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 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 to help guide you. A good general rule is to cut back the branches that are too long to laterals which are 1/3 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, 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

Spring 2022

Volume 40 , Number 1

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