Archive for the ‘Trees & Shrubs’ Category

Azalea caterpillar feeding on azalea foliage

Azalea caterpillars have consumed much of the young leaves of this azalea

Azalea caterpillars have consumed most
of the young leaves on this azalea

A few weeks ago, we received an e-mail from a fellow gardener in Richmond, VA who had noticed that caterpillars were devouring the current season’s growth on his azalea bushes. After some research, he determined that they were azalea caterpillars (Datana major). He had neither seen nor heard of these caterpillars before and was wondering if they were native to Virginia or an introduced species.

I have never seen these colorful (but destructive) caterpillars either but apparently they can be a major pest of azaleas, especially in the southeast. They are native to the continental US and Canada, but are most common in the southeastern US and the Mid-Atlantic States.

The azalea caterpillar (aka the red-headed azalea caterpillar) prefers to feed on azalea foliage but will also attack blueberries, apple trees, and red oak trees. They tend to feed in large groups and can quickly defoliate their target plants if they are not controlled.

The older azalea caterpillars are very colorful

The older azalea caterpillars
are very colorful

The adult stage is a rather nondescript brown moth but the larval caterpillars are quite colorful. They have a black body with several broken yellow stripes along its length. The head and legs are red. The mature caterpillars are about 2 inches long.

Adult female moths lay up to 100 eggs on the underside of the host plant leaves. The eggs hatch later in the season and the tiny caterpillars begin to feed on the foliage.

The caterpillars go through several instars, growing larger during each stage, and usually continue to feed together in large masses. Because of this tendency to group together while they feed, they can strip a plant of most of its leaves in a short period of time.

Young azalea caterpillars feeding en masse.

Young azalea caterpillars
feeding en masse.

Major damage from these caterpillars is usually observed in August and September when they are larger and eating voraciously. Though the damage from their feeding does not kill the shrub, it is certainly not aesthetically pleasing!

Controlling azalea caterpillars can be as simple as picking them off the shrubs. These are not stinging caterpillars despite the sparse hairs that cover their bodies, however, the problem is that there can be LOTS of them.

If you have a large infestation, you may need to resort to another form of control.

Azalea caterpillars feeding on azaleaWhen the caterpillars are young and small, a liquid formulation of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) (such as Bonide Thuricide) applied to the foliage will kill them when they eat the leaves. Bt is less likely to harm beneficial insects.

Bonide Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew, another naturally derived organic insecticide, is effective in controlling the larger caterpillars when it is sprayed on the foliage. The trick is to cover the foliage that the caterpillars will be eating. Always read and follow the label directions when spraying any pesticide.

Special thanks to Walter Forkey for bringing this caterpillar pest to my attention and sending me some photos. He was able to successfully get rid of them with an approved pesticide and hopefully his azaleas will recover nicely in the spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Take time to stop and smell the flowers!

Children can't resist smelling the flowers!

Children can’t resist
smelling the flowers!

Have you ever noticed small children in a flower garden? They tend to immediately bury their little noses into the flowers and smell them.

We adults need to take the time to do the same – and many of us do! Especially when the daylilies are blooming at the nursery, I see so many people, adults and children alike, walking around with the telltale sign of flower sniffing – orange pollen on their nose!

The peonies and iris are blooming in the gardens now and many of these have a wonderful sweet fragrance.

Viburnum carlesii fills the air with its sweet perfume in the spring

Viburnum carlesii fills the air with
its sweet perfume in the spring

When planning a garden, it is important to not only consider form, structure, texture, and color in the flower bed, but also fragrance. Your sense of smell can often bring back pleasant memories of places and times in your past. Whenever I walk past a blooming Viburnum carlesii, I am transported back to my childhood home where a magnificent specimen of these intensely fragrant shrubs grew at the corner of our patio.

What wonderful memories!

What flower fragrances take you back? Roses, lilacs, honeysuckle …
Be sure to incorporate some of those plants into your gardens!

Peony 'Belle Chinoise' has a lovely fragrance

Peony ‘Belle Chinoise’ has
a lovely fragrance

You should plant pockets of fragrant flowers where you will enjoy them the most – near the porch, deck, patio, or poolside. Another good place for a touch of fragrance is along a favorite garden path or beside your sidewalk or driveway. If you place plants with fragrant foliage at the edge of your garden path, the fragrance will be released when you brush against it as you pass by. An interesting idea to keep in mind!

The fragrance of certain flowers is more obvious during various periods of time – when the weather is warm and the air moist, or when the sun goes down and the night bloomers emit their sweetness into the air. I love driving by a patch of wild honeysuckle in the early evening with the windows down – their sweet perfume just wafts into the open windows.
Such a delight!

The beautiful honeysuckle flowers fill the air with sweet summer fragrance

The beautiful honeysuckle flowers fill the air with sweet summer fragrance

Fragrance can be added to the landscape and garden through the use of trees, vines, shrubs, annuals, bulbs, and perennials. There are many fragrant choices in each of these categories.

