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October 2012

QuestionIn front of our house we have two 17'x17' plots of ground between sidewalks. We would like to plant a tree in each plot that would not eventually lift the sidewalks with their roots and would not get too tall. We have tried dogwoods, red buds, flowering cherry, but the full sun and heat got to them. Someone suggested Bradford pear, but my wife and I are allergic. Are there any other trees that we might plant that have a better chance of survival?


AnswerDefinitely not a Bradford pear—they can get 40 feet tall and 40 feet wide—way too large for this location. You have several options. The new trend in trees is to produce fastigiated forms—those that grow with a narrow growth habit. Fastigiated sweetgum, fastigiated hornbeam, English oak, and Autumn Spire red maple are just some choices that would work. These would get tall, provide shade, but would fit the situation with a narrow canopy. Smaller trees to choose would include redbud (they usually take full sun well), crape myrtle, and fringe tree.

December 2012

QuestionSweetgum trees have beautiful fall color and a pleasing shape, but oh, the plague of the sweetgum balls. Here's my question/problem. Ten years ago I bought a ten foot sweetgum tree from a nursery and was told it would not produce the dreaded gum balls. It didn't for 8 years or if there were any, I sure didn't notice them. Last year, for the first time, I noticed a few. This year, the darn things are all over the tree. How can a sweetgum tree go from being "gum ball-less" to "gum ball-full?"


AnswerIt has to be old enough to begin to bear fruit. Most sweetgum balls will begin to bear at on average, 8-10 years, and will continue to produce the rest of their lives. There is a fruitless variety that has rounded lobes instead of the pointy ones of the fruited variety. Fruitless varieties are typically grafted trees, and if they are killed beneath the graft union, the root stalk is typically a common sweetgum and will bear fruit. In a recent column we discussed the merits and lack thereof for sweetgum trees. Here are some additional responses and questions from readers: I would suggest one other attribute of the sweet gum. In 1953, when I attended the Boy Scout Jamboree in California, I took several sweet gum balls to trade with other scouts for different items of equal value. I called these gum balls porcupine eggs to suggest that porcupines grew in the forests of Oklahoma and Arkansas. One scout from California traded me a block of California Redwood with inscription and a clear finish. We were both pleased with the trade. Since then, I have pointed out to many kids that I have encountered in the woods to be on the look out for porcupine eggs on the ground. I do have a certain degree of credibility since I have a degree in Forestry from Oklahoma State University. No telling how many kids are still looking for porcupines eggs in our forests.

December 2012

QuestionRecently my neighbor on the east side of my home had at least four 70 foot oak trees cut down from his side yard (on my east side.) When I asked him why he did it he said with a big grin on his face, "because I wanted to." Sounded like something that my two-year-old grandson would say. Needless to say, I was very sad to see the tree removed. In addition he mutilated two other oaks. My concern besides the removal of the trees is my shade-planted garden. I still have trees on my side of the fence; however I have hydrangea, camellia, and other shade plants planted. What differences should I expect come next summer? I am tempted to plant bamboo for a quick shade, privacy! I'm sure come next July (if it's anything like this past one,) he'll regret the sun coming into his west-faced-bedrooms in the afternoon. We remember Joyce Kilmer's line from the poem, "...only God can make a tree."


AnswerDo not plant bamboo—that would be almost as bad as removing healthy mature trees. I think there are many homeowners out there that basically have done the same thing as your neighbor by not watering for the past two summers. When their trees are dead and gone, their utility bills are going to go up without shade for their homes. I would consider a couple of options—one, plant some young trees, and start growing some shade. You can also put up a trellis with fast growing help with your shade garden. But pay attention to the garden next spring and don’t forget to water. Good luck!vines to aid in shade production until your trees grow up, and hopefully you will have enough shade from your own yard too.

