From the Director's Desk: Q & A with Fred Breglia

By Fred Breglia

Q) I want to make a com­post pile. What can I put in it? Is there any­thing I should avoid?”

A) From your back­yard leaves and grass clip­pings, to kitchen scraps and plant debris – the good news is that most organ­ic mate­r­i­al can be com­post­ed. How­ev­er, note that meat, dairy, fats or oils, pet feces, dis­eased plants, or weeds that have set seeds, and char­coal or coal ash should be avoid­ed (although a lit­tle wood ash is OK). The bulki­er organ­ic mate­ri­als do best in the first ground lay­er. Next, add in some green mate­ri­als, such as kitchen waste and grass clip­pings. Ani­mal manures can serve as acti­va­tors that accel­er­ate the heat­ing of the pile and pro­vide a nitro­gen source for ben­e­fi­cial microbes.

Q) I have dis­cov­ered the Asian jump­ing worm in my yard. What can I do?”

A) Most of the worms ordi­nar­i­ly encoun­tered in our gar­dens are ben­e­fi­cial, help­ing with the soil bio­ta, break­ing down organ­ic mat­ter, and aer­at­ing our soils. The first step is to accu­rate­ly iden­ti­fy a jump­ing worm. An excel­lent resource is the online down­load­able Asian Jump­ing Worms: A Homeowner’s Guide,” which can be found at www​.ecom​mons​.cor​nell​.edu. If you do indeed have jump­ing worms, unfor­tu­nate­ly there is no sim­ple solu­tion. This inva­sive species breaks down organ­ic mat­ter faster than it can rebuild, caus­ing an eco­log­i­cal imbal­ance in our yards and in our forests. The best solu­tion is pre­ven­tion: be care­ful of the source of your plant mate­r­i­al, top soil, and com­post, and inspect any plants you buy or are giv­en from friends. If you dis­cov­er that you already have jump­ing worm on your site, do not give away any plants to friends, since the soil could con­tain worms and/​or their egg cas­es, which are not as easy to see. The worms gen­er­al­ly do not live deep in the soil and can often be found just below leaf lit­ter in forests. Hand pick­ing the worms when dis­cov­ered and plac­ing them in a 5‑gallon pail to des­ic­cate will quick­ly kill them. The dead worms can then be dis­posed of. 

Q) When should I prune my oak tree?”

A) Due to a fun­gal pathogen that caus­es a dis­ease called oak wilt, the safest time to prune an oak tree in our region is from ear­ly Decem­ber through ear­ly Feb­ru­ary. The rea­son is because the oak wilt pathogen is not active dur­ing the win­ter months. 

Q) Why is my for­syth­ia not bloom­ing or only bloom­ing on its low­est branches?”

A) Many of the for­syth­ia plants in our gar­dens have flower buds that may become dam­aged dur­ing the cold­est months in our sea­son. It is often unno­ticed because the foliage buds are hardier than the flower buds, so the plant grows out healthy green leaves, but lacks flower pow­er. The rea­son why plants bloom only at the bot­tom is snow cov­er, which insu­lates the flower buds along the low­er parts of stems. Cre­at­ing a burlap fence can make a pro­tec­tion zone around the plant, help­ing to pre­vent cold dam­age. The fence should be removed each spring and installed again in late fall. There are spe­cif­ic cul­ti­vars that are more cold hardy in our area.

Q) My Kousa dog­wood is becom­ing too large for the space it’s grow­ing in. Will I have to remove it?

A) The answer, which applies to most woody plants in addi­tion to the Kousa dog­wood, is that you can reduce it in size by mak­ing appro­pri­ate cuts. There are dia­grams avail­able at www​.treesare​good​.org to help guide you. A good gen­er­al rule is to cut back the branch­es that are too long to lat­er­als which are 13 or larg­er than the diam­e­ter of the branch­es you are cut­ting back. This will ensure the new branch­es can assume the ter­mi­nal role. Anoth­er good rule of thumb is to be sure you don’t remove more than ¼ total foliage per year. Some plants which are over­ly large may need to be reduced over sev­er­al grow­ing sea­sons to achieve the desired size. 

As a mem­ber priv­i­lege, ques­tions can be emailed to me at fred@​landisarboretum.​org, any­time. Please include a pho­to or two, and I will be hap­py to help. To learn more about becom­ing a mem­ber of Lan­dis Arbore­tum, please vis­it our web­site at www​.lan​dis​ar​bore​tum​.org.

Spring 2022

Volume 40 , Number 1

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