Some fragrant spring flowers include:

Lilac Sensation

Lilac ‘Sensation’

Trees and Shrubs:

  • Magnolia
  • Calycanthus floridus (Sweet Shrub)
  • flowering quince
  • Daphne
  • Mock Orange
  • Lilac
  • Viburnum
  • Wisteria

Perennials and bulbs:

  • Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-Valley)
  • many peonies (like ‘Phillipe Revoire’, ‘Belle Chinoise’, and ‘Le Cygne’)
  • Dianthus
  • Primula
  • many tall bearded iris
  • Jonquils and hyacinths

For summer fragrance, try:

Fragrant flowers of Buddleia attract loads of butterflies

Fragrant flowers of Buddleia
attract loads of butterflies


  • Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
  • Clethra (Summersweet Clethera)
  • roses


  • Clematis
  • Jasmine
  • honeysuckle
  • moonflower
  • sweet pea

Annual flowers:

  • Snapdragons
  • Cosmos
  • Four O’clocks
  • Nicotiana
  • marigolds
Astilbe bring color as well as fragrance to the shade garden.

Astilbe bring color as well as fragrance
to the shade garden.


  • Astilbe
  • Lilium (oriental lilies)
  • Lavandula (Lavender)
  • Nepeta
  • certain hosta varieties
  • some Monarda and Phlox paniculata hybrids
  • Perovskia (Russian Sage)
  • some daylily varieties
  • Yucca

With the fall comes:

  • Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
  • Sweet Autumn Clematis.
Many interesting varieties of lavender are available including a silver edged lavender

Many interesting varieties of
lavender are available including
a silver edged form

Fragrance from Foliage

There are many plants that produce fragrant foliage rather than fragrant flowers but the fragrance is none-the-less intoxicating. Try the many varieties of thyme, lavender, rosemary, basil, the mints, and a host of other herbs. Artemisia, hay-scented fern, sweet woodruff, lemon grass, lemon verbena, heliotrope, and scented geraniums are a few others that will add a pleasant scent to the garden or containers.

And, of course, everyone loves the many fragrant boughs of evergreens that are used at Christmas time to bring a spicy, nostalgic aroma indoors.

Until next time – Don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers!

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Today is Arbor Day!

Celebrate! Plant a tree!

Show someone close to your heart that you really care about them by planting a tree in their honor or in memory of a loved one. One day it will grow to be a majestic tribute to that very special person!

A majestic oak silhouetted against the winter sky

Here are a few tips for planting trees.


Below is a post that I wrote on Arbor Day in 2012.

I thought I would share it today in honor of Arbor Day 2016!


Today is National Arbor Day!

Our new woodland garden replaces our front lawn!

Our new woodland garden replaces our front lawn! We planted a little pink dogwood, hosta, and several azaleas. Now it just needs some mulch.

It’s always the last Friday in April although some states recognize a different State Arbor Day that corresponds better with planting times in their state. Since Arbor Day was founded in 1872, it has been customary to plant a tree in observance of the holiday and on that first Arbor Day, it is estimated that about one million trees were planted.

As you celebrate Arbor Day this year, keep in mind that as important as it is to plant new trees, it is equally important to care for and protect the trees that are already growing in your landscape.

Damage to mature trees due to insects and diseases (many introduced from other countries) can be devastating to your landscape as well as the surrounding areas and adjoining forests. Diseases such as the Chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease and exotic insects like the emerald ash borer and the Asian long-horned beetle have killed tens of millions of trees across the U.S.

Chestnut blight canker on the stems of a young American Chestnut. Photo by Eric Jones

Chestnut blight canker on the stem of a young American Chestnut.
Photo by Eric Jones

The chestnut blight, caused by a fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica), was introduced to North America from Asia in the early 1900’s either on infected lumber or through diseased trees. Within 40 years of its introduction, virtually all the chestnut trees in North America were wiped out. Although mature American chestnut trees have disappeared from our forests, small trees often grow from stump sprouts since the blight doesn’t kill the roots. Unfortunately, these small trees rarely grow to reproductive age before they are attacked and killed by the fungus. Such a sad ending for these once majestic trees which often reached 200 feet tall and 14 feet across! There is no cure for this disease but much work has been done to genetically engineer a disease resistant American chestnut using genetic material from a few stump sprouts that managed to produce seeds and a bit of DNA (as little as 3%) from Asian species that show resistance to the blight. The American Chestnut Foundation is at the forefront of this research with a mission …

…to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands to benefit our environment, our wildlife, and our society. The American Chestnut Foundation is restoring a species – and in the process, creating a template for restoration of other tree and plant species.”

How’s that for a great Arbor Day message!

Woolly adelgids on the branch of a young hemlock.

Woolly adelgids on the branch of a young hemlock. Photo by Eric Jones

Another pest that is doing its best to wipe out whole a species of trees is the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). This past Sunday on a wonderful but rainy walk in the George Washington National Forest, Eric and I saw evidence of this destructive pest on a young hemlock. The hemlock woolly adelgid was also an accidental introduction from Asia and is devastating populations of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) throughout eastern North America. The insect damages the trees by feeding at the base of the needles causing them to desiccate and eventually drop off. Heavy infestations have been known to kill trees in as little as four years but healthy trees can sometimes survive an attack for a longer period of time. Luckily, there are products that the homeowner can use to help control hemlock woolly adelgids but sadly in our hemlock forests, these pests are causing the destruction of large numbers of these beautiful trees. Read more about the woolly adelgid.

