black walnut wood has a dark, rich colorA: Various trees are known for the high value of their saw logs, and Black Walnut is definitely one of them. The ideal scenario for most commercial timber is long sections of straight trunk, free of cavities, knots, and nails. The standard for pine used to be 16-foot long saw logs that could be easily cut into 16-foot board lengths. On more valuable wood like walnut, shorter sections of trunk would probably still be desirable. The idea here, is having good, sound usable pieces of wood. Nails are bad since they can quickly ruin a large sawmill blade. Next, it has to be worth a logger's time and effort to come cut and haul away one tree. They usually contract large areas of wooded acreage and cut multiple trees, making their operations more cost-efficient.

Now to your question. I would first check with Community Forestry at Cornell University. If that doesn't work, you could then search online for a local "forestry consultant" or sawmill in your area, since they are most likely to be in touch with clients searching for timber. In the meantime, it would be an excellent idea to have all the deadwood removed from the tree, reducing the chance of injury to children playing beneath it.

Q: My family came across a tree covered in brilliant red berries when we were cleaning up broken limbs after a recent ice storm in northwest Tennessee. I searched the internet and found that these berries might match a variety of cotoneaster. The tree is bare of all leaves but full of berries and it stands around 12 foot tall. Could you look at this picture and possibly tell me precisely what this tree is? Thank you so much - Michael

A: Thank you for providing BOBscaping with a good photo of the red fruit and your location, since every piece of the puzzle helps in answering these identification questions. Your tree looks like a Crabapple (Malus) with bright red fruit the birds haven't eaten yet; by spring the crabapples will probably be gone. Crabapples are most recognized for their bright blossoms in spring, but many varieties also have quite striking, colorful fruit in winter. One of my favorite "old fashioned" varieties of Crab is 'Snowdrift' with its pure white blossoms. There are also many improved crabapple "cultivars" (cultivated varieties) available, selected for their resistance to 3 common Crabapple disease problems: apple scab, fireblight and cedar-apple rust. Overall, I've found crabapples to be hardy, strong growers in the landscape.

Q: During the recent winter storm in Kentucky we had our large river birch damaged.  There were 4 main offshoots from the base.  One of them became split from the rest. I trimmed it way back, it is split from but still attached to one of the other main vertical offshoots. Is there a way to reattach it? Bob

How to remove a branch from a tree, step by stepA: Even if you could reattach this branch to the tree Coach, it is very doubtful this major branch would be able to restore itself to a natural state with good strength, since bark would have to compartmentalize completely around the torn area. Your best bet is removing the broken branch as cleanly as possible, without leaving a stub or any loose bark.

First get the weight off the limb. Undercut the broken branch first at #1, then cut down from the top at #2. Watch the cutoff branch doesn't bounce back and "spear" the trunk. Now that most of the weight is off you can make your "surgical" cuts. Undercut the remaining stub first at #3 and then finish your cut at #4. Clean-up any loose edges. Be very careful not to damage any of the healthy shoots or remaining bark while doing your tree surgery. If you like, you can paint the exposed edge of healthy bark (1/4-inch wide area around the open area) with orange shellac, but don't paint the entire open trunk area with anything. The good news is River Birch are fast growers and you may forget this even happened in another 5 years.

Q: Unfortunately I have to replace a very old Post Oak tree which has died. This tree grew no more that 1-foot from the wall of the house, and formed an umbrella over the entire patio and shaded the west side of my house. I’ve purchased an American Sycamore Tree to replace this stately old oak. Am I making a mistake in planting this type of tree so close to my house? Thanks - Unsure and in need of advice - Lewis

The exfoliating bark of a mature Sycamore treeA: No one understands better than you the issues of having a large tree close to your house, especially with things like encroaching branches, leaves and tree debris in gutters, and the fear of collapsing your house's foundation. Sycamore (London Plane Tree) is known as a "messy" tree that drops quite a bit of debris in addition to leaves, most notably its "button ball" seeds and exfoliating bark (see photo). If you have the space available, it is best to plant large trees at least 15-feet away from your house. Sycamores love moist areas, typically growing along streams and creeks in the wild.

