Tree Doctor Howard Burnett

American Forests, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Tree Doctor Howard Burnett


Dear Tree Doctor: This spring I planted a seedling from the Wye Oak (Maryland's former national champion white oak). The tree is now about 15-18 inches tall and very hearty. The main "trunk" sprouted well with our wet spring and early summer then, after a quiet spell, one of the branches grew rapidly, almost doubling the size of the tree. This vigorous offshoot branch, which is obviously not the main trunk, has caused the tree to have two competing headers, the most dominant being the late-developing branch, which projects out from the main trunk for 3/4 of an inch or so before going straight up. Should I prune the offshoot branch or let it take over? I don't want the tree to have a crook in the trunk.

Douglas Creswell, Mount Airy, MD

The most vigorous branch will take over the leadership position, and one leader is all that any tree needs or it will be forked and thus weaker. I would lop off the weaker shoot and not worry about any stem crook at that point. The tree's healing process will produce callous tissue to finally cover the wound, and succeeding year's annual rings will hide the irregularity in only a few years. As long as your tree is growing vigorously and is adequately cared for, you will probably not be able to detect the crook in three or four years or so.

Be sure to do the pruning so the wound drains rainwater, trimming enough bark at the bottom of the cut so that no water will be trapped. And do not treat the wound with any kind of sealant, regardless of what stores offer. The best recent research finds trees heal themselves perfectly well, and any sealant only encourages insects and diseases by trapping moisture.

Dear Tree Doctor: What causes black spots to grow on (Norway) maple leaves? How can I fix this?

Scott Costello, East Providence Conservation Commission, MA Maples, and some other species, are subject to a number of leaf diseases. A common one is "tar spot" fungal disease, which usually occurs in mid- to late summer. Since the leaves have done the vast majority of furnishing nourishment to the tree by the time mid-summer rolls around, it's a problem in aesthetics only.

To minimize re-infection rate in the future, rake and dispose of all fallen leaves in autumn, and keep the tree healthy by following standard nursery practices for water, fertilizer, and mulch. If the spots are really objectionable, spraying with Bordeaux mixture will control them, but this should not be necessary.

Dear Tree Doctor: My 10 acres in northern Illinois is part of 200 acres with home sites of 10 or 12 acres. It is connected to a corridor of timber via a small river valley. Three years ago the mature red oaks, well away from any building sites, began to die rapidly. One group, a cluster of five, turned milky green, then brown, then dropped their leaves in a two-week period. I suspect they were root grafted. …

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