As they have with the American chestnut, researchers have developed an adelgid-resistant hybrid by crossing the Carolina hemlock with an Asian hemlock which is resistant. While this is great progress – it does nothing to save the trees that are already infected!

Seen these hanging around?

Seen these hanging around? These purple structures are Emerald Ash Borer traps used to evaluate populations of the pest.

Another group of insects that causes widespread damage to established trees is the wood-boring insects including the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle (both introduced from Asia), and a wide variety of the bark beetles.

The emerald ash borer, first reported in Michigan in 2002, has already killed millions of ash trees and is a potential threat to all the ash trees in North America.

The Asian long-horned beetle is one of the most destructive of the wood borers because it is not selective and attacks a wide variety of hardwood trees.

Bark beetles, like the spruce beetle, the mountain pine beetle, and the southern pine beetle, have killed millions of conifers in North American forests especially during severe outbreaks.

Bark beetles attacked this weakened pine and contributed to its death.

Bark beetles attacked this weakened pine and contributed to its death.

I remember when we were in Alaska several years ago seeing where the spruce beetle had killed entire forests of Sitka Spruce. Although bark beetles generally attack trees that are weak, dying, or already dead, the species listed above are particularly destructive because they will attack live, seemingly healthy trees.

For the homeowner, there are products that can be used to help control some of these pests. Horticultural oils can help control the woolly adelgid if they are sprayed at the correct times.

Some systemic insecticides may help control adelgids, emerald ash borers, Asian long-horned beetles, and pine borers. Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed II and Bonide Annual Tree & Shrub Insect Control are products that can be mixed and poured at the base of the tree according to the label directions. These products are not available in all states. Always read and follow the label directions when using any pesticides. Read more about borers.

On this Arbor Day, The Nature Conservancy reminds us of some important tips to help protect our trees.

  • Keep your trees healthy and vigorous! Many destructive insect pests and diseases are attracted to trees that are stressed due to poor nutrition, drought conditions, and mechanical injury such as lawn mower or weed whacker nicks in the trunk.
  • When purchasing trees, purchase certified, pest-free nursery stock.
  • To avoid inadvertently spreading invasive pests or diseases, NEVER transport firewood when you travel, always obtain it locally!

So make a pledge this Arbor Day to pay attention to your existing trees and strive to keep them strong and healthy!

… and plant a tree!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Freeze damage on quince flowers

Well it’s happened once again!

The foliage on some of the daylilies was damaged

The foliage on some of the
daylilies was damaged

Unseasonably warm temperatures in March have pushed spring along in the mid-Atlantic states; only to have below freezing temperatures the first week of April provide a wake-up call that warm weather is not here to stay just yet.

Frost and freeze damage to tender new growth is evident throughout the Viette gardens and we are definitely not alone in seeing plant damage from this sudden cold snap.

The following was posted on our discussion board yesterday morning:

I live in Hollywood, MD (southern MD) and this past weekend we had freezing temps and my hydrangea leaves were damaged. I have 5 plants total, 3 chest-high and two others a little taller. They were looking wonderful with the leaves coming in nicely. They are 5-7 years old. This is the first time I have seen damage like this at the beginning of the season. They are calling for freezing temps again Sat. night. I am planning on buying and putting plant sheets on them to prevent further damage but I am wondering if it is too late. I am so disappointed. I was so looking forward to their blooms this summer. Anyone have experience with this with any tips or what I should expect as far as blooms, leaves coming back?

The dogwood flowers froze and turned brown.

The dogwood flowers froze
and turned brown.

I have had experience with this!

I even wrote a blog post about it at the time. The same thing happened in the spring of 2012 after a very warm March. In early April of that year the temperatures plummeted – just like this year. There was major damage to many shrubs (including my lacecap hydrangeas) and perennials that had broken dormancy earlier than normal due to the unusually warm March temperatures. The dogwood flowers were beginning to open and they got zapped as did the tender new growth on the boxwoods and on a few young native hollies growing in the woods.

New holly leaves turned black but tougher older leaves were fine

New holly leaves turned black but
tougher older leaves were fine

The new growth on the boxwood was severely damaged

New growth on the boxwood
was severely damaged

Boxwood and hollies can be trimmed back to remove any damaged foliage. As for the lacecap hydrangea, it’s best to wait and see. You don’t want to risk cutting off flower buds that might still be alive! Fortunately for me, I did not cut my damaged hydrangeas back that spring and they eventually recovered with lush new growth and they bloomed beautifully in the early summer – much to my surprise and delight!


This peony bud was zapped and some of the foliage was damaged a bit.

This peony bud was zapped and
some of the foliage was damaged.

This year it may be different, although it is too early to tell how extensive the damage may be. Walking around the gardens just now, it didn’t seem too bad. Some of the daylily foliage was nipped and a few of the peony buds froze but all-in-all, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. That may change after this weekend, though.

Most of the hosta in the gardens are covered now so I wasn’t able to see if they had been damaged. They were covered before the worst of the cold.

Hosta covered in the gardens

Hosta covered in the gardens

At least most of the herbaceous perennials like daylilies and hosta can be trimmed to remove damaged foliage and they will respond with a flush of new growth. The cold damage will not usually affect the flowering of these summer blooming perennials.