Q: Should I cut off the 'water sprouts' on my fruitless plum trees?  They are about 12 feet tall and up 7 feet above the first branches. Thanks - Kristin

A: Whether you have 'fruitless' plum trees or another variety of tree, it is always a good idea to remove water sprouts. Water sprouts are those fast growing shoots that grow straight up, unlike the rest of the 'normal' branches on a tree. On top-grafted trees, these sorts of sprouts often originate below the graft, with weeping cherry trees being a good example. I would suggest waiting until the start of the growing season, as your plums begin to leaf out, to remove these water sprouts.

Q: Would like to know how and when to trim a ChinaBerry tree in So. Cal.. It's a wonderful small shade tree, approximately 40 years old. Thank you very much - George

A: Since the Chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach) has a fragrant flower, you will want to do your trimming immediately after the tree blooms.

When: By always trimming flowering trees (and shrubs) within a couple weeks after they are done blooming, you ensure that next year's flower show won't be interrupted. When many flowering plants are trimmed too late in the season, the flower buds for next year are removed, and much of the bloom can be lost.

When removing a dead branch stub be sure to leave the branch collarHow: As with other trees, trimming should be prioritized as follows:  1) Remove dead or broken branches.  2) Remove crossing branches - those that rub other branches - leaving the branch in the best growing position.  3) To reduce the overall size of the tree, trim branch tips back to side branches that are growing outward from the trunk, without leaving any stubs.  4) Comments: When removing major branches, be sure to leave the branch "collar" (the swollen area where the branch meets the trunk) intact without leaving a stub. (The photo shows where to make your cut when removing a dead branch stub) Trees have natural defense mechanisms within this collar area. You can read more about pruning on the tree trimming page under the heading "Trimming trees in the right place." Do not paint the cuts unless doing so for aesthetic reasons.

Q: We are in process of purchasing a small, older suburban house on a hill side with a number of very tall (50-100 ft trees with long, straight trunks and branches starting about 2/3 of the way up) in the back yard. Some are pretty close to the house and obstruct a lot of sun causing some exterior mold issues on the deck and siding. Other trees also seem neglected with branches encroaching on the roof, the neighbors’ yards and growing into retaining walls. The beauty of this naturally sloped and treed back yard was one reason we were enchanted with the house!  We plan to bring in an arborist to help us determine what kinds and the health of the trees.  We are considering (weep weep) removing 2 or 3 closest to the house and trimming some of the older trees. Any advice about dealing with these rather neglected mature trees in general, especially those encroaching. What is feasibility and effectiveness of trimming these tall giants? Do you have any idea of what we might expect to pay for the removal of a large tree in the Washington DC metro area? Thank you, Chrissie

A: If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

Now, on to your questions.... Yes, poor air circulation around a house can lead to problems, more than just the run-of-the-mill leaves in the gutters every fall. Whatever you can do to improve air circulation and sunlight will surely help matters with your house in that regard.

Gaffs should only be used on trees being removedWhen it comes to selecting an arborist, look beyond price and choose one who knows how to selectively trim, instead of a mad-topper who only knows how to top and hack. By the sounds of your suburban lot, selective thinning of trees and branches will help maintain the overall aesthetics while still accomplishing your purpose. If your budget can't handle the entire job right away, ask the arborist how he would suggest phasing his work into stages over the next few years.

Trimming the tall giants: Since these tree trunks probably resemble straight, narrow utility poles (like the tree in the photo), some charlatans might want to climb them with tree gaffs -- those sharp metal spikes attached to work boots, like utility workers use to climb poles. The ONLY time gaffs should be used for climbing a tree is when the tree is going to be completely removed.

Finally, you asked about prices for tree removal, so I would suggest getting three bids from reputable, insured tree services in your area, then choosing the one you feel will do the job safely and efficiently. When you remove trees, always remove the stumps and budget for filling those stump holes in with topsoil. This will complete the job.

Q: I had a question about cloning trees since I want to plant trees on our family camp, but with college tuition and working, haven't really had the time or money. How do you think a rooting hormone would work? I was mainly thinking Oaks in my grandmas yard that I can clone, Apple, and possibly Walnuts to help feed the wildlife and help the environment. In the long run I would like trees that would increase the property value. Thanks for any help - Bryan

A: Good to hear you are planting trees for all the right reasons! Many plants can be grown from cuttings, but for your project I would suggest planting seeds (acorns and walnuts for two of the tree varieties you mentioned) or purchasing small, inexpensive transplants from a seedling nursery. By planting seeds you won't get a true "clone," but if the squirrels in our area are any indication, your success rate will be very high when planting walnuts. If your camp is in a wooded area, you'll want to make sure to protect your young trees from some of that same wildlife you wish to feed, namely deer that love to browse off young seedlings, and rabbits that chew off bark.