September 2012

QuestionWe have lost some oak trees recently from lightening and want to replace these trees. We are looking to replace the canopy of shade we had, with trees, but I do not want to replace oak with oak, as I still have several Oaks and Hickory trees that drive me insane with the nuts they bear. I am looking for trees that will provide shade, and have deep rooting systems. We were successful in growing Seedless Ash in Iowa, but the climate there is different than here in Arkansas. Could Ash handle the extreme heat and survive? Other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


AnswerAsh does grow in Arkansas but can be plagued by borers. Some other options include Lacebark Elm- Ulmus parvifolia, tulip poplar – Liriodendron tulipifera, little leaf linden – Tilia cordata, Blackgum – Nyssa sylvatica and bald cypress – Taxodium distichum.      

October 2012

QuestionWith the exception of the established tree in North Little Rock, do you know of any other successful efforts with live oaks in central Arkansas? As the past several winters have been rather mild, I am thinking about attempting to grow one on my south facing lawn. Any thoughts or advice?


AnswerLive oak trees will live and thrive in south Arkansas and do fairly well in central Arkansas, but don’t expect the plantation style live oaks you see further south. Live oaks are one of the few oak species that are evergreen. They are relatively slow growing in central Arkansas, but worth planting.

May 2012

QuestionWe live in NW Arkansas and have what we think is an Elephant Ear tree, the big leaves look like the elephant ear plant. We like the tree but it is in a bad location, it is at the corner of the garage, during the growing season it extends over the side walk and grows higher than the roof line we continually have to keep it cut back. I would like to relocate it but not sure when the right time is and most importantly how big the root system is, the trunk is about 5” in dia. I am pretty sure some of the roots are under the side walk and drive way and may be under the garage foundation. Any ideas?


AnswerThere is no such thing as an elephant ear tree. I think you probably have a royal paulownia tree, or empress tree-- Paulownia tomentosa. It grows huge leaves when it is in a juvenile state. As the tree ages the leaves get much smaller and it blooms with purple flowers. The resulting fruit are woody capsules which pop open and scatter seeds everywhere, which can germinate and come up in flower beds, etc. It is not a hugely desirable tree, but many folks like them. You can move it in the fall as it is going dormant. Take as much of the root system as you can easily move in a root ball.      

March 2012

QuestionI have an Acer palmatum, Japanese maple that is about 6 years old. It has never a problem and always beautiful. My problem is that although we thought we planted it far enough from the house, obviously we did not. Its huge umbrella is a perfect dome but the back side is against the house and it is rubbing against the house. I cannot or don’t want to move it. Can I trim off the back side and still have my beautiful tree? If so, when can I do it successfully and safely? It would be pointless to try and maintain it's gracefulness but a good 6 inches needs to keep it from rubbing against the house.      


AnswerKnowing the eventual spread of a plant can help when determining plant spacing. Many folks plant their foundation plants too close to the house and have the same lopsided growth problems. You can prune it, but do so carefully. I would try to be very selective in your pruning so that it doesn’t have a sheared look at the back. Try to get in there soon before the foliage is fully on it, so you can see what you are doing. It is always best to err on the side of taking off too little, versus taking off too much. This will be a continuous problem, but you still want to retain as much of its graceful shape as possible. Don’t be alarmed if you see bleeding sap come from your cut edges—maples are prone to that in the spring as the sap is rising. It won’t hurt the plant.

March 2012

QuestionMy home in Colony West faces west and the front beds are empty now that all of the original azaleas have passed away. They were planted in 1970 and extended along the 60 foot front of the bed. There are four large Pine trees directly centered in the front and one very large Pine tree at the southern most part of the front of the house. At the north end of the house is a rather large Holly bush (tree), perhaps standing 10 feet tall. Originally, Holly was placed at each end of the front bed to anchor the beds and the Azaleas residing along the length of the bed. I need your recommendation on a plant/tree/shrub selection and your ideas regarding planting, soil addition, etc. I need something hardy that will last. Also, do you think the plants/shrubs/trees sold by the big box stores like are very safe? I think a local nursery would be safer in the long run regarding the viability and health issues of native plants, etc.