Shrubs that bloom on new wood, such as butterfly bushes (Buddleia), Caryopteris, crape myrtle, and some hydrangea, can be pruned later in the spring to remove any damaged foliage or branches without affecting their flowering. In fact, we recommend waiting until the danger of cold weather has passed before doing any pruning on these shrubs.

As I walked around, I also noticed that many of the blossoms on the quince and the early blooming crabapple varieties had turned brown from the freeze.

Quince flowers were killed but the tougher foliage was not hurt.

Quince flowers were killed but
the tougher foliage was not hurt.

The pink quince flowers just melted out.

Most of flowers on the
pink quince turned brown.

It’s really too bad because they were just beginning to get really pretty!

The crabapple flowers and the tender new foliage were damaged

Crabapple flowers and the tender
new leaves were damaged

The buds that haven’t opened yet seem mostly sound.

That’s good news for the rest of the spring bloom but …

This cold snap is not over yet!

The nighttime temperatures are forecast to remain in the low 30’s for the rest of the week and by early Sunday morning they may drop into the upper teens in some of the colder areas. Brrrrrrr!

Hopefully the forecast is wrong but don’t count on it! Be sure to protect your plants tonight and keep them covered through Sunday morning.

Maybe this will be the last of the cold weather. Time will tell …

Until Next time – THINK SPRING!

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Crocus are blooming

Male spring peeper calling; photo credit Jack Ray

Male spring peeper calling;
photo credit: Jack Ray

The other night as I drove past a small pond on my way home, the chirping of the spring peepers was deafening! But I was happy to hear them!

Spring is near!

The peepers are singing, the crocus are blooming, and the daffodils are beginning to open! It seems that spring is slowly creeping into the Shenandoah Valley.

It has definitely been an odd winter this year with some very warm stretches mixed in with a few very cold periods. Some perennials have been fooled and many broke into growth earlier than they should have.

In late January, we received the following question via our Discussion Board:

Hosta damaged from a late freeze can be cut back

Even hosta damaged from a
late freeze can be cut back

I am in Toano, Virginia. We had an unusually warm start to our winter. As a result, my blueberries bloomed, my peonies started to come up as did my daylilies. Some of my daylilies never really went dormant. I covered the daylilies and peonies with pine straw but the daylilies grew almost 6 inches. Now the leaves are burned and chewed. Can I cut the leaves back to the ground now or [should I] leave them alone?

This type of plant damage is not unusual but it normally occurs in the spring when a late freeze damages the tender new spring growth. It’s a bit crazy that there was this much growth during a warm spell in the winter but, as we all know, it was a crazy winter!

Freeze damage on daylilies resembles insect damage.

Freeze damage on daylilies
resembles insect damage.

Here is my response to the question:

Yes it would be fine to cut the damaged foliage of your daylilies back. You can cut them right to the ground. The “chewed” leaves are probably a result of freeze damage rather than damage from a chewing pest. Re-cover the plants with the pine straw after you trim them back.

Pine straw makes a great, long-lasting mulch and the daylilies and peonies will grow right up through it.

Cut Liriope back before growth begins in spring

Cut Liriope back before
growth begins in spring

March is also a good time to trim back the old foliage of some of your evergreen perennials – especially Liriope, Helleborus, and Epimedium. It is so much easier if you do this before the new foliage begins to grow. You can pretty much just gather up the old leaves in a bunch and cut the stems close to the ground. Just be careful that there is no new growth in the way of your shears before you snip!

The old fronds of evergreen ferns should also be cut back now. Last weekend, I trimmed the old foliage from my Dryopteris, cinnamon ferns, ostrich ferns, and Christmas ferns.

Trim back old fern fronds before new growth occurs

Trim back old fern fronds
before new growth occurs

The crowns of these ferns were still firm and tight but the fiddleheads will soon begin to pop up and unfurl. After that, it will become harder to clean up the old foliage without snapping off the tender new fronds.

Ornamental grasses should also be cut back now. This is another group of perennials that is important to cut back before new growth begins. One of the easiest ways to do this is to cinch the old foliage together with twine or a bungee cord and use hedge shears to cut the clump back near the ground. Since it’s already tied up, you can just carry the whole bundle out of the garden. Nice and neat!
Here is a video showing just how easy this method is.

Oh and don’t forget!

Mark pruned this overgrown lilac back to the ground.

Mark pruned this overgrown
lilac back to the ground.

If you have some shrubs that have outgrown their space, now is the time to do any heavy rejuvenation pruning. This can be done with boxwood, holly, yew, rhododendron, azalea, and any others that have dormant buds in the bare wood. Even spring bloomers like overgrown lilac and forsythia can be pruned back hard to rejuvenate them and improve blooming, in addition to getting them back to a manageable size.

Normally, spring blooming shrubs are pruned after they finish blooming but severe pruning, where they are cut back hard (sometimes to the ground) is best done while they are still dormant in late winter or early spring. Of course you will sacrifice the bloom for the season but they should bounce back and bloom even better next spring or maybe the spring after.

Winter is on the way out! It’s time to get back in the garden!

Until next time – Happy Spring!

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A bright red cardinal sits atop a snowy honeysuckle
With the impending nor’easter heading toward the mid-Atlantic and southern New England, homeowners have been stocking up on supplies in preparation. Many may also be thinking about ways to prevent damage to their trees and shrubs that may be caused by a heavy snow burden.

