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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette birch tree illustration.

Q We have a birch tree in our front yard that I am considering removing. I don't like cutting down trees but this one sheds its limbs year-round and is destroying my front yard with its exposed roots -- not to say what it does to my riding lawnmower when I slowly roll over them. Also, as you can see in one of the pictures [the reader sent photos] it's just a few feet from our septic system. I'm concerned that the roots might damage the system at some point. Am I crazy for wanting to take this tree out? I see them in various neighborhoods used as part of landscaping. Can the roots be ground down even with the ground without damaging the tree? Still there's the concern about my septic system. I just wanted to check with an expert before taking such drastic measures. And before spending $700-$800 for removing the tree, grinding down the stump and repairing the yard.

A I hate to remove a tree unless there is a real need, but a river birch is not the best tree for a yard in Arkansas, unless you have a pond or stream nearby. They are often used in residential landscapes for their beautiful peeling bark, but they shed leaves and small branches with the first sign of dry weather unless they are planted near a water source -- thus the common name river birch. Once they are old enough to shed, they shed almost daily during the growing season until they go dormant in the fall. They can grow quite large at maturity, and are often planted way too close to the house. I am not a fan. They also fall apart pretty dramatically in an ice storm, and their root systems can be a hazard to a septic system, as they are water hungry. I am sure I will get some disgruntled emails by saying this, but I would remove it and plant something else. Removing the surface roots or grinding them down would be a Band-Aid approach as the roots will grow back, but you can also damage the tree in the process -- and it won't stop it from dropping branches and leaves.

Q What's up? First my Japanese maple tree didn't turn bright red this fall. And now it won't drop its leaves. Help, please, and thank you very much.

A Trees form what is called an abscission layer that signals the leaves it is time to fall off. Each tree has its own timeline. Some years the first frost hits before the tree has finished its normal life cycle. When that happens, the leaves don't fall off until the following spring when new leaves begin to emerge and push the old ones off. That could also explain why your tree didn't change color -- the tree was delayed in its normal fall senescence and became dormant before it had a chance to change colors and shed leaves. [The reader sent a photo.] From the picture, I think your tree should leaf out just fine this spring. In a worst-case scenario, sometimes a tree will die but retain the foliage -- usually the leaves are shriveled and a grayish color. So I don't think that is the case with your tree.

Q I'm hoping you can help with my daylilies. About five years ago I planted them 1 to 2 feet apart against a fence, facing south, with full sun. They have done well but have not spread and filled in the gaps like I had hoped. I am constantly pulling weeds from between them and weeds even grow up through the plant leaves. It can sap the joy right out of a body in the 100 degree heat. Any advice on how to get rid of the weeds/grass without killing the flowers? Thinking of digging them up this year if I can't figure out a solution.

A Whenever you start a new flower bed and have bare space between plants, weeds and grass begin to show up and thrive with no competition. Starting out as weed-free as possible and then applying mulch can help, but all beds get weeds from time to time. Daylilies will spread and multiply, but they usually need to be divided every three to five years, to keep them blooming well. This spring as they begin to emerge, dig up your clumps and separate them -- transplanting some of the divisions. Try to clean up all the weeds and grass while it is cool, replant the daylilies, mulch and then hope for the best. Make sure to leave a buffer zone from where your lawn ends and your flower bed begins. Edging can help.

DEAR READERS: In a recent article I shared some dates for orchid society meetings. The Orchid Society of the Ozarks has switched their meetings from the fourth Sunday to the third Sunday of most months. They meet in Springdale at 1:30 p.m. in the Northwest Technical Institute (south door), 709 S. Old Missouri Road. Their Sept. 29 meeting is the annual orchid auction; it is open for preview at noon, with the auction starting at 1 p.m.

If you want a great selection of orchids, join them the first weekend of March in Fayetteville for their ninth annual show at the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks, 4703 N. Crossover Road. Hours are 5 to 7:30 p.m. March 1, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. March 2 and noon to 4 p.m. March 3. Hundreds of orchids from around the world will be available at reasonable prices, but despite adding more plants each year they usually sell out before the show closes; so come early for the best selection. More information is available at, or call Cathy Marak at (479) 310-9444.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72201 or email

HomeStyle on 02/09/2019

Print Headline: In the garden


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