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Tree Doctor by the Davey expert tree co.

Trees Dropping Fruit

Q: This is the first year that my Johnny Appleseed tree is bearing fruit. Is it common for the fruit to fall off prematurely, or is there something else going on with the tree that I need to address? There are some "rust spots" on some of the leaves, but I have not found any insects. I'm worried that all the apples are going to fall off before they mature. Do you have any suggestions?

--Annette Cummings

A: Your Johnny Appleseed tree (and most fruit trees) will drop some fruit if it has too many to support. By self-thinning, the tree is concentrating its resources to ensure that it can take some to maturity. As for the rust spots on the leaves, that's a condition that can be controlled by a spray applied in the spring. It's too late to spray now, but you might put that on your calendar for next spring.

Walnuts & Water Systems

Q: We have a black walnut that has been in our yard for many years. Are the nuts safe to eat? If so, do we need to do anything special to remove the outside covering?

Also, can you recommend a tree or trees that would be safe to plant near a septic system? Do you have any suggestions for trees with a tap root, since they should pose less of a problem?

--Pat Howell

A: The black walnuts are safe to eat, but it is a messy process. The outer covering must be removed; handling it will stain your hands with a difficult-to-remove and long-lasting dark color, so gloves may be a good idea. The inner, harder shell must be cracked to get at the meat. Yield of meat per nut is relatively small for the amount of work required to extract it.

As for your second question, we can offer a list of trees NOT to plant near a septic system. AVOID planting silver maple, willow, tree of heaven, alder, mulberry, poplar, black locust or elm. In the juvenile form, nut trees (oak, hickory, walnut, etc.) have tap roots, but after about 7-10 years the tap evolves. Essentially, no tree that is more than 10 years old will have a tap root.

Foamy Trees?

Q: When it rains, my pine tree has what looks like soap or foam on it. Is this harmful for the tree?

--Ruth Anderson


A: The foam on your pine tree is probably from spittle bugs. They live in a nest of foam "bubbles," and when rain washes the bubbles away, they try to restore it. Spittle bugs are fairly easy to get rid of you can wash them off with a strong stream of water. They will keep trying to recreate their bubbles to hide in, but eventually they will be unable to keep up and will fall to the ground. You may have to hose them down for several days until you get them all.

Top Trunk Dying

Q: My 3-year-old ginkgo stands at about 5 feet high and has plenty of leaves from about 3 1/2 feet down. Overall it looks healthy, but the top is dead (about a foot to a foot-and-a-half). It's been this way since spring. Should I leave it alone? Cut off the dead top trunk? Hold a funeral?

--Laurie Prince

A: The best course of action is to cut off the dead top. Most likely, one of the side branches will take over as leader, and in a few years the tree will fill in the section that you've pruned out. Another possibility is that the tree has a borer that is working from the top down. That is not very likely, however, since borers don't usually attach to ginkgos.

Dealing With Gypsy Moths

Q: I live in Benzonia, Michigan, and this spring we had a simultaneous outbreak of tent caterpillars and another species, which devastated a large acreage of trees. My trees were bare by the time 1 could do anything for them. The leaves came back, but are smaller and thinner. What can I do to help my trees in the winter and into next spring if the insects return? Thanks for any information you can offer.

--Sharon Pacioni

A: It sounds like you may have had an outbreak of gypsy moth as well as tent caterpillars. You can help your trees recover by fertilizing and irrigating now. In the spring you can spray for the critters--the best time is just as they begin to break bud. It is a good idea to do so because if you have the pests several years in a row, trees will die. For the trees to put out the second round of leaves this summer, they needed to dip into energy reserves, which will not be available to the tree next spring. Eventually, the tree will use up all its reserves and be unable to put out any new leaves.

Pruning Hardwoods

Q: I live in central Illinois and have a small tree plantation consisting of hardwoods: oaks, walnut, hickory, etc. The trees were planted in 2002, 2004 and 2005, and vary in height from 2 feet to 12 feet. Do you have any recommendations in regards to pruning these trees?

-Guy Vitale

A: As a general guide for pruning hardwoods, select one main trunk and prune away secondary stems. You also want to prune so that the lower 2/3 of that main trunk is free of branches and twigs.
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Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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