Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Use Caution When Digging by Tree Roots

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Use Caution When Digging by Tree Roots

Article excerpt

Q: I planted pachysandra among my tree roots in a mixture of dirt, top soil and peat. I covered them with shredded hardwood mulch. How do I care for them so the plants will spread? How do I keep the squirrels away from them? The squirrels constantly are digging up the plants.

A: Pachysandra grows best in moist, somewhat acidic soils that are well-drained and high in organic matter. Have your soil tested periodically and try to maintain-the acidity (pH) in a range between 5.5 and 6.5. Hardwood mulch is OK, but is best when well-decayed. Maintain a 2- to 3-inch layer. It will help retain moisture, and will add organic matter to the soil as it breaks down.

Be careful when digging among tree roots. It is virtually impossible not to injure some roots during the installation of ground covers around older trees. The thin, fibrous, "feeder" roots will regenerate quickly if cut cleanly with a sharp tool. Avoid cutting any of the thick, woody roots, however. When these are cut or removed, all the feeder roots beyond are also eliminated. When this occurs, the tree's ability to obtain air, water and nutrients is immediately impaired. The wounds can become entry points for disease and insects pests and can start a cycle of decline from which the tree may not recover.

When incorporating top soil, be sure to preserve the original grade around the tree. Adding soil over the roots or up against the trunk will cause injury to both the roots and the bark, and will eventually kill the tree.

As far as your squirrel problem, I have no easy answers. Reducing their numbers will reduce their chance for mischief. Live trapping is the most humane option. Be sure to release them at least 2 to 3 miles from your home, or they will find their way back. A simple chicken wire screen left in place long enough for the plants to become well-rooted can also be effective.

The July/August issue of "National Gardening" contains an article about a dedicated Arizona gardener who built a wire cage around his entire vegetable garden to prevent animal damage. …

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