Posts Tagged ‘Problems’

Planting Under Maples and Other Surface Rooted Trees

Icon Written by Geoff on July 7, 2003 – 5:28 pm

The problem with growing anything under maples and other shallow rooted trees is that they suck up all available water and nutrients. They also form a dense mat which is hard to penetrate with even the toughest gardening tools. On top of this, little light is able to get to the soils surface through the leaf canopy. A good challenge for us shade gardeners. 

Initially, we need to try to turn the soil, removing as much surface roots as possible. This is where a good ax and a sharp mutt come into their own. Take your time, work as deeply as possible. Once you have the majority of their roots removed, fire up your trusty old mantis tiller. This will be hard work and you will have to stop often to clean the tillers tines. 

Once you have the ground broken up you will want to amend it with loads of compost and other good organic stuff. We like to apply double ground wood chips and work in deeply. We follow this with compost and rotted leaf mold. 

Then we go over the area two more times with our tiller, raking out any debris. By now you will have a slightly raised bed over which we apply a 2-3 inch layer of double ground bark. 

Into this lovely stuff, plant your perennials. By the end of the first season, your plantings will have made substantial inroads before the tree roots start growing back. About every 3 to 4 years we dig up the border and remove whatever surface roots we can and replant. We have not noticed the trees objecting to root pruning every few years. 

You can plant under these trees, but it takes more effort than planting somewhere that is not ordinarily full of roots. We do water these areas much more then other garden areas as often little rain fall reaches the soil and what does is usually used by the trees.

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Diagnosing Shrub and Tree Problems

Icon Written by Geoff on January 1, 2003 – 7:30 pm

We often receive calls asking for advice or help with a sick tree or shrub. Usually the questions are hard to answer over the telephone, without seeing the tree, but not always. Two of the most common questions are; “Why did the leaves on my Amur Maple turn bright red and fall off when it is only Summer?” or “My White Pine’s needles turned brown this Winter when does it turn green again?”. 

The answer to both these questions are, unfortunately, never as these trees are dead. Nothing can be done to save them and costly replacements will be required. If only the homeowner had taken the time to inspect his trees and shrubs in time correct to the problem, these trees may have been alive today. 

Of course, not all tree problems can be solved easily, just ask the American Elm or Chestnut, if you can find one. Catching a plant problem in the early stage, at least gives you a chance. It also gives you an opportunity not to make the same mistake twice, such as planting too deep or in the wrong location. Who knows, you might even be able to save a tree or two by your quick action. 

If you are like me, you overlook your trees and shrubs in the Spring and Summer, when everything else is in bloom. I have to make it a point to inspect each tree and shrub. You need to do the same, it only takes a few minutes. 

The Colorado State University has but together a list of the most common symptoms and theircauses which you can use as a quick reference. 