As far as apple trees, the best varieties are usually "grafted," meaning the top of a good apple producing variety is physically attached to a hardier root system. Look for varieties of apple trees with the least amount of disease problems, such as apple scab. Your trees should be planted where they get plenty of sunlight. Regular care will require watering them until they are well established, and you will also need to keep weeds cleared around them so they don't compete for light, water and nutrients.

Q: Three honey locust trees along our driveway are beginning to heave the asphalt. An arborist said the trees should be removed since they will continue to damage the driveway and eventually the sidewalk. He said locust trees are fast growing and send out big surface roots looking for water. The trees are watered very well by a good sprinkler system. Is there anything we can do to stop the damage to the driveway and not have to remove our beautiful trees? In the event we do have to remove them can you recommend a deciduous tree for that area that would not cause similar problems. Thanks so much, Joan

A: An onsite inspection by a qualified arborist offers far more value than what I might offer from thousands of miles away. That being said, I'll offer a few comments on your situation. Trees like maple (heaving the sidewalk in the photo), honey locust and sweet gum are naturally surface rooted, so it doesn't have much to do with lack of water. Besides, living in Spokane, water shouldn't be an issue anyway, particularly not in 2008. As far as roots damaging paved surfaces, please read the question directly below this one, since it discusses the use of root barriers. Something to think about using next time around, then tree selection won't be quite as critical.

At this stage of the game, you will probably have to either tolerate the driveway damage (and potential tripping hazard) or follow your local arborist's advice by removing the trees. Root pruning is rarely a good idea and may not even be an option for these well established trees. If you do decide to remove the trees, be sure to have the arborist remove as much stump and root system as possible, so the remaining wood doesn't interfere with your newly planted trees. While considering new trees, see what varieties are planted along city boulevards in your area that have done well. Most state universities provide a list of recommended tree varieties to plant in a tree lawn where roots are constricted and pavement damage is always an issue.

Q: I need a tree that will keep a small root area to not break out our new rock wall. I live in Reno, Nevada so I do need something that will survive the winter. I was told that Reno is in Zone 6 or 7. Thank you for your time - Chris

A: When it comes to walls, their demise usually comes from an inadequate foundation, poor drainage behind them, and freeze-thaw cycles especially in soils with high clay content. That being said, it doesn't hurt to factor-in potential root problems. One approach would be to use root barriers when planting your trees. These are most often used when planting street trees that have the potential of lifting concrete sidewalks. Put simply, they are large plastic pots without bottoms in them, and they force roots to grow down instead of out. There are also linear barriers to stop root growth in a certain direction. DeepRoot is a good place to start if you want to pursue this idea.

As far as tree choices, I would first decide how tall you want your trees to grow.... 15 feet, 35 feet, 60 feet? Evergreen or deciduous? This will narrow down your choices, combined with the knowledge of your hardiness zone, as verified on the map below. While making your final tree selections it is always good to travel through local neighborhoods and talk to neighbors to see what you like. Then visit local tree nurseries to get further advice and check tree availability.

Nevada Hardiness Zones: Reno is Zone 6 or 7 according to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

Q: There is a beautiful mature walnut tree in the garden with bark damage from heavy machinery on one of the butresses from approximately 4 months ago- the end of the summer. Shall I get on with it now or is there a certain time of year to do it? I have not cut away the loose bark yet but it is unattached down to about ground level and to the side- roughly where my hand is. Thank you for your interest. Moby

A: I would suggest waiting until early Spring, as the tree begins to leaf-out, to perform any surgery on the bark. You should trim the loose bark back to sound, living tissue that is still well connected. With bark that thick, you will probably need to use a large, sharp knife, or perhaps even a wood chisel. Don't cut any deeper into the underlying wood than is necessary. The edges of any living tissue should be painted with orange shellac, to help seal and disinfest the living tissue. Resist the urge to paint the large open area of trunk with anything.

Trees don't replace tissue like human beings, they compartmentalize their wounds. So the goal of this exercise is to have the surrounding bark grow back over the open wound from all sides, thereby enclosing the wound. With a wound this large, that could take 10 years or more. In the meantime, do everything you can to keep the tree vigorous.

