Hackberry may share roots, watch for decay

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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Dear Neil: We have a cluster of hackberry trees that shade our house and patio. They were here when the house was built eight years ago. A small one has gone from green to dead in just a matter of a few days. What would have caused this, and how can we keep it from spreading?

Look at your first photo closely. I zoomed in on it, and there is a very large stump there where another hackberry has been removed in the past. Then, when I looked at your overhead photo it almost looks like these are coming off a common root system. I wonder if there might be an old stump in the ground that has given rise to these, and as it is decaying if it caused the trunk to be lost. Get a certified arborist by to look at the situation.

Dear Neil: I’m having trouble with ants eating my tomatoes. They bore into the tops of the fruit just as they start to ripen. What can I use?

Be sure the ants are the actual cause of the problem. My bet would be that there is some other type of injury to the tops of the fruit that is inviting the ants to come in. It might be cracking due to sunscald and hot weather. It could be Mockingbirds pecking holes in the fruit. It could be tomato fruitworms tunneling around in the fruit. As sap oozes out the fruit becomes very attractive to the marauding ants. Trying to control the ants in that case wouldn’t really solve the problem. In the off chance that ants are the problem, there are plenty of good ant baits that could be used around the edge of the garden if you have any general idea of where their mounds are.

Dear Neil: My tropical hibiscus plants in pots have leaves that turn yellow and drop off. New leaves are produced, but they do the same thing. I see aphids on the leaves and I’ve used several different insecticides, all to no avail. What should I be doing?

Leaf drop with tropical hibiscus in pots is very common. The most frequent cause is when the plants are allowed to become slightly root-bound and then slightly dry once in a while. Their natural inclination is to drop leaves, usually the lowest ones first. They also will abort many of their flower buds without fully opening them. When that happens to my plants I usually repot them to larger pots and, when possible, move them to a spot that gets just a little bit more shade from the hot afternoon sun. You can’t overdo it, of course, because they need sunlight to bloom. I also use a high-nitrogen, water-soluble plant food to keep them growing vigorously. As for the aphids, since hibiscus are sensitive to several common insecticides, I typically try to wash them off with a hard stream of water. I don’t believe they have caused the leaf drop.

Dear Neil: In late winter/early spring I noticed a lot of orange jelly-like material on the stems of my mature juniper trees. Now it has disappeared, but many needles are turning brown. They were planted when the house was built in 1989. Any ideas of what I might do short of just taking them out and starting over again?

What you’re describing from last spring sounds like cedar-apple rust. It’s a fungal disease that actually does very little harm to the junipers (cedars). It produces what looks like masses of orange jelly (to use your description) along the twigs. Then, a week or two later, where that was, a corky gall the size of a mature lima bean forms on the twig. But not much happens to the twig after that. Meanwhile, the alternate hosts of the disease (apples, crabapples, hawthorns) develop terrible leaf spots and defoliate. It is much more serious on them than it is on the junipers. Without a photo, that’s as far as I care to speculate. You may also be seeing one of the other much more serious twig blights such as Phomopsis that attacks a few types of junipers. You might want to send generous samples and photographs to the Texas Plant Clinic at Texas A&M for diagnosis of the problem if you think something more than cedar-apple rust is involved.

Dear Neil: I have just noticed that my oak tree is losing pieces of bark near the base of its trunk. Is there anything I should do to prevent further bark loss and loss of the tree?

Look closely at the area. You will see that it is in a sunken vertical trough of the trunk, and at the top of the photo that area is darker than the surrounding bark. There is some type of active decay beneath the bark. You can see it in the pulpy wood that is coming loose. I’d suggest you get a certified arborist on site soon to look at it. Don’t start peeling off chunks of bark yourself. You’d likely do more damage than good. The arborist would be able to take careful slices and determine what’s going on beneath this area. This may be a compartmentalized area that is able to heal. Let the tree expert determine that and how best to proceed.

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 Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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