AnswerYou do need a basic grouping of evergreen plants so that you have something that is green year-round, but adding some deciduous plants can give you great color in the summer. While your yard faces west, it sounds like the pine trees shade it from intense sun. If you like azaleas, by all means replace some. There are numerous plants that you can choose from and diversity is good. I like to have something blooming in every season. Possibly sasanqua camellias for winter, azaleas and loropetalums for spring color and Itea and buddleia for summer blooms. Take pictures of your front yard and do a sketch of your yard on graph paper. Take that to your local nursery and they can help you plan how many plants you need and can give you other options. You don’t have to buy everything from a nursery, but if there are specific plants or varieties you want, independent nurseries usually have better selections.

March 2012

QuestionAfter an exhausting search last year, I was finally able to locate and purchase a Red Buckeye Tree for my Mother's 80th birthday. Now I think the tree is dead. I would greatly appreciate any advice on this type of tree and where I may purchase another if needed


AnswerLast growing season was tough on established plants, so doubly hard on newly planted trees and shrubs. Give your buckeye a chance to start growing before you start replanting. Buckeyes form a taproot quickly when grown from seed, which makes them fairly tough. I have not looked at our nurseries for a buckeye for awhile but I would not expect them to be that difficult to find. Check with your local nurseries, and if they don’t carry them, two that carry a wide variety of natives include Pine Ridge Gardens in London, Arkansas and Custom Landscape in Mt. Vernon, Arkansas

February 2012

QuestionI am very interested in planting two types of trees in my yard in Maumelle. I wanted one that produces a brilliant red leaf in the fall and recently bought an October Glory Maple. I want the other one to produce a brilliant yellow leaf in the fall. I’ve done some research on the internet and some that have been mentioned are Ginkgo tree, but I’m not particularly in favor of this one. Others are Golden Sycamore, Silver Maple, Sugar Maple, and Sweet Gum. Janet, would your recommendation any one of these, or do you believe another would be a better choice for what I want to accomplish?


AnswerGingko’s have the prettiest yellow fall color, but they can be slow to get established. Once they do, they are great. Tulip poplars have decent yellow fall color, and thornless honey locust trees are a good yellow. I would avoid silver maple, and the sugar maple is not as well adapted in central Arkansas as it is up north. It can have yellow, red or orange fall color. Same with the sweetgums—I see way more orange and red pigmentation than yellow usually. Another option is the yellowwood tree, but it is also a little slow to establish. Choosing a tree for planting in the fall when it has its fall color, can also help you get one that suits your needs, but that would mean waiting another year.

October 2011

QuestionI live in Cabot and my house gets full sun the entire day. I went to a tree giveaway and got a little fir tree, a red oak and a dogwood. Would any of those be good for backyard plants? Will the dogwood do well in full sun? All of them are very young trees! I am thinking of putting a red maple in the back yard with loropetalum and azaleas to hide the cable box. I have never lived in Arkansas and don't know your trees.


AnswerWelcome to Arkansas. Dogwoods would not do well in full sun all day—they would sunburn every summer. They are best in full morning sun or filtered sun. The oak tree is a wonderful shade tree and by fir, I am assuming you have a bald cypress maybe? It too will make a large shade tree. Red maples are great mid-sized trees. If you want one with guaranteed fall color, choose one now with color or go with a named cultivar.

January 2012

QuestionMy Bradford pear tree top branches are beginning to spread open and it is losing the shape it should be. Should I have it trimmed to help it? Any suggestions?


AnswerJust as in humans, with age comes a little spread in the ornamental pears. They tend to lose their perfect tear-drop shape. You can do some thinning of the branches, but do not limb it up excessively nor top it. Lightening the load can prevent some of the spread.

January 2012

QuestionWe live in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas . We have 5 big pecan trees all different varieties. One is a very good tree and the pecans are always good. Our question is can we plant the pecans from this tree to grow more like it, or do pecan trees have to be grafted to some other kind of plant?


AnswerPecans do not breed true from seed—they cross pollinate. You actually need two different trees to get nuts. Planting a seed may give you something similar, or totally different, and it will take a good 7-10 years before you see a fruit. Grafting is by far the preferred method. Other good varieties to try include: Oconee, Pawnee, Desirable, Kanza or Lakota.