Q: I have a tree that I can't identify, is there some way that I can send you a couple of pictures of the leaves and maybe the bark so you can take a look? Dan

Sassafras leaves can have anywhere from 1 to 3 lobes!A: Photos help TreeBoss (and website visitors) more than anything else, and yours are excellent!  These look like the interesting leaves of the Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum). This is one of the few (only?) trees in North America that has 3 different leaf shapes; single lobed, double lobed (resembling a mitten) and triple lobed. Most parts of the tree are aromatic when crushed. Judging from your 2nd photo, not shown here, you have a very large specimen of the tree.

Sassafras is probably most famous for the tea once made from its roots, but that is now considered a health risk in many circles, so do further homework on this topic. Also, before you decide to make tea from the tree roots, be sure to verify my identification with a local arborist, forester or Michigan State University extension agent.

Q: How far up should I trim the branches off my two Washington Hawthorn trees? Dan

A: Washington Hawthorn (Crateagus phaenopyrum) is best known for its profuse bright red fruit in winter, as well as its white flowers in spring.... and who among "the initiated" can forget those thorns! The tree also has a nice, varied fall coloration of scarlet, orange and purple. The tree can either be trained as a single stem or multi-stemmed tree, your choice.

IF you desire single-stemmed Hawthorns, I have indicated where to make your cuts in the two accompanying photos. I would suggest waiting until April (in Michigan) to make these cuts, after new growth has begun. The 3-stemmer would be the best one to leave as a multi-stemmed tree if you decide to have "one of each." In the case of your "Y-shaped" tree, it is usually desirable with any tree to pick the strongest stem (or the one in the best growing position) as your "leader" and remove the second leader. Why? Y-shaped crotches are weaker when ice, snow and strong winds strike.

Q: There is a tree in my back yard that drops large, long, flat, dark brown pods. I live in a retirement park in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. No one here knows what kind of tree it is, do you? Brenda

A: Judging from your photos, I would guess you have a handsome specimen of the Carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua). Carob trees are most common in warm temperate countries like those surrounding the Mediterranean, since the tree has the ability to withstand hot, humid coastal areas. In the United States, you find them growing in California, Arizona, and of course in your case, Texas.  Carobs belong to the Legume family, meaning they are able to fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, similar to the Black Locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) which is widespread in the northern U.S.

Carob branches and foliageAnother common name for the Carob is St. John’s bread, due to the pods having some religious history with John the Baptist. Carob also has some significance in other religions, being used in juice or eaten as dried fruit. Carob is also used as a chocolate substitute, and the seeds in the pods are often called locust beans. However, I would not eat any of the seeds until you make a positive identification of your tree, and then do some further research on proper preparation of the seeds to make sure they are edible.

Q: How long does fresh mulch from ground stumps have to age before I can use it in my beds?  I have chips from one pine and one maple.  Meg

A: Fresh wood chips will rob nitrogen from the soil during the wood decay process, so it is advisable to apply some nitrogen fertilizer to counteract that reaction. Nitrogen is the first number on a fertilizer bag. Keep fertilizer away from direct contact with the tree trunk or plant stem. (Even if you compost your wood chips before using them as mulch, they will still require some nitrogen for the decay process but not quite as much).  

Maple chips may cause a slightly alkaline reaction with the soil, while the pine chips may be slightly acidic. Following that line of reasoning, the pine chips would be better around acid loving plants and the maple chips would be best around plants preferring a "sweeter" (more alkaline) soil.  

When mulching trees, keep the mulch back a couple inches from tree trunks so that you don't encourage the hidden activity of bark chewing rodents, or hold too much moisture next to the tree's bark. It's my belief that one to two inches of mulch depth is sufficient, while some experts call for up to four inches. It's definitely a case where too much is worse than not enough. Repeated heavy mulching can lead to mulch build-up, so allow time for mulch to breakdown before automatically adding more mulch.

Q: I live in Alabama and have a question about these flat blackish seeds that seem to be exploding from trees. My husband jokingly says they are alien pods. Thank you, Lori

A: You are probably referring to the SANDBOX TREE (Hura crepitans). Click here for an offsite webpage with photos. Your husband has a good name for the pods, sections of which have been used to make jewelry. Some call it 'Dynamite Tree' due to the sound of exploding pods, with reports of seeds flying the length of a football field. In furniture, the tree's wood is called Hura.

Q: What is the proper way to trim my white dogwood tree?