  1. Symptoms: Poor foliage color, stunted weak growth, gradual decline.
    1. Planting too deeply or too shallow.
    2. Poor drainage; plants located near down spouts, in low areas, in non-drained planter boxes, and in beds over very compacted soil.
    3. Damage to stem or trunk
      1. Freeze damage.
      2. Bark splitting caused by sudden freeze following periods of mild weather. Symptoms may not show until summer time.
      3. Mechanical damage such as, lawn mower or other equipment can skin or girdle bark or borer damage occurring when these insects gain entrance into the stem and destroy tissue just under the bark.
    4. Poor soil preparation, heavy soils that are easily packed and very sandy soils produce poor growth.
    5. Soils too acid or too alkaline.
    6. Drought damage, usually occurs on plants in light sandy soils, under overhanging roofs, or in planter boxes.
    7. Nematode damage, microscopic work-like organisms attack root system and interfere with ability of roots to take up water and nutrients.
    8. Needs proper fertilizer.
    9. Competition from other trees, trees and shrubs often compete with other plants for water, light, and nutrients.
    10. Pot bound root system, roots were not altered as needed at planting.
  2. Symptoms: Shrubs die suddenly.
    1. Too much fertilizer kills roots and top cannot get needed water. Damage more likely to occur during dry periods.
    2. Root rots caused by fungi or bacteria.
    3. Insects, borers and beetles that attack trunk can cause sudden damage.
    4. Severe drought with new plants and shallow-rooted plants most susceptible.
    5. Leakage from underground gas lines.
    6. Weed killer damage when applied incorrectly.
  3. Symptoms: Yellowing foliage.
    1. Insects small sucking insects.
    2. Poorly drained soil.
    3. Too much fertilizer.
    4. Needs proper fertilizer.
    5. Soils too acid or too alkaline.
    6. Nematode damage.
    7. Damage to stem or trunk.
    8. Poor soil preparation.
    9. Roots disturbed by cultivation, roots of shallow-rooted plants are easily damaged by cultivation.
    10. Construction, damage from nearby grading or construction often result in damage to roots or soil filled over roots.
    11. Pot bound root system.
  4. Symptoms: Leaf drop in spring.
    1. Natural occurrence, older leaves fall as new leaves develop.
    2. Unusually wet or dry conditions, trees shed leaves to deal with stress.
  5. Symptoms: Failure to flower.
    1. Shrubs or trees are too young, age and a slowdown in growth rate will increase flowering.
    2. Too much vegetative growth because of overfeeding.
    3. Pruned at the wrong time, prune spring flowering shrubs after blooming and summer flowering shrubs in fall and winter.
    4. Too much shade.
  6. Symptoms: Failure to produce berries.
    1. Cold or frost during flowering; kills developing fruit.
    2. Female plant with no male friend around or only male plants
    3. Improper pruning, often berries are produced on older growth.
  7. Symptoms: Occasional branches die.
    1. Stem breakage, shrubs such as dwarf holly have brittle limbs, easily broken by animals or children.
    2. Disease.
    3. Insects.
  8. Symptoms: Browning of leaf tips and edges and leaf spotting.
    1. Drought.
    2. Cold damage, exposure to bright light and strong winds during low temperatures. Spots develop when ice accumulated on foliage in sun. Injury also occurs during prolonged periods of freezing temperatures.
    3. Poor drainage.
    4. Root loss due to recent transplanting.
    5. Too much fertilizer.
    6. Root rot diseases.
    7. Damage to stem or trunk.

Many problems found can be corrected by the homeowner. While not easy, trees can be moved, drainage improved, and Winter protection can be provided. The homeowner can also learn proper pruning techniques, fertilization methods, and to be more careful mowing and trimming. We recommend, for large tree damage, insect, or disease problems, the owner call in a professional arborist. One can quickly be located by going to the National Arborists Association’s web site and typing in your zip code. For example, in our area, when you type in 49120 it tells youWatson’s Tree Service is the one to call.

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Broadleaf Weed Control in Lawns

Icon Written by Geoff on May 1, 1999 – 5:56 pm

Brad Pedersen in Weed Control in Lawns and Other Turf says “Weeds are simple plants out of place.” We have often observed plants being cultivated in one section of the country while in other parts valiant efforts are being made to eradicate it. One man’s weed is another man’s orchid. So it is with weeds in the well-groomed Eurasian lawns. Weeds are easy to see because of their different texture and color. Some weeds, like dandelions and henbit, even put on a Spring floral show for us. 

The first step in controlling weeds in the lawn is to identify what types are present. There are many books, pamphlets, and even web sites such as Rutger University’s Weed Image Collection at to help you identify most lawn weeds. Another good source is your local County Extension Agent. Lawn weeds fall into two types, Grass Weeds such as crab grass and quack grass, and Broadleaf Weeds such as dandelions and plantain. Grass weeds are usually best treated with a preemergent herbicide while broadleaf weeds respond best to postemergent while cultural control can be used effectively on both. In this issue of Yard talk, we will be discussing broadleaf weed control. 

Broadleaf weeds occur naturally in all soils, their seeds can be viable for over 50 years and each plant produces thousands of these seeds. Everything we do in the lawn has the potential for introducing weeds. Broadleaf weeds can be annual or perennial and are extremely hardy. There are three types of controls available to the homeowner, postemergent herbicides, cultural control, or a combination of both. 