January 2012

QuestionIn late September we drove from our home in Bella Vista to Colorado. It was time for the Aspens to shine. Some were bright gold, some were just turning and some were still green. Overall they put on a beautiful show. We would like to plant a small grove of Aspens on our property near the water line. Since the Aspens thrive in Colorado, one would assume our winters would not be a problem. How about the summers? Is it entirely too hot here for the Aspens to survive? Haven't noticed Aspens in Arkansas. Does that mean they won't grow in our rocky red dirt? I remember being told Aspens in a grove are technically one organism sending out shoots underground to grow new trees. Does that mean the surrounding area must be constantly monitored for new shoots if the size of the "grove" would be problematic, say near a concrete cart path?


Answer      Aspens are quite cold tolerant, but really don’t like heat and humidity, so they would not be happy campers in Arkansas. That being said, I have seen at least one aspen tree in Arkansas, in Conway to be exact. I am not sure if it is still living after our past two summers, but it survived for several years. Bella Vista would stand an easier chance of growing them than Conway, so if you want to give it a try, go for it. I would not plant a grove but two or three and see how they do. Your best bet would be the quaking aspen – Populus tremuloides. If they are happy and thriving, they do sucker which aids in the grove effect, but I doubt that would ever happen in Arkansas. Make sure you give them ample water, because drought tolerance is not one of their attributes.      

November 2011

QuestionThe Conservation District in our county in their "Beautification Tree Project" offered a choice of thirteen ornamental trees for sale. Some were native, others included some alien invasive species, such as Cleveland Pear and the Mimosa tree. What is the effect of adding these trees to our landscape and neighborhoods? As good stewards what should be recommended or omitted from planting in our communities?


AnswerIn looking at the plant list I have to commend them for making some great trees available at really good prices. Two named cultivars of red maple, the native fringe tree, dogwood and tulip poplar, in addition to yellowwood, smoke tree, redbud and golden raintree are great trees. It looks like they are going for trees that have some form of color, whether from flowers or from fall foliage. The Cleveland pear fits the bill, but is not high on my list of favorites. It is a smaller adult form of the ornamental pear which we collectively often call Bradford, but it still can fruit and become invasive. We have seedling callery pears coming up all over our state. The mimosa, however, I do consider a trash tree. Many folks like them, but they often suffer from mimosa wilt and send up seedlings, so not a good choice.

November 2010

QuestionMy wife and I viewed the most beautiful red maple we've ever seen on the grounds of the big Heber Springs dam viewing area just off the highway over the dam. This was about a month ago. We asked dam employees and area nurseries about its varietal name but no one knew other than it was a maple. The tree is conical. The leaf coloration is not red. It was a more subdued light red, with a distinctive orange, perhaps light pinkish tone. The tree has been planted as a specimen tree and has no other trees near it. Could you please specify quite precisely what it is and where we might obtain these trees?


AnswerMy bet is that it is a common red maple, Acer rubrum. The maples this year have been glorious in their fall color. However, just because it is a red maple does not mean it will be red in the fall. Some varieties turn orange, yellow or a variety of shades of red. Some actually have little fall color. If you want to purchase a fall foliaged red maple for your yard you need to buy it in the fall when it is in its fall color. There are named cultivars such as 'Autumn Blaze', 'Autumn Flame' and 'October Glory' which are guaranteed to have fall color, but you can get some outstanding color from seedling maples, it just isn't a guarantee. Weather also plays a role, but if you buy a tree with good fall color, it should have it annually.      

November 2010

QuestionAbout five years ago I planted a rooted magnolia that was about a foot high. Today, it is about 10 feet high and healthy...except it has never blossomed! Before I cut it down, I wanted to check with you to see if t here is any way I can make it bloom. There is a huge magnolia tree across the street from me so shouldn't that take care of any necessary pollination?


