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Gardening - Reader Questions

By Amanda Whatley Owen

web posted December 11, 2017
GARDENING – A few weeks ago I received a few questions that I would love to take the time to answer.  First, a reader asked about planting a "Christmas-like tree" in her yard that could be used not only to decorate for Christmas but also as a screen or part of the landscape.  Another reader was concerned about the timing of the leaves dropping as well as the amount of the leaves dropping from the sycamore tree.

Regarding the answer to the reader's question about the "Christmas-like tree", there are so many varieties that can be used specifically for this.  Here are a few popular ones as well as some of my favorites.  The two favorites that I love to suggest are Juniper and Atlas Cedar.  They can require a little more maintenance than most, but they are so worth it. 

Junipers are some of the largest and oldest varieties of trees and shrubs, and the shrubs can be trained as trees. The trees in the upright position are grown that way from the groundcover juniper varieties. The trees can reach up to 50' In height and 14' to 20' in width.  They love deep fertile soil, and part sun and  make wonderful accent, or border trees.  Their shades of green can really enhance Christmas décor during the Holiday season. 

The trees are traditional as well as easy to decorate.  Now, I did mention some maintenance.  These trees do require trimming to help the tree maintain it's upright, slim, well groomed form, otherwise they may become wild and unmanageable.  They must constantly be  cleaned of any dead limbs.  This tree does not take well to full, intense sun, so please keep that in mind when using within the landscape. 

Another one of my favorites is the Atlas cedar, another tree that can grow fairly large… up to 60' tall and 40' wide.  It takes well to pruning and just like the Juniper, can be maintained at the desired height you wish to have.  The Atlas cedar has a blue needle and is also a traditional style tree that can help brighten your yard for the holidays, and create an elaborate border.

Both of these trees love part sun and well-drained soil. They are also both heat and drought tolerant with little disease and insect problems, which, is also what makes these two my favorites. They can even be used together for a creative landscape!

There are two trees, however, that a lot of folks in the area use.  After several years, some people wish that they had never planted them.  They are popular trees, but not at the top of my recommend list.  They are the Cypress and the Arborvitae.  Both, these trees get larger than the Juniper and the Cedar. 

Both the Cypress and Arborviotae, do not like to be pruned.  This means larger, wild masses of trees. that after twenty years, look overbearing and leggy.   While both of these sun-loving trees have high tolerance to heat and drought, and can literally adjust to any pH level of soil, they are also very prone to diseases and insects.  They may start to turn brown and yellow and get that leggy look as they grow older.  These are the primary reasons I don't recommend them.   

Our final question is a quick one.  A reader is concerned that the leaves on her Sycamore tree are dropping too soon, and she is concerned that there is a problem with the health of the tree.  Sycamore trees can be highly messy and, unfortunately, there is not much we can do about those messy leaves.  Some folks call an arborist to come and inject the trees to help with leaf drop.....let's be honest, it doesn't help. That's like a doctor giving you a winter injection so you don't gain weight, or feel cold.  Deciduous trees are meant to drop leaves during this time of year!

Now, some deciduous trees, including the Sycamore, can drop them sooner than normal because of long, hot, dry summers...and that's normal.   If the old leaves on the inside, or the lower part of the tree are dropping, the tree is fine. 

Now, if new leaves at the tips are dropping, and no tree buds are coming in by spring, and by the next fall all the leaves are gone, with no new growth during the summer, then you have a problem....a fungal problem. 

Anthrocnose is a common problem seen in Sycamores, usually during cool, damp weather. Many mistake it for frost damage.  If the Sycamore, or any deciduous tree, is young enough, then you can spray them with liquid copper fungicide which can be found at your local, home-improvement store.  If the tree is full grown, you will have to invest in an arborist for treatment due to the size of the tree and the volume of treatment that will be required. 

Next week, we'll talk about caring for those holiday poinsettias, and we'll also discuss the native South Carolina variety that will grow in almost everyone's yard!

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