GARDENER'S MAILBAG

A little squirrel vandalism won’t bother mature pecans

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dear Neil: I noticed last fall that two or three branches of my pecan were dried and dead looking. Recently, while watching the birds through binoculars, I noticed that something has damaged the bark of those limbs. In fact, it looks like the bark is missing entirely over 18 to 24 inches of each limb. What could cause that?

The most likely cause is squirrels. They will peel bark off long sections of pecan branches in the growing season. The injured branches then brown and die within a few weeks. It’s usually not a big issue for a mature pecan tree. They usually re-grow and fill back in.

Dear Neil: We have mondograss as a groundcover. It is looking really sad, and we’re wondering if we should trim it back to help it grow better.

Your timing is outstanding. I faced the same issue in my own mondograss beds just a week ago. We used a mower to trim the shorter mondograss, and a line trimmer on the taller plants. I’m very happy with the results. I will apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer to it to promote vigorous new growth.

Dear Neil: I saw your recommendation that we wrap the trunks of young Chinese pistachio and red oak trees to protect them from sun damage. How high should that wrap go? Is the paper tree wrap readily available in nurseries?

You should wrap these trees’ trunks from the ground up to the lowest limbs. Leave the wrap in place one to two years, until the leaf canopy shades and protects the trunk. Paper tree wrap is usually sold in nurseries and hardware stores. It should be near the pruning saws and pruning sealant. If you don’t find it in local stores, it’s available online.

Dear Neil: I have a magnolia tree that is probably 35 feet tall and wide. It has large roots across the surface of the soil. In fact, it looks like the soil has washed away beneath it. I want to plant a vine to cover the soil. Can I add a few inches of soil to make planting easier?

If you can tell that the soil has obviously eroded beneath the tree, you can add enough to bring it up to the old grade. That’s highly unlikely, however, since all those roots have been there to hold the soil. Magnolias have large numbers of shallow roots. As the trees age, those roots swell up and out of the soil surface. Your best bet would be to leave most of the roots intact and not add soil, but, instead to plant a trailing type of groundcover such as English ivy or wintercreeper euonymus. They would conceal the exposed roots, and they can tolerate the heavy shade a magnolia casts.

Dear Neil: We’re considering planting a 10-foot line of oleanders as a screen between our yard and our neighbors. Is there a downside to them? When is the best time to plant them?

If you’re talking about planting shrubs that grow to 10 to 14 feet tall, you might consider Nellie R. Stevens hollies. They’re more winter-hardy than oleanders. Fact is, once you get north of San Antonio-Houston, oleanders can freeze completely to the ground in really cold weather – not exactly what you want from a privacy screen. In decreasing order of cold-hardiness: choose red, pink or white types. Single types seem to hold up better than the doubles. One other major concern about oleanders if children are nearby is that they are poisonous. Of course, many of our other common landscaping plants are also toxic to one degree or another, so it’s critical that we teach children (and adults!) not to dine on our landscapes. Other choices: Mary Nell holly, yaupon holly in shrub form and cherry laurel in acidic soils. Willowleaf, also called Needlepoint, hollies are excellent if you want something with a mature height of 7 to 8 feet.

Dear Neil: I have a large and old fruiting mulberry in my yard. In fact, it’s about the only source of shade that I have. For the past two years bark has been peeling away from its trunk. About mid-summer the leaves in the top of the tree start turning yellow, then they fall off. I don’t want to lose the tree. What could I do? Is there anything I can wrap around the trunk to keep the bark from falling off?

It may be simply old age catching up with a mature mulberry. Their life span is 25 to 50 years. It’s also possible that borers have moved into its trunk. They would cut off the flow of nutrients and water to those leaves, resulting in their decline and drop. If the tree is really important to you, consider hiring an arborist to take a look at it. Bark is a dead tissue, and it will always fall away from tree trunks as they expand. The fact that it started just two years ago and that the top of the tree is in distress are the two best clues.

Dear Neil: We need to kill honeysuckle vines that are growing all over our fence. What will do it?

Use a broadleafed weedkiller spray carefully applied only to the honeysuckle’s vigorous spring growth sometime during April. In fact, since you’ll eventually have to remove all the old dead stubble anyway, it might be much easier simply to cut it back to the ground now, then spray the re-growth, so you’d be able to direct your spray more precisely toward the ground and away from other desirable plants.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at mailbag@sperrygardens.com. Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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