A rhododendron droops under the weight of the snow.

A rhododendron droops under
the weight of the snow.

Here are some tips:

With snow accumulation, if it’s not too wet and heavy, you can sometimes take a broom or a leaf rake and gently brush the snow from the branches. If you keep up with this throughout the storm, you can prevent a heavy buildup. It is best not to shake the branches as this can cause breakage.

In the case of an accumulation of ice or heavy, wet snow, it is better to just wait and let it melt off naturally. If you try to knock it off you will usually do more damage to your trees and shrubs. It’s also very dangerous! Most trees and shrubs will bounce back after the snow or ice melts off so it is usually safer to be patient and wait until they thaw out.

Boxwood nearly flattened by a heavy load of snow

Boxwood nearly flattened by
a heavy load of snow

Snow damage is usually worse on evergreens because the foliage can hold the snow on the branches. Sometimes, the outer branches of shrubs like boxwood, yew, and azalea become weighed down with snow, separated from the center, and pinned to the ground. If you try to remove the snow, you can do more damage to the shrub. Let the snow melt off naturally! Once everything melts, you will be able to see if any permanent damage was done.

Click for some tips for dealing with snow damaged shrubs

What should you do for damaged trees in the aftermath of a destructive winter storm?

Heavy, wet snow can sometimes cause irreparable damage to trees

Heavy, wet snow can sometimes cause irreparable damage to trees

The most important thing is to be safe!

  • Don’t go near trees or branches that have fallen on power lines.
  • Watch for large broken branches that are hanging precariously and could fall in a gust of wind.
  • Assess the damage to determine if it is something that you can handle yourself or if you need to call in a professional tree service for help. Large limbs can be extremely heavy (hundreds of pounds) and dangerous!
  • Avoid any trimming or pruning that necessitates getting up on a ladder. This can be extremely dangerous especially if there is snow or ice on the ground.
  • When using a pole saw or trimmer, be mindful of any telephone or power lines and stay well away from these. It’s very easy to lose track of where they are in relation to where you are cutting! Better yet, leave this pruning to a professional.

What is the first step?

Large branch on a maple broken during an early fall snowstorm

A large maple branch broken
during an early fall snowstorm

The first thing you need to do is evaluate the damage to your tree. Study it from all angles and determine the best way to proceed. Severe damage may warrant a call to a professional tree service like Bartlett Tree Experts, while more minor damage can often be tackled by the homeowner.

Broken branches are one of the most common types of storm damage to trees, whether by snow, wind, or heavy rain. The three D’s of pruning dictates that you can remove these broken branches at any time regardless of when they occur. This is mainly because the ragged wound left from the break can be an entrance point for insects and disease.

Remember, hire a professional to remove very large branches or those that you can’t safely reach from the ground. Ladders can be very dangerous for pruning!

Tips for removing broken branches safely and with minimal, additional damage to the tree

  • Make clean cuts by using a sharp tool – a clean cut speeds callus formation and healing.
  • When removing a branch, make the cut close to the stem just outside the natural branch collar. The branch collar or bark ridge is an area/ridge at the base of a branch that contains cells that multiply quickly to close off and heal a wound. If you cut the branch inside this branch collar, you hinder the natural healing properties of the tree.
The natural branch collar contains cells that speed healing.

The natural branch collar contains
cells that speed healing.

Proper pruning removes the branch just outside the branch collar.

Proper pruning removes the branch
just outside the branch collar.


  • Leaving stubs is a very poor pruning practice.

    Leaving stubs is a very
    poor pruning practice.

    Do not leave stubs. Leaving a stub is almost worse than cutting the branch too short. Stubs will die back and leave the tree open to disease and insect damage. The tree cannot heal over a stub.

  • Smaller branches, less than 2″ in diameter, can be removed with one cut using good quality shears or loppers.
  • Remove larger branches in sections. This takes the weight off the break and makes the final pruning cuts easier and safer.
  • Once you have a shorter section to remove, use the three-cut method to remove the branch completely. The three-cut method prevents tearing or stripping of the bark as the final section is removed.
The first two cuts of the three-cut pruning method. The third cut will remove the remaining stub.

The first two cuts of the three-cut pruning method.
The third cut will remove the remaining stub.

  • There is generally no need to use any kind of wound paint. Painting the wound can inhibit the natural healing of the tree; however, sometimes larger cuts can be coated with orange shellac.
  • If a branch has broken and peeled the bark down on the trunk in the process, remove the branch using the procedure above and then trim off any loose bark.

Here are some tips for dealing with split branches or trunks

Severe damage to trees

Always prune to an outward facing branch or bud.

Always prune to an outward
facing branch or bud.

In many cases, depending on the species of tree, younger trees can bounce back from fairly severe damage – up to 40% loss of their branches. These smaller trees should be pruned to remove damaged branches, making new clean cuts back to a branch collar. If just the tip of a branch is damaged, prune the branch back to an outward facing branch or bud.

In the late spring, you will be able to determine if the tree has survived. Summer pruning may be necessary to reshape the tree and remove additional dead twigs or branches.

