Climate shift wreaking havoc on plants

image_ID81896When we moved to our property 40 years ago, we planted all white spruces here because they are the most beautiful kind of tree. My husband won’t allow me to plant anything else. We have had some of the trees turn brown from the inside out and die in the last couple of years. Now, the trees on the west side of the house are all brown this spring. My husband said I have to solve this. What do I do?

I would suggest replacing your husband but I don’t think that’s really a solution.

Here’s the big thing for gardeners to grasp: we have had a climate shift. You can debate who or what is the guilty party, but it does not change the facts. The weather can be characterized by extremes. It is also undependable in comparison to 20 years ago.

Many gardeners are not noticing. The plants we have in our landscapes are not handling the changes well.

Months of hot weather are tough on many evergreens. Months of drought and hot soils stress plants. Stressed plants are more likely to have problems and then not be able to recover.

Your white spruces prefer cool, moist, acidic soils. They do best in mild climates. It takes thousands of year for plants to adapt, so currently, poor growing conditions are going to claim those who cannot tolerate the situation.

Your white spruces could have a fungal disease called Rhizosphaera needlecast. It also affects blue spruce. The disease begins at the bottom of the tree with the oldest branches. Needles turn dark brown and fall off. It works its way up the tree. There will be branches with no needles or just needles at the end of the branch.

It requires many sprayings with chlorothalonil at three to four week intervals all during the growing season for years to try to control it.

The browning of entire trees in the spring could be what is called winter damage. It is because of dry soil in the fall and needles dry out when it is windy. If needles are brown, they will fall off. All you can do is hope that the buds are good.

Decide if you are interested in taking on a demanding spray regimen for years. If not, find another tree to give your hearts to. Best of all, plant a wide variety of trees and lessen this kind of landscape disaster happening again.

I want to grow some asparagus. How do I dig up the plants that are growing in the ditch on my road? Or do I buy seeds someplace?

The first job is to give up the notion of stealing plants, even from the side of the road. This is not how to go about getting asparagus. First, you are taking other peoples’ property and second, these are inferior plants. You want to purchase crowns. This is the portion of the asparagus where the roots meet the top which is a one year old root system.

This gets you a year closer to eating asparagus. Find a catalog or online site for a gardening business or local nursery that sells crowns. Select one of the all-male varieties like Jersey Giant, Jersey Prince or Jersey Knight. These just produce spears and don’t devote energy to making flowers or seeds. These were developed at Rutgers University and many companies sell them now. Your planting directions will come with them.

But you will not be picking asparagus for a year or more if the spears are not big enough. That means the root system is not strong enough. Spears must be larger than the size of a pencil. At that small size, you are only going to harvest once a season from a crown. If you allow the crowns to develop undisturbed by over-picking, eventually you can harvest until the end of June.

But that means good weed control, mulching, watering plants when it is dry and using a good organic fertilizer like composted manure. It’s going to be a lot more work than taking little spears out of ditches.
Contact MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator Gretchen Voyle at (517) 546-3950.

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