Q: I’m enclosing a picture of a problem with my large evergreen. A lot of dry ends dropped off the tips of branches this spring. You can see the dry ends in the photo. Can you tell me what’s wrong? — Fargo.
A: I have great news: nothing is wrong. Did you know that spruce trees, and other evergreens, produce flowers? The dry objects at branch tips are the withered blossoms from this year’s bloom.
When we think of flowers, we think of something colorful and pretty. Most trees do produce flowers, but many aren't showy, instead appearing green or brownish, and go unnoticed until they result in seed, which is more noticeable.
Spruce trees have separate male and female flowers on the same tree. The dried structures at the branch tips in your photo are the male flowers, which shed pollen earlier and will eventually dry up and fall off. On your tree, the pollen reached female flowers, which has resulted in the start of at least one “pine cone” being formed, which is the green cone shape at the tip of another branch. This cone will eventually produce seeds inside.
So this is all part of the tree’s circle of life. Spruces don't produce flowers and cones every year, which is why you might not have noticed it before. Some years are heavy flowering or seeding years for trees.
Q: Every year my white Annabelle hydrangea plants start out beautiful and then the leaves develop crisp edges, and the leaves look ragged. What am I doing wrong? — Casselton, N.D.
A: Annabelle hydrangea, with its huge, white clusters of flowers, has fairly tender leaves. The foliage is large and somewhat soft, which makes it vulnerable to the elements.
These soft leaves are often affected by wind, low humidity and other weather-related factors that cause crisp edges and ragged-looking leaves. Insect feeding can contribute also.
The word "hydrangea" means "water-loving." To keep foliage healthier, it helps to provide hydrangea shrubs with plenty of water. Begin by working peat moss into the soil around the hydrangea, which will make the soil less compact and more hydrangea-friendly, while adding a moisture-holding component.
Mulch around your hydrangea with 3 to 5 inches of shredded bark, which will keep the soil cool and moist. As leaves are unfolding in spring, you might monitor for insects, which might be causing foliage problems, also. A good organic insecticide to keep on hand is spinosad.
Q: This spring, I removed a mature, diseased quaking aspen, and now I’m inundated with little shoots sprouting all over the yard. Internet sources seem to agree to just mow and pull them repeatedly and they’ll go away, or spray them with chemicals. The sprouts come up only a week after mowing. I have no problem with pulling, mowing or spraying, but I’m wondering if you have any advice? — Fargo.
A: As long as the “mother” tree is gone, judicious use of lawn weed herbicides will eventually lessen the sprouting, as will pulling and mowing. Keeping the sprouts from establishing is important so the underground roots will eventually decompose. If little trees are allowed to establish, they’ll nourish the underground roots, keeping the system alive.
Several sucker-stopping chemicals are on the market, but most reports have proven them unsuccessful in keeping little sprouts like these from popping up in the lawn. As with many things in gardening, persistence is the key.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.