In cases of severe damage to larger trees, it is best to consult a certified local arborist such as Bartlett Tree Experts to get their recommendation on whether the tree can be salvaged. If the loss of branches is greater than 40%, the chances of survival can be greatly diminished and you may have to have the tree removed. Even if it survives, it may be severely weakened and it may become a hazard in the future. It’s wise to consult a professional arborist to determine a course of action.

Trees are a renewable and replaceable resource.

If you are forced to remove a tree, consider replacing it with a tree that produces well-spaced, wide angled branches which provide greater strength and resist breakage. To eliminate the problem of trunk splitting, look for trees that produce a single main trunk. Bradford pears are very popular landscape trees but they have weak branches and are very prone to storm damage.
Consider the loss of your tree an opportunity to try an exciting new variety!

Until next time – Be safe and enjoy the snow!

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A cardinal sits in a paperbark maple tree

Where IS winter?

It sure doesn’t FEEL like winter right now! The winter of 2015 is starting out rather mild to say the least! The whole east coast has “enjoyed” record warm December temperatures. USA Today has reported that in the eastern US, over 1,000 new record highs have been recorded so far this December! People around here have been mowing their lawns! It’s crazy! Who mows their lawn in December in the Shenandoah Valley!

Thankfully, the temperatures are supposed to start dropping to more seasonal levels by the end of the week.

It still LOOKS like winter despite the unseasonably warm temperatures. The winter landscape is quiet and peaceful with leafless trees standing tall and majestic. Here is a post I wrote in December 2012. I think it bears re-posting!

Happy Holidays everyone! Enjoy …

Have you ever looked at trees in the winter?

Trees against a winter skyI mean REALLY looked? I’m talking about the deciduous trees with their bare limbs silhouetted against the sky. Many of them are really quite beautiful in a simple kind of way.

Driving to work the other day I happened to focus on a large, solitary maple that was in someone’s yard. The bare branches gave the tree such an attractive shape against the brilliant blue sky. It struck me that the “skeleton” of the tree was just as interesting in the landscape as the tree was in full foliage – if not more so. This revelation made me pay closer attention to the other trees around me. Maples, oaks, hickories, sycamores, dogwoods …

A majestic oak silhouetted against the winter sky

A majestic oak silhouetted
against the winter sky

The distinctive growth form and branch structure of these trees, which can really only be seen during the winter, add an element of beauty to the winter landscape. Each species has its own unique pattern. It’s something that you can’t really appreciate in the summer when the trees are covered with leaves but it definitely becomes a major part of the charm of the winter landscape. In fact, tree form, branch structure, and bark texture might be features to keep in mind when choosing the trees and shrubs to plant in your garden or around your home.

If you spend some time in the winter garden, you might be surprised at the subtle beauty and tranquility you will find at this more simple time in the gardening year. The winter landscape is all about muted colors and the bare bones of the garden. It’s not just the form and structure of the trees that provide character to the winter landscape, but also the interesting colors and textures you will find in their bark. In the winter when we aren’t distracted by foliage, the bark becomes a much more prominent characteristic of the trees.

Sycamore trees show their attractive form and beautiful bark in winter

Sycamore trees show their attractive form and beautiful bark in winter

As I neared the nursery, I noticed the large sycamore trees which grow along the creek that flows through one of the fields. The sycamore is a tree that I find to be much more appealing in the winter than at any other time of the year. To me, this is when you can really appreciate the grandeur of this massive tree. The open, wide-spreading crown has a beautiful silhouette against the winter sky. In addition, sycamores have wonderful exfoliating bark on the upper trunk and branches which peels away to reveal a striking white inner bark. Much of this interesting bark pattern is hidden during the summer and only becomes visible in the winter months when the leaves have dropped.

White oak (left) and chestnut oak (right) have very different bark textures.

White oak (left) and chestnut oak (right) have different bark textures.

The oaks are one of my favorite trees when it comes to bark texture. Chestnut oaks have beautiful dark colored bark which is deeply furrowed and coarse while the white oak has light grayish bark that has a finer textured and is almost flaky. So beautiful in the winter!

The American beech is another favorite with a beautiful spreading crown which creates a lovely silhouette in winter. The smooth, silvery, blue-gray bark creates a striking contrast to the bronze colored fall leaves which often persist on the tree throughout the winter.

Beech trees with their smooth blue-gray bark contrast with the bright white bark of a white birch.

Beech trees with their smooth blue-gray bark contrast with the
bright white bark of a white birch in the Vermont woods.

Exfoliating giraffe-like bark of crape myrtle.

Exfoliating giraffe-like bark
of crape myrtle.

There are many other species of trees that have beautiful bark which provides color and interest in the winter landscape. Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) and many cultivars of crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) have wonderful exfoliating bark which peels away to reveal a rich cinnamon colored inner bark that really stands out in the winter. These bare, leafless trees also have a nice shape at this time of year and, if the seed heads are left on the crape myrtles, they not only provide added interest but they will also supply much needed winter food for the birds.

So, take some time to appreciate the wonderful form that your trees reveal in the winter. Spend a quiet moment or two just observing the simple beauty that can be found at this time of year. Just because there are no colorful flowers around, don’t think that Mother Nature has abandoned her artistry. It just takes on a very different form and you have to look a little harder to see the subtle elegance in the winter landscape.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


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White pine shedding 1-year old needles

White pine needle sheddingI have been noticing a lot of yellowing needles on the pine trees in our area this fall and it reminded me of the blog post I published in the fall of 2012.

