Q: I planted an American holly last year. It was beautifully shaped. This spring I notice I have berries but 25 percent of the leaves and 25 percent of the berries are brown or dead. How can I treat and save this beautiful tree?
A: Diagnosing tree ailments by mail is not really possible, so we recommend you contact a local horticulturist or a good local nurseryman who may be familiar with holly problems in your area, You also might phone your local Cooperative Extension Service folks or your state university’s agriculture department.
Q: I have a tree in my yard that I would like to identify. It is slender and tall and the leaves are not smooth. Most important, it drops round balls approximately 1 inch in diameter that are spiny like thorns.
A: Your tree sounds like a sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) to me. This tree is fairly common throughout the eastern United States from the Ohio River south and as far west as central Texas, with the exception of the higher elevations of the Appalachians. Sweetgum leaves are usually five-pointed, a little like a star and generally show good color in the autumn. The dead giveaway, though is that spiny seed-ball. Sweetgum does make a good shade tree, but many don’t like to put up with the gum-balls, which hurt when stepped on and don’t make good mulch.
Q: Can you guide me toward information about farming black walnut trees in Georgia?
A: Black walnut is found pretty much throughout the piedmont and mountain area of Georgia but never in great concentrations. However, this valuable tree is being cultivated in many areas; contact The Walnut Council at 4600 Northwest Plaza, Suite F, Zionsville, IN 46077, 317/802-0332, or online at Walnutcouncil@iquest.net. The Council membership consists of walnut growers at all stages of the game, from site preparation for planting, through production of nuts and other products, to harvest of mature trees. Just start asking questions, and I am sure you’ll find they love to share their insights.
Q: Do you have a list of trees that have a tap root?
A: We don’t have a list of trees with a tap root because most neither develop one nor need one unless they are on a dry site where the roots must go very deep to find water. Tree roots serve two primary purposes–anchoring the tree and providing nutrients for the leaves and fruit. The nutrients are absorbed in the water the tree draws from the soil, and tree roots grow in whatever direction the root tips can most easily find the water they need. Some trees, like palms, that live in sandy soil where the moisture drains down quickly, do grow tap-roots.
Q: I would like to know more about the properties of “special effects” in maple, such as curly and quilted maple. What signs on the exterior of the tree indicate that we have a tree that will give us curly maple or even quilted maple? Where could I see some pictures of the bark difference?
A: Both hard and soft maple, and a few other species, occasionally exhibit grain pattern variations that, when sawn into lumber, give us beautiful furniture woods. No one really knows why some trees develop swirls and waves in their growth rings, though frost and mineral content of the soil are sometimes suggested. The bark pattern of trees with “fancy” grain is another matter. I haven’t found anyone who claims 100 percent accuracy in identifying special grain patterns just by looking at bark. I have tried to see if anyone could give an estimate of how many trees in a thousand on average might exhibit figured grain, but can’t. It’s a guessing game; one person’s guess is as good as another’s.
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