A: If you trim your Dogwood now (November) you should be aware that you will remove some of next spring's blossoms. Trimming a Dogwood is similar to trimming other trees; remove the deadwood first, then remove the crossing or rubbing branches. If the overall size of the tree needs reduced, cut branches back to a good side branch growing outward.

Do not trim Dogwoods in the spring while the dogwood borer is active, since you may attract this destructive insect. If you are spraying your Dogwood to protect it against the borer, an insecticide labeled for that use should be applied to the trunk and major branches in spring, usually May in the northeastern US. If your Dogwood already has borer damage, you will see "D" shaped exit holes in the trunk

Dogwoods should be "sited" properly when they are first planted -- they prefer partial shade as you can see from where they grow in nature -- and are 3-times more likely to be affected by the borer if planted in full sun. In managed landscapes, be certain to protect a Dogwood's trunk from lawnmower bumps and stringline trimmer damage. Don't overfertilize your tree or overwater it, but remember that most woody ornamentals benefit from a thorough weekly watering during periods of hot, dry weather.

The Kousa Dogwood -- Cornus kousa -- is generally considered more hardy than the more commonly planted Cornus florida. Kousa blooms later, usually in June. One popular cultivar is 'Milky Way.'

Q: My Bradford Pear trees look like they need to be shaped. They are about 4 years old and I would like to keep them from getting too big and tall. Some limbs are longer than the others, so what should I do? Thanks, Shirley from Virginia

A: The first thing you should do with any young tree is remove any "conflicting" branches, those that crossover each other, or grow inward toward the trunk instead of outward. If you have to decide between two branches, try to leave the one in the best spacing and position.

Next remove all water sprouts, which are those branches that grow straight up. Also remove any suckers, those vertical growing sprouts coming off the roots or base of the tree.

If these steps haven't adequately thinned the tree, select some addition branches around the interior of the tree for removal, so that wind can pass through the tree more easily. If wind can pass through the tree, instead of the branches and leaves acting like the unfurled sail on a boat, it will be much more likely to survive strong summer storms, unlike the pear tree in the photo.

Finally, "head back" the branch tips of the tree in order to create a more even outline and reduce the overall size of the tree by 10 to 20%. Bradford Pears are also undone by the weight of ice toward the end of branches, so "heading back" a Bradford every year or two may help keep it from splitting-out, by allowing the branch strength and thickness to catch up to the rapid outward growth. If feasible, trim branches just above an outward growing side branch, in order to direct new growth in the right direction (away from the trunk).

The "V-shaped" crotches formed by Bradford Pears are the basis of their downfall, since a V shaped crotch is much weaker structurally than a 90-degree crotch. Combine the weak structure with rapid growth and you have the formula for eventual disaster. Anything you can do to reduce the leverage created by long branches will help.

Trimming your Pears right after they bloom in the spring will help preserve the flower show for the following spring. Pears take to pruning very well since they are so vigorous. Watch using too much fertilizer on them (they probably don't need any to begin with) since they are subject to a bacterial disease known as "fire blight."

Q: I live in the UK and have a honey locust (thorny kind) tree.  Last summer the leaves appeared quite late and dropped quickly in Autumn, but the tree appeared healthy.  This year it was slow to come into leaf and many of the branches appear to have died.  The main trunk is sending out new shoots, but the dead branches are brittle and fall off the tree when windy.  I cannot find any evidence of fungus or boring beetles.  Can you suggest any other cause of the demise of the tree as it is clearly dying.  We have not had any serious drought within the last two years but have had two very wet summers in a row. Emma

A: Honey Locust trees are generally a very hardy sort, even recommended for urban conditions with higher levels of pollution. We have worked with the thornless honey locust tree for a number of years and only observed one major problem with them, that being the Mimosa Webworm.

This sort of insect damage causes areas of the tree's leaves to brown-out prematurely, and you can usually observe webbing on the leaves similar to spider webs. There are a few other insects that attack the tree, but the webworm is the most common.

Other than that, we have to play detective and try to remember if anything unusual has happened in the area of the tree over the past few years? Are there any wounds or openings in the tree's bark, or any "bleeding?" Has the root system been disturbed?

Emma's Reply: Mimosa webwork pics do not resemble what has happened to my tree, however all the leaves have dropped off and been disposed of now.  18 months ago we have a new perimeter fence put around the property and employed professionals to uproot several hawthorn trees very close to the honey locust so it is possible there could have been some disturbance to the roots.