When a large number of pine needles start to turn yellow then drop, homeowners can become quite concerned and this may be one of those years when needle drop, especially in white pines, is especially noticeable.

It’s important to understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a disease or insect problem.

Read on …

From October 17, 2012 …


Help! A lot of the needles on my pine tree are turning brown and falling off. What’s going on? Should I be worried? Is my tree dying?

White pines shed the previous year's needles each fall.

White pines shed the previous
year’s needles each fall.

We often get questions like this in the fall. The keyword here is “fall”. Everyone is used to the deciduous trees coloring up and dropping their leaves in the fall but many are not aware that pines and many other evergreens also go through a natural “leaf” drop at this time of the year.

But they’re evergreens! They’re not supposed to lose their needles.

The difference is that evergreens don’t drop all of their “leaves” at one time like deciduous trees and shrubs do so it normally goes unnoticed.
Every year all evergreens, including the broadleaf evergreens, shed at least some of their older foliage. When this leaf or needle drop occurs and how much is shed depends upon the species.

Since we aren’t accustomed to thinking of fall needle drop as being a normal occurrence for pines and other evergreens, many people automatically assume that they have an insect or disease problem when this happens. They’re quite relieved to find out that it’s normal.

1-year old growth drops it's needles while the current season's growth remains green.

1-year old growth drops it’s needles while
the current season’s growth remains green.

Pines as a group shed their oldest needles in the fall. Most pines keep their needles for 3 to 5 years spreading out the needle drop over that period. White pines, on the other hand, hold their needles for only one year. Because of this, in certain years, the needle drop on white pines can be rather dramatic. This seems to be one of those years. At least in our area of the Shenandoah Valley, the white pines seem to be full of yellowing needles and this can be a bit alarming to a homeowner.

Why do you notice this in white pines especially?

White pine needles turn yellow then brown before they drop

White pine needles turn yellow then
brown before they drop in the fall.

It’s because, since they only hold their needles for one year, variations in growth rate from one year to the next can have an effect on the percentage of needles that are shed in a given fall. When you look carefully at white pine branches in the fall, you should see that the needles at the ends of the branches (the current year’s growth) are healthy and green and that the one year old needles behind them towards the interior of the tree are the ones that are yellowing and turning brown. Eventually these will be shed.

When environmental conditions favor good, strong spring growth, the lush, new foliage will usually hide the shedding needles behind it. In these years, the natural needle drop in the fall is less obvious.

Browning needles on the one-year old white pine growth

Last year’s needles have turned brown.

However, if new growth in the spring is slowed due to drought for instance, this growth will be shorter and will produce fewer needles than the previous year’s growth (assuming a normal growing season in that year). This sometimes means that a higher percentage of the needles on the tree are one year old needles and when these needles begin to turn yellow and brown in the fall, it becomes much more noticeable (especially if there was a good growing season the year before).

This seems to be the situation for us this year. During the time when new growth was forming on the white pines, our temperatures were above normal but rainfall was well below normal. This resulted in reduced spring growth and consequently, it’s possible that more needles may be shed this fall than are retained on the tree. Interesting, huh?

So now you know and you can rest assured that your white pines are probably not sick or insect infested – they are just shedding … naturally!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Autumn olive

This was the title of a question posted on our Discussion Board several weeks ago. Here is the post:

Autumn olive

Autumn olive in fall

What is the name of the invasive species of small bush/tree with thousands of little red berries, and is spreading like kudzu? It grows two or three inches a day seems like, and is dominating every hedge row in my area. I live near Stuart, Virginia. What is the best way to eradicate them?

My guess was autumn olive but I asked for some additional information to be sure of the identification:

The silvery undersides of the autumn olive leaves

The silvery undersides and
alternate arrangement of 
autumn olive leaves

Are the undersides of the leaves silvery in color and are the leaves arranged alternately on the branches? If the leaves are arranged opposite each other on the branches and the leaves are green, then it would be a bush honeysuckle. In either case, they are both invasive and hard to control.

He replied back that the leaves were silvery underneath and they were arranged in an alternate pattern on the stem.

Autumn Olive – as I suspected.

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is a deciduous shrub that is native to China, Japan, and Korea. It was introduced to the United States in 1830 as a fast growing shrub that could be used to quickly revegetate disturbed areas and provide erosion control as well as habitat and food for wildlife. It certainly did the job but unfortunately did it so well that the shrub has now become invasive in much of the eastern and central US.

Pale yellow autumn olive flowers

Pale yellow autumn olive flowers

Autumn olive is very prolific and is as happy growing on dry, rocky, infertile slopes as it is growing in rich garden soil. It is drought tolerant, salt tolerant, and even grows in very acidic soil.

This is one tough plant!

One of the reasons that autumn olive is able to thrive in nutrient-poor soils is its ability to produce its own nitrogen with nitrogen-fixing root nodules. This can become a problem for many of the native species that are adapted to areas with infertile soil because it interferes with the natural nutrient cycle.

In addition, because of its vigorous growth and quick spreading habit, autumn olive can easily outcompete and displace these native plants.

