By Neil Sperry Special for the Herald Democrat
Dear Neil: I am looking for a tree to place in a cemetery. It should be less than 4 inches thick, fast growing, hardwood, long lasting, and with very little ‘fragment’ as neighbor markers need to be kept clean. I searched for a male Chinese pistachio that seemed to fit the criteria and Keith Davey’s selection seemed ideal. A local logging owner told me that any real logging would cull the females and only sell the males. I would like to plant this fall. What would you suggest?
You have done an excellent job of researching this project. I am impressed. However, I would remove “fast growing” from your list of requirements. Every fast-growing shade tree has one or more fatal flaws, and each of these species dies a short, hard life. Additionally, I would also suggest that your next compromise could be on the size you purchase. Any tree approaching a trunk 4 inches in diameter would require heavy equipment to bring in and plant. It can be difficult to maneuver it around headstones and graves. Additionally, it limits your options on what is commercially available from nurseries. But it’s not my fight to lead so I come back to your question. I assume it is (and always will be) full sun. The pistachio male is a great idea. Arborists should grow their trees to large sizes so they can tell if they have male or female trees. (For those unfamiliar, female pistachios bear fruit which can lead to unwanted seedlings.) Keith Davey’s selection hasn’t been common, but I see it’s grown by a large national wholesaler, you should so you can find it. Personally, I would go with the smaller tree under the same circumstances if that was my choice, especially if I was going to have to hand water it until it got established (2 or 3 year). Fall planting is best – again, you’re right. Good luck!
Dear Neil: Our city has imposed watering restrictions on us. I’ve heard that letting the grass grow taller shades the soil and to some extent inhibits evaporation after watering. To mow or not to mow?
My vote is always to keep mowing at the recommended height month after month. Letting the grass grow tall encourages the lawn to thin out as the blades stretch out competing for sunlight. Then the weeds take hold and really start competing for water. Mowing keeps the grass low and dense.
Dear Neil: I have areas of my Bermuda grass turning silver and dying. I have tried fungicides and it still dies. Nothing seems to work. Do you have any ideas?
Oh, what I would give for a photo. If the adjacent parts of the lawn are very well maintained and dark green, I would suggest cotton wool blight, also known by its disease name, pythium blight. I’ve had a lot of questions about this recently. You can see spectacular photos of what it looks like in a lawn by Googling “University Pythium Blight Bermuda Lawn”. You’ll find good matches from Texas A&M, Clemson, North Carolina State, Louisiana State, Oklahoma State, and other southern agricultural colleges. Or, if the adjacent grass is also neglected, to lesser degrees, the lawn may not be getting enough water. Even Bermuda grass can burn in this heat and drought.
Dear Neil: What is the life expectancy of a Bradford pear? We have one that was planted when our house was built 35 years ago. It’s between our driveway and the neighbor’s yard. I wanted
removed it five years ago but our neighbors asked us to keep it. Two branches broke and fell while we were at work last week. I don’t want to go down and crash into our cars or the neighbor’s house anymore. Should I remove it now or wait and see if it loses any more branches?
My advice? To hurry up. They normally split in the middle of their trunk when they are between 15 and 18 years old. I planted three in 1978. That was before we knew it. The first one completely split in two in 1990. By then reports were coming in from all over America, so I pulled all three of mine. You are already suspended. Your tree, judging by your photo, is sparse and brittle. Take it out on your terms. The cost of having someone do it for you will be significantly less than replacing a car or repairing a roof.
Dear Neil: I had this same problem with my dwarf Burford hollies for years. Leaves and central and lower branches thin and die. The upper and terminal parts remain green. I have these hollies in two areas, one facing south (10 years old) and one facing west (4 years old). They are watered by hand twice a week and I feed them and apply
the iron. I have five other types of holly and they have no type of problem, although they are not in a hedge type configuration. No suggestions?
You prune the plants repeatedly to the same heights. They sprout new shoots at their growing tips, but then you have to cut them back to maintain the same heights. It looks like the bottoms of the plants in your photo are very dark, so there is little light to encourage new growth there. Perhaps there is shade in a landscape of trees, or perhaps the photo was taken at the end of the day. If this were my landscape, I would consider cutting them back (18 inches) next January and letting them regrow, then trying to prune them back gradually, one branch at a time, to maintain a more natural growth form. Or remove the planting and replace them with shorter, more spreading plants like Carissa or dwarf yaupon hollies which will never reach this height.
Got a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of this newspaper or email him at [email protected] Neil regrets not being able to answer the questions individually.
Bradford pear which has lost two branches. Courtesy picture
Buford dwarf holly. Courtesy picture