Bob: You may have answered your own question... that timing seems to directly relate to the beginning of your troubles. Other than reducing water uptake abilities, any cutting or wounding of tree roots helps provide a ready access point for various destructive fungi. Also see this page on fence installation under a tree.

Q: How can I winterize my evergreen trees?  Last winter they developed brown needles on one side and it took all season for them to start looking good again.

A: Evergreens exposed to northwest winter winds can experience windburn. You have a couple options for protecting them. The first would be to place a barrier 12-inches or so away from the tree to help shield it from winter winds. You will often see burlap or landscape fabric used for this purpose, and it is usually attached to and supported by wooden stakes. This sort of barrier will also help protect plants near a highway from airborne de-icer mist, kicked-up by passing vehicles on wet roadways.

Another option is to spray your evergreens with an anti-dessicant like WILT-PRUF. This milky colored spray solution dries to shiny clear and helps prevent moisture loss (dessication). It may need to be applied more than once to remain effective, so be sure to read and follow label directions on use. This product also works great on Christmas greens by improving their overall appearance and prolonging their fresh looks.

Finally, it is beneficial for all evergreens to enter winter with ample moisture in their root zones. By giving your evergreens a thorough watering before the ground freezes, you will help ensure that they have sufficient soil moisture to draw upon through the winter.

Q: Can you tell me how to plant the seed pod from a sycamore tree. I was in southern Ohio and collected a couple of the spinney balls from under a Sycamore tree. Can you help?

Sycamore trees prefer stream banks when growing in the wildA: Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is commonly known as London Plane or Button Ball Tree. Sycamores prefer moist creek banks in their natural habitat, as seen in the photo on the left.

1. Break open the seed pods (button balls) and you will find long, narrow seeds with a hairy, light brown seed coat.

2. Take these seeds and spread them over some weed-free soil, preferably in a moist area.

3. Cover the seeds with a light layer of soil (1/8 to 1/4-inch) and keep the area moist to encourage germination.

4. As seedlings emerge, you may need to protect them from rodent or deer browsing with some wire mesh.

Q: We have a lot of tree damage from Hurricane Ike but in particular a beautiful 40 foot pine tree in our front yard.  The top of the tree, about 10 feet, was actually blown (snapped) off - also a lot branches up and down it.  The tree still looks good, not as nice as before though.  I have heard this can cause the tree to rot from the top down.  Is this true and if it is what remedies can we take to save this tree.  Even if it is costly, we do not want to lose this beautiful now 30 foot pine tree.  Any advice/information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Greg

A: It's hard to know, within the first few weeks, if more storm damage was done to your tree than the obvious physical damage you see now. (Please send me a digital photo if you can) It's possible the strong winds caused extensive root damage which may not be obvious for several months. We'll hope for the best.

In the meantime, it is time to do some tree trimming. The purpose of the trimming will be to eliminate any stubs that don't have green growth beyond them. In other words, the main trunk should be cutback to just above some healthy side branches. It helps to slant that top cut if you can, to encourage water runoff. If the job is beyond your scope to perform safely, consider hiring a professional tree service. You should perform the same style of pruning to the side branches of your pine -- cut all broken branch tips back to a strong side branch that shows green growth. Again, try not to leave a stub.

Next year you should pamper the tree a bit with spring tree fertilization and a thorough watering every week or two during dry spells. If you notice any insect pests on the tree try to address the problem early.

One final note -- To help trees survive high winds, trees should be thinned out to let wind pass through them, as opposed to having them densely branched and acting like the sail on a sailboat. Some wind damage is unavoidable, but judicious thinning will help your trees survive high wind storms. (More: Preventing storm damage to trees)

Q: I've noticed some of my trees have rows of small holes in the bark. The holes have been there for a number of years and never seem to go away. What sort of insect causes them and will it cause problems for my trees?

A: The rows of holes you are describing aren't created by an insect, they are actually made by a bird. Woodpeckers create these rows of small holes in the bark of a tree, and then return on a regular basis to eat any insects that have taken up residence in those holes. It's not an ideal situation to have open wounds in the bark of a tree since it is a defensive layer to various pathogens, but chances are that a vigorous tree can survive woodpecker damage if it isn't too extensive.