Autumn olive laden with fruit

Autumn olive laden with fruit

The other problem is that these shrubs produce a tremendous number of small red fruits all along their branches and each of these contains a seed. Birds and other animals apparently scarf up the fruit and are responsible for dispersing the seeds far and wide!

Autumn olive fruit contains a lot of lycopene and is apparently quite tasty when it is perfectly ripe. Before that time, it has a very bitter taste due to high levels of tannin – similar to unripe persimmon fruit. The few that I tried the other day, though deep red in color, really made me pucker up! Definitely not ripe yet! The tannin content decreases as the fruit ripens and it becomes sweeter. If you look online, you can find quite a few recipes which use autumn olive fruit to make jam, juice, and other things!


These shrubs ARE invasive and efforts should be made to control them. However, this is no easy task! If you cut them down or burn them, they quickly sprout vigorous new growth from the base. Seedlings pop up everywhere the fruit/seeds drop.

Deep red fruit is speckled with silvery scales

The deep red fruit of autumn olive is
speckled with silvery scales

Seedlings can be hand pulled but it is best to do this when the ground is moist so you increase the chances of removing the entire root.

Seedlings and young shrubs can be controlled by spraying the foliage with triclopyr (found in many brush killers) or glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) according to the label directions.

Large, mature shrubs are harder to kill. One of the best methods is to cut them down and then immediately apply an herbicide containing glyphosate or triclopyr directly to the freshly cut stump according to the label directions for stump treatment. You can use a paint brush or a spray bottle to apply the herbicide and if you add a dye to the mix, you can easily see when you have good coverage on the stump.

One of the best times to do this is in the early fall before the fruit (with seeds!) matures. At this time, the plants are beginning to prepare for winter by moving nutrients and stored starches from their leaves into their roots. Spraying systemic herbicides at this time (for any perennial weed) means that these chemicals get transported down to the roots more quickly thereby increasing their efficacy.

Good luck if you have this stuff! It is growing in dense thickets around our little orchard and every year it seems to close in a bit more!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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The rhododendron bald at Craggy Gardens

A few weeks ago, Eric and I took a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway. We tried to time our trip to coincide with the rhododendron bloom in the North Carolina mountains, specifically at Craggy Gardens on the parkway just north of Asheville. While the native rhododendrons, Rhododendron catawbiense, were just beginning to show some color, the flame azaleas and mountain laurel were in full bloom. It was beautiful!

Mountain laurel in full bloom.

Mountain laurel in full bloom.

Azalea gall on native flame azalea

Azalea gall on native flame azalea

When we stopped to take some pictures, we noticed that a few of the azaleas had some strange growths on them that looked like some type of gall. It turns out that this was the azalea gall which is quite common on both native and hybrid azaleas. Catawba rhododendron is also quite susceptible. In fact, the majority of the rhododendrons growing on the rhododendron bald above the Craggy Gardens Visitor Center had at least a few of these unusual, fleshy galls.

I’ve written about galls on plants before but most of those I have talked about were galls that developed in response to insect activity.

Azalea gall has caused swelling and distortion of young leaf tissue of this native rhododendron

Azalea gall has caused swelling
and distortion of young leaf tissue
of this native rhododendron

The azalea gall, Exobasidium vaccinii, is caused by a fungus which infects the leaves, flowers, and branch tips of azaleas, rhododendron, and certain species of Vaccinium like blueberries and cranberries.

The fungus causes abnormal growth in the tissues that are infected. These swollen tissues form the gall and cause distortion of the leaves, stems, or flowers.

Azalea galls can be light green, pinkish, or (as we most often observed) white.

This pale green gall will become white once the spore layer forms

This pale green gall will become
white once the spore layer forms

During the late spring and early summer, a white spore layer forms on the surface of the gall. This may be why all the ones we saw were white. These spores are dispersed by wind or rain to healthy leaves or flower buds on the same or different susceptible plants. The fungus remains dormant in these tissues until the following spring when new galls form soon after the plant begins to grow. Once the spores are released, the gall begins to turn brown and eventually dries up and falls to the ground.

Cool, wet weather favors the dispersal of the fungal spores. Up on the ridge tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains where native rhododendron and azalea are prevalent, fog and misty rains are common in the spring and summer. These conditions are perfect for the spread of this disease.

The rhododendron bald at Craggy Gardens is enveloped in a misty fog

The rhododendron bald at Craggy Gardens is enveloped in a misty fog

A rhododendron flower is completely distorted by a gall

A rhododendron flower is
completely distorted by a gall

Though the azalea galls may look harmful, normally, they do not have an adverse effect on the plants. However, if cool, wet weather persists during the time of spore dispersal, the disease can spread more readily and result in the formation of many more galls the following spring. This can sometimes have a negative effect on the health and vigor of the plant.

Usually only a portion of the flower head is affected.

Often only part of the flower head
is affected by the gall.

Azalea gall is a common problem in many hybrid azaleas. Physical removal of galls is the simplest control method. Galls should be pruned out with shears before the white spore layer forms.

If galls are prevalent or conditions are favorable for the spread of the disease, fungicide applications may be warranted. Bonide Fung-onil or Bonide Mancozeb can be applied according to the label directions to control azalea leaf and flower gall. Begin applications just prior to bud break in the spring.

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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