The preferred method of control is cultural. A dense, healthy, and vigorous growing turf are your best defense. Weed invasions only happen when there is an underlying turf problem such as when knotweed takes over when the lawn soil becomes compacted. Weeds can often be controlled by simple changing our maintenance practices such as: 

  • Mow at a minimum height of three inches.
  • Do not mow in hot dry weather.
  • Water one to three times a week.
  • Water to a depth of six inches- at least one inch of water a week.
  • Maintain the lawn’s proper pH.
  • Apply an adequate balanced fertilizer.
  • Aerate your lawn at least every three years.
  • Remove any thatch build up.
  • Thin overhanging trees and shrubs.
  • Regularly topseed any developing thin spots.

It is much easier to properly maintain a lawn than it is to try to get rid of broadleaf weeds. 

Postemergent herbicides are also used to control actively growing broadleaf weeds. Broadleaf herbicides available to the homeowner contain 2,4-D, Mecoprop, Dicamba, or a combination of the three. To be effective postemergent herbicides must be: 

  • Applied when the weeds are growing vigorously.
  • Not applied during dry conditions.
  • Applied when the temperature is between 60*F and 85*F.
  • Reapplied if it rains within 24 hours of application.
  • Applied in the early Fall or Summer.

In addition you do not want to: 

  • Water within 48 hours of application.
  • Mow within 24 hours of treatment.
  • Apply to newly sodded lawns.
  • Mow lawns within three days of application.

Above all else, you want to make sure you understand and follow the directions on the herbicide of your choice. If you are not sure of what you are doing, hire a professional. 

While we consider cultural control the best method, we realize herbicide application or a combination may be necessary. Use herbicides sparingly or even consider spot treatment of problem areas. The University of Delaware has an excellent pamphlet called Your Lawn’s 25 Worst Weed Enemies that can be viewed at that can help you match specific weeds with the best treatment. Again, if in doubt, ask a professional for help. 

The best choice is to keep those lawns healthy, dense, and vigorously growing so you do not have to worry about weeds. All the other choices involve a whole lot more work.

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Fall Leaves

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 1997 – 8:25 am

  Who can but marvel at the beauty of a flaming red maple decked out in all of its Fall splendor? Fall in Michigan is truly a work of art.  Unfortunately, these same gorgeous leaves present many problems to the homeowner once they fall. Leaves provide not only a natural haven for insects and disease, but cut off sunlight and oxygen to our lawns. Some leaves, such as walnut and cherry, are actually toxic.

We suggest using leaves as a mulch for gardens and flower beds. Any excess leaves you can always share with a neighbor or use in composting. As a last resort, place them out at the curb for the city to collect. Be sure to pile them so as not to block the storm drains or bike paths.

An excellent web site on composting can be found at http://aggie We recommend anyone interested in composting take time and visit this site.

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Controlling Moss in the Lawn

Icon Written by Geoff on September 1, 1997 – 6:00 pm

Moss only grows in the lawn when shade, low fertility or poorly drained soil are present. The moss does not kill the grass, the underlying growing conditions are so unfavorable that the grass simply dies out.

Providing adequate sunlite and drainage can be both difficul and expensive. Low fertility, on the other hand, can be corrected by using a well balanced lawn fertilizer.

Moss can be killed by spraying with copper sulfate or iron sulfate mixed 2 to 5 ounces to 4 gallons of water and applied at a ratio of 1 gallen per 250 square feet. Killing the moss without correcting the conditions that favor its growth will not prevent a reoccurrence of the problem.

Where shade is quite heavy it may be easier to plant a shade adapted ground cover rather than try to grow grass.

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Mole Control

Icon Written by Geoff on August 1, 1997 – 6:09 pm

Moles can become a pest at anytime of the year. They eat grubs and earthworms but do not feed on flower bulbs or plant roots. They are the animals that make your yard look like a war zone.

There is no chemical means to control moles except to kill the grubs and earthworms that they eat. The only option is to trap the moles. Moles have two types of tunnels. One type is used only once, the other type is used regularly. The trap must be set on those tunnels the moles use regularly.

A less scientific method is available when the tunnels can be observed for a day. Step on those regularly used tunnels so they are completely pushed down. Look at the tunnels often through the day. When the tunnel is being pushed up, turn on the garden hose and push it into the tunnel near where the mole is working. The mole will be forced to the soil surface where it can be killed.

If you need someone else to take care of your mole problem, there is actually a company in Niles which will come out and trap your moles called Wild Animal Services.

Source: Michigan State University Extension

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