Q: I have a question about burning tree roots in a fireplace. My neighbor had a locust tree cut down about five years ago. The stump is about 18 to 22 inches in diameter. This summer I have been digging up the roots and cutting them out. Is it okay to burn the tree roots in the fireplace?

A: You didn't mention whether they were black locust roots or honey locust roots, but the answer would be the same either way. Since they are basically wood, they should be fine to burn if they have been properly seasoned (dried for 6 months to one year).   Black locust wood has good heat value, right up there with oak, but it can be difficult to get burning. The best solution is to add it to an existing fire with good coals already present.

Q: I live in Canada and have several pine trees that need to have their bottom branches cut off.  Am I correct in thinking that it's best to do this job in late fall (say mid October?) after the tree sap has descended out of the branches?  Thanks for your help.

A: Pine trees aren't considered "bleeders" like Maple trees, so the timing won't be important in that respect. That being said, university research hasn't shown any damage to Maples due to their bleeding anyway, even though the sight of it tends to worry people.

If your timetable is open, early spring would probably be considered "the best time" for your project, since your trees will resume growth shortly thereafter and begin to close over the pruning wounds. Be sure to leave the swollen area at the base of each branch known as the "collar" but don't leave a long branch stub.

Q: How do I trim a tree that has a bee hive inside a branch and part of a trunk?  My goal is to cut a branch hanging down and closing off the hive access in the fall..... what can I use to accomplish this? I would prefer to do it myself and save hundreds of dollars; a professional is my last resort.

A: Saving money is fine provided you don't expose yourself to serious injury or risk. It only takes one bee sting to kill someone who is allergic, and countless amateurs have been killed doing tree work that should have been left to a Pro. Carefully assess all risks before attempting tree work.

With the current honey bee crisis resulting in reduced numbers of bees due to Colony Collapse Disorder, it is especially important not to kill off these valuable pollinators unless absolutely necessary. If they are honey bees, you may be able to find a beekeeper in your area who can safely move the hive. If it becomes necessary to eliminate the hive, remember that bees congregate around their nests and are least active at night, providing the best opportunity for whacking them all with an insecticide labeled for that use. Read and follow label instructions.

Q: I want to leave branch stubs for climbing… is there a way to seal the end of the stub so this can be possible without hurting the tree?

A: Leaving live branches would be better than leaving branch stubs of course, since leaving any sort of stub beyond the "branch collar" (swollen area where the branch meets the trunk) will make it impossible for the tree to close over the wound and "heal itself" by compartmentalizing the wounded area with new tissue.

That being said, does it do any good to seal the end of a dead branch stub? It couldn't hurt I suppose, provided you use "tree paint" to accomplish the task. Most tree paints are asphalt based and black in color. While some are thick in nature and brushed on, there are also some aerosol products on the market. The entire stub will still be more vulnerable to insects and pathogens than a living branch.

2nd Q: I think I’m going to attempt the “tree paint” solution. I found a can of it at HD. Do you think this will keep the branch there for (about) the life of the tree or will the branch still decay and fall off?

2nd A: Hard to say what the eventual outcome will be. I don't think you even said what kind of tree it is. Sometimes branch stubs just dry up instead of rotting, but they could become brittle in the process. Over time, dead branch stubs will increase the risk of a tree climber falling.

Q: (a Priest emailed Bob...)  I am trying to keep a mimosa alive in zone 5.  I know this coming winter may take its life.  What can I do to prevent this?

A: You would take about the same steps you do with roses to protect them from winter cold.... mulch the root zone around the main trunk with straw or some other light, insulating material. Erect some sort of wind screen to help keep the brunt of cold winter wind away from the tree. And finally, praying wouldn't hurt! Global warming does have its benefits, and may help you as well.

Q: I have two types of maple trees and don’t know which is which.  I was told by professional that one does not like to be trimmed but does need trimming. This one is a different type than the one with we call helicopter seeds.  Your help would be appreciated.

A: One of the most common Maple trees is the native Sugar Maple, and many of us remember those helicopter seeds from our youth. The technical name for them is "samaras."

There are scores of Maple tree varieties so it is difficult to know which ones you are talking about, but it sounds like the Maple that "doesn't like to be trimmed" might be Japanese Maple, with many varieties having red leaves throughout the summer (not to be confused with the crimson colored leaves of 'Crimson King').

If your Maple needs to be trimmed, then you don't really have much choice. Try to trim it in the Spring of the year when it has the most time to close over pruning wounds and grow some foliage back.