AnswerA traditional southern magnolia can take 8-10 years before it begins blooming, so I think patience is in order. The stately Magnolia grandiflora is a huge tree at maturity and often gets too large for a common landscape. For that reason, many are planting the smaller ‘Little Gem’ magnolia or ‘Bracken's Brown Beauty’. The leaves and flowers are about 1/2 the size of the standard, but an added benefit, besides the smaller size is that they bloom at a very young age. For your tree, just enjoy the evergreen foliage. Once it begins to bloom, provided it has plenty of sun, you should have flowers every year.

November 2010

QuestionWe recently returned from a trip to eastern Tennessee where we encountered the tree in the photos. I first noticed it after stepping on the fruit that covered the sidewalk. At first I thought they were persimmons, as that is what they looked like. However, they hung in clusters on the huge tree and the leaves are a unique fan shape. I definitely had never seen anything like it and no one I asked in the town could tell me what it was. Hoping you can cure my curiosity.


AnswerWhat you saw was the female gingko tree. I am surprised you didn't mention the noxious odor of the fruit when you stepped on them. The fruit can be showy, but it smells somewhat like manure. For that reason, we only recommend planting male gingko's so there are no fruits. The tree should be in full golden glory very soon, as gingko's have excellent fall color.

September 2010

QuestionI have a large silver maple tree in my back yard. The trunk is about 30 feet from my house. I am sure it is quite old, about 5 feet in circumference. I am concerned about the large roots that are reaching the patio at my house. The roots have come to the surface and over the years have been shaved off by the lawn mower. It is also dropping a lot of dead limbs, not the large ones, but smaller limbs. Do I need to have this tree taken down or would pruning it severely lessen the danger of damaging my foundation?


AnswerSilver maple trees grow rapidly and surface roots are often a problem. Because of the rapid growth, they often start to fall apart with age, dropping limbs and splitting. Thirty feet away from the foundation should be ample. We recommend that trees be no closer than 15-20 feet from a house, and I like even further for large trees. I don't think you are in danger of damaging the foundation of your house, but the patio may be another story if it is closer to the tree. I am sure it is giving you much needed shade, so the thought of removing it is not a happy one. You have two options. One is to consider planting another tree nearby but with enough space to get growing. Once it gets established, you may want to remove the maple. Or you can thin the existing tree and remove the deadwood and excessive branching.

August 2010

QuestionThis came up in our flower garden three years ago we cut it down first year. We left it alone last year, and now this year it has multiplied to three stalks. It's about six feet tall and the leaves are about 14 inches wide. So far it hasn't produced any flowers.


Answer      We get samples of this every year. I often refer to it as the Jack-in-the-beanstalk tree, because of its rampant young growth. The tree is Royal Paulownia or Empress Tree—Paulownia tomentosa. This year many very young trees bloomed with what looked like purple candelabras—I think last year’s copious rainfall had something to do with that. Normally they don’t start blooming until they are around 5 to 7 years old. The tree does produce pretty purple flowers but then they form woody seed capsules which disperse their seed and you end up with weedy seedlings coming up everywhere. Because they are fast growing they also are fairly soft wooded and can start falling apart with age. All in all, not a great yard tree.      

August 2010

QuestionWe live in Bella Vista and have several large black walnut trees on our property. We have tried a crape myrtle and a red tip but both died. What is it about the black walnut trees that cause shrubs and bushes to die? Can you recommend any thing that will grow when planted 16 to 20 feet from a walnut tree?


AnswerBlack walnuts produce a chemical called juglone, which occurs in all parts of the tree, especially in the buds, nut hulls, and roots. The leaves contain smaller quantities and can leach juglone into the soil if they are left on the ground after falling. Many plants are adversely affected by the juglone, but it is more typical of plants within the drip line of the tree. For small flowering trees that are not affected try dogwood, redbud, fringe tree or serviceberry. Shrubs include forsythia, viburnums, altheas and sumacs. Try to plant things that are adversely affected at least 40 feet away and don't use the leaves as mulch. If you can create a raised bed that can also help.


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