Dear Neil: Our Chinese tall tree was severely damaged by the cold of February 2021. We lost half the tree and had to have the tree removed for us. I developed a fungus on the trunk. This year the size of the mushrooms has diminished. Is the tree still at risk of dying?
a: “Death” is a relative term. A gnarled tree can be technically alive but visually unattractive (as in “worthless”) in the landscape. At that point it’s time to replace it. I can’t say that about your tall tree because I can’t see it all. Personally, I love the tree very much. It was the first tree I planted in my backyard nursery decades ago when I was in high school. However, I did not know at the time how much it had invaded the wetlands of South Texas. I don’t think your tree will die any time soon in your landscape. That is, unless we get another bad cold snap like we did the past two winters. But my suggestion is: take this opportunity to change to another, more desirable type.
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Dear Neil: I’m trying to weed part of my garden. There are three large ancient crape myrtles in this area, and they have extensive root systems. While removing the grass, I damaged its roots and now I get multiple shoots appearing everywhere. I don’t want to hurt other plants nearby (including the three mother crape plants). Is there anything like Roundup that I can apply to the sprouts to kill them without harming the desired plants?
a: No, because they are parts of those parent plants. If you dig one up, you’ll see that it’s attached to the main tree. I’ve had the same problem several times when I’ve planted shrubs near crape myrtle, and I’ve found that using a spade to remove those bound roots usually discourages additional shoots after a short period of time.
Dear Neil: Can you tell me what happens to this boxwood? It is one of 15 in the hedgerow and all the others are healthy and green.
a: This plant seems to have become very dry in the summer. Note that the browning occurs all the way from the leaf tips to the stem tips. This is equivalent to poor blood circulation in the human body when the parts do not get enough blood. Frostbite appears on our fingertips, toes, and in our earlobes. The tips of the leaves are the areas furthest from the roots, so they are the first to dry and the last to receive water. This plant somehow missed one or more waterings. If you have an automatic system, check the head it serves. If you are using a hose-end sprinkler, change its placement when watering the lawn. This way you will have less chance of losing this plant completely. It seems likely that it will bounce back by spring. Apply an all-nitrogen plant food in early March and keep it watered throughout.
In case anyone suggests that it might be the relatively new boxwood blight disease common in the East and Midwest, this fact sheet will show you pictures showing how the symptoms differ from those in your photo. apsjournals.apsnet.org/doi/10.1094/PHP-06-20-0053-DG
Dear Neil: We will be doing the foundation this winter. I know this is the best time to plant established shrubs, but I’m wondering if it’s worth the effort to dig up and replant 25-year-old holly, apple trees and boxwoods?
a: In my opinion no. Replacement stations aren’t expensive compared to the cost of hiring two or three people to do all that work for you — or the hard work of doing it yourself. In addition, if they grow in mass plantings, you will never be able to repackage them so that they look healthy. In addition, if it has been pruned frequently, it has likely lost most of its vigor. Landscaping styles have changed a lot over those 25 years, and so have your family’s needs. My vote is that you enjoy redesigning your landscape by starting with a new design and new ideas. Spend some time during the winter setting your goals.
Dear Neil: I have five Shumard red oak trees. Why do some have better fall color than others? In fact, the “good” people don’t seem to be the same from year to year.
a: This is just the genetics of red oak trees and fall color in general. It depends on rainfall in early fall, then enough dry weather in mid-fall to stop new growth. He also focuses on exposure to cold weather to start changing the pigments within the leaves and vigor of individual trees. Oak trees tend to vary a lot from tree to tree in many respects. You will see this in the growth habits of live oak trees. Some will have small leaves, others much larger. Some will have arching branches, others will be upward. Red oak trees vary in color, but they will also vary if they hold on to their leaves all winter.
Dear Neil: I know I’m not supposed to cover the magnolia tree’s roots with soil to cover any exposed roots. I will plant English ivy, but I also want to use small river rocks over part of the root system in an area that has been eroded. Will the rocks do any harm?
a: No, they do not compact to prevent the flow of air and water into and out of the soil. Everything will be good.
Do you have a question you would like Neil to consider? Email it to the care of this newspaper or mail it to email@example.com. Neil regrets that he cannot answer questions individually.