I’m moving to a townhouse with limited direct sunlight. I would like to put a Japanese maple in a north-facing garden but don’t know if it will do well. What are the best kinds? Also, when is the best time to plant a small tree?
Japanese maples are small decorative trees which are becoming more popular as more dependable cultivars come on the market. Even so, an established tree will sometimes succumb in a severe winter. Their light requirements vary.
The trees can grow in a northeast exposure, and 6 hours of sunlight is not too much, according to Jeff Sibley, nursery manager of Red’s Garden Center, Northbrook. They need a moist, well drained, neutral soil, amended with organic matter. They can grow to 8 feet tall in a good location. He says the best planting time is right after Mother’s Day. A protected spot and plenty of moisture are critical elements for survival, even with the newer cultivars.
Sibley recommended the following cultivars of Acer palmatum var. dissectum, a cut-leaf variety, as the most graceful trees:
My split-leaf Japanese maple tree is 15 to 20 years old, about 7 feet high and about 10 feet wide. It is overtaking the corner of the yard. Can I trim it, and at what time of the year?
Trim your tree in late fall to early winter when the tree is dormant. Remove only one-third of the amount you want pruned each year, being careful to retain all its charm.
“Go easy on it,” says Joann Madon, horticulturist, The Growing Place, Aurora and Naperville.
I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.
Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?
“It appears that the tree suffered some kind of injury. Over winter, watch for sun scald on the southern exposure. Use paper tree wrap on the trunk,” advises Mike Geimer, owner of Geimer Greenhouse, Long Grove. If you are fearful of insects, you can use an organic pyrethrum spray. Black pruning spray is not necessary.
I’d like to plant a white bark birch in front of my home in my sunny front yard. What can you tell me about Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii?
The birch, Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii is a tall, narrow tree (to 100 feet) with very white bark that’s native to India. It is subject to borers. The popular weeping white bark birch, B. pendula is also subject to borers in our climate and is not a suitable choice.
“There are better birch choices, so choose what grows well in our area,” advises Ken Morris, vice president of Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove. Two trees resistant to borers are the paper or canoe birch and the river birch.
Canoe or paper birch (B. papyrifera) has a stout trunk with creamy white bark that peels off in papery layers. It is native to North America. It is the first paper birch bred to resist the bronze birch borer, but it still needs to be monitored and sprayed yearly for the borers. A good cultivar is ‘Renaissance Reflection.’
River birch (B. nigra), native to the eastern United States, is fast growing when young. It can reach more than 50 feet in height. Its bark is a smooth, shiny apricot and, when mature, flakes and curls in cinnamon strips. It tolerates slow drainage and is also resistant to borers. “It’s pretty tough, good and sturdy,” says Morris.
The cultivar ‘Heritage’ was introduced to much acclaim around 15 years ago.
Birch trees need moisture. Do not allow your tree to dry out in your sunny site.
Is it possible to plant and grow Italian cypress in the Chicago area? Are our winters too severe for it? If they are, is there an alternative conifer that will provide a similar look?
Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) has dark green foliage and horizontal branches and grows into a dense column 60 feet high in Italy. It is not hardy here.
Paul Jeffers, tree and shrub salesperson, Gethsemane Garden Center, Chicago, suggests substituting a dense, columnar arborvitae, (Thuja occidentalis ‘Fastigiata’). It grows to 25 feet tall and 5 feet wide, but can be kept lower by pruning. The very narrow arborvitae ‘DeGroots Spire’ is another choice. The false cypress Chamaecyparis nootkatensis ‘Green Arrow’, often mistaken for arborvitae, is a tight upright growing plant.
This past spring I planted a lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) in full sun. As winter began, the angle of the sun’s rays has caused the tree to receive, at most, 4 hours of sun. What are sun requirements of evergreens in winter?
In general, pines adapt to the winter weather by becoming dormant, says Susan Eyre, Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, Woodstock. It is the freeze and thaw cycle that is hard on a plant, not the loss of sun hours. In a January thaw, sap rises and then freezes, which can cause the bark to crack, but plants usually recover.
What is the largest tree that one can plant? We are trying to replace some 7- to 8-foot trees that were recently destroyed.
Trees sold at garden centers that are 2.5 to 3 feet tall, with a 2.5 inch diameter trunk, can be planted by hand. A hole for a ‘balled and burlap’ tree with a 5 to 6-inch diameter trunk can be dug by hand without a tree spade.
Any tree with a trunk larger than 6 inches in diameter would need a tree spade to do the moving and digging. Even large trees, such as a 35-foot tall tree with a trunk 9 or 10 inches in diameter can be transplanted with proper equipment. “Spruces 30 feet tall can be installed easily with a tree spade,” according to Greg Oltman, owner, Gro Horticultural Enterprises, Huntley.
What is the best time to plant a tree in northern Illinois?
The two best times to plant a tree are April-May or September-October because the weather is cool and there is a good moisture supply, according to Joni Cotten, nursery stock manager, Hawthorn Gardens in Hawthorn Woods. However, planting times can vary, depending on the plant and its method of growth.
Bare-root trees are planted when dormant. They are less expensive, and the planting hole can be back-filled with soil dug from the hole. Trees that have burlap-covered root balls are generally planted in the cooler months, while trees in containers can be planted at any time. Rhododendrons and evergreens are not planted bare root.
“Birches and oaks are dug in nursery fields and planted in the spring. Oaks especially have a long tap root, so they do best when they have the entire season to grow,” says Cotten.
What is the correct distance from my house to plant a tree? What is the correct distance from the lot line to plant a tree?
It depends on the size of the tree you are planting. A small tree such as a serviceberry (Amelanchier) or a dwarf flowering crab could be planted as close as four to five feet from the house. For a birch tree, a distance of six to eight feet would be the minimum.
Distance from the lot line does not matter as long as it doesn’t interfere with power or sewer lines. You should check with your village before planting. Closeness to the neighbor’s lot line is not an issue, because neighbors have the right to trim back any overhanging branches, according to Matt Zerby, partner in Wasco Nursery, St. Charles.
I have two 20-year-old pine trees whose needles are turning brown on the west side of the plants. On the east side I have a compost pile.
I live in the St. Charles region and my soil is mostly clay. What is causing the browning? Should I get rid of the compost? How do I correct the damage?
Climate conditions could be the cause of the brown needles. There was strong west wind this past winter season, which caused winter burn. With last fall’s rain and winter snow cover, the soil never dried out. According to Todd Mohr, sales associate, Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, Woodstock, pines normally begin
to go dormant in late August. “We had a lot of burn on our evergreens which showed up over summer,” says Mohr.
Cut a sample of the branch and make sure the plant is alive. You can photograph your tree or take the sample to an arboretum or garden center for evaluation. The compost should not affect the trees unless you have a large pile that is prohibiting air circulation. Spread the compost loosely over the area.
White pine is a native Illinois tree. It may come back on its own. If not, have a tree professional diagnose it.
Is there a best time to plant tulips? I see them at the garden centers in late summer but I am afraid that it is too early to plant them. If I wait too long, I might forget all about them.
We have a skylight in the bathroom over our Jacuzzi tub with an area around the tub that is quite large. What plants can we grow there, and what care do they need? Can we grow orchids?
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