Bad trees and good leaves

Warning: Some Poplars are Real Problems

You know how I’ve been saying that this is a great time of year to plant trees? Well, I should add that not all trees should be planted. Pestiferous Darci in DC emails that she planted a “hybrid poplar “in 2008, and two similar saplings have shot up nearby, one right through her deck! She wants to know if cutting the little trees down will adversely affect the main tree.

Ha! You should be so lucky, Darci! Many species of poplar
are notorious for having aggressive root systems that
attack pipes and paving, and for ‘suckering'; that is,
sending up these kinds of adventurous shoots. And those
shoots will keep on coming, even after you cut the main
tree down. I’d remove the entire mess—main tree, little
trees and all the roots—before you have even bigger

Research Trees BEFORE You Plant Them

Darci’s sad tale of the young poplar she planted that’s
sending up unwanted shoots all over the place illustrates
what can happen when you fall for the wrong kind of tree.
You should always research the habits—good and bad—of
specific trees before you buy.

Poplars are notorious for causing problems with
adventurous root systems, as are willows and locust trees.
And fast growing, inexpensive trees like the Bradford pear
are despised for having extremely weak branches that seem
to just be waiting for the first weather event to shatter.
High-quality, well-behaved trees are a great investment,
and they’re often a bargain at this time of year. But a
cheap tree is just that; a bad investment that will cause
you all kinds of headaches for years to come.

Leaf Mulch? Its All Around If You Could But See!

Ken in Jessup, Maryland writes: “Heard you talking about
leaf mulch. I’ve never seen it. Where can I get some? I
need it for six roses and six azaleas. Garden centers
don’t seem to know anything about non-wood mulch.”
That’s not surprising, Ken. Despite its capacity to damage
homes and cars with mold spores (especially artillery
fungus) and kill nearby plants, wood mulch is heavily
marketed and highly profitable. It’s a great example of
“everybody does it and everybody who does it is wrong”.
Shredded leaf mulch causes no nuisance mold problems,
feeds and protects plants and prevents weeds just as well
as nasty chipped wood. But you don’t buy it—you make it!
Get an inexpensive blower vac, suck up all the leaves on
your property and then use the shredded result to mulch
your plants.

Think Before You Mulch

In our last thrilling episode, Ken asked where to find my
recommended leaf mulch for his azaleas and roses. The
answer, of course, is all around; leaf mulch is free for
the shredding!

But I’m concerned about his basic request, and the growing
tendency for people to mulch their landscapes to death.
Newly planted trees and shrubs can benefit from a mulch of
an inch or two of well-shredded leaves to prevent their
roots heaving out of the soil over winter—but established
plants don’t need any mulch.

And no plant needs wood mulch or these ridiculous blankies
of mulch wrapped around their base. Such “protection” is
actually an invitation for mice and voles to gnaw away at
the bark and for rot and disease to destroy the plant.
If you have mulch touching any of your plants, move it
back now—so that there’s at least a few inches of open
area all around the trunk or stem of the plants.

Make ‘Black Friday’ a Black GOLD Friday!

It’s almost Turkey Time! And if you have that nice long
weekend off coming up, consider using some of the time to
claim Nature’s finest resource for your landscape. The
leaves that fall from our trees are filled with the
perfect blend of minerals and nutrients to make and keep
your plants healthy; either in the form of shredded leaf
mulch or compost made from those fall leaves.

Just shred the leaves up with a blower/vac on its reverse
setting and use them as mulch. (Don’t touch the plants
with mulch; start a few inches away from the trunk.)
Or store your shredded leaves in bags for mulching time
next Spring.

If you stack them up in a big open pile or bin outdoors,
shredded leaves alone will eventually become compost.
But if you mix in lots of spent coffee grounds as you go,
they’ll become high-quality black gold by next Spring.
Either way, compost and shredded leaves are better mulches
than wood, safer than wood—and they’re free!

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