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IN THE GARDEN: To possibly save ailing trees, must first identify cause

by Janet B. Carson | February 6, 2021 at 1:35 a.m.
The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service disease diagnostic lab could figure out what's killing these trees. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q Something seems to be killing these trees in my yard. I'm not even sure what kind of trees these are (someone told me shortly after I bought the house 12 years ago that they were cedars, but I'm not sure). The first one started turning yellow about a year and a half ago and is now completely dead. I recently noticed that the other two are now turning yellow. Can I save them? They are beautiful, well-established trees and help provide privacy in my backyard. Can you help me? Thank you (I am a faithful reader and love your column).

A The bark does look like an Eastern red cedar, but the canopy is much more open than they normally are. I would take some samples to your local county extension office. Take some good pictures of the tree; use this one but also get closeups. Take some branches that are showing signs of problems and also some healthy branches with you. Make sure you call ahead to let them know you are coming. With covid, some offices have changed their hours. The extension office can send your samples and pictures to the disease diagnostic lab to see if that expert can find something. Is the dead tree still in the yard? If so, I would closely examine the trunk for holes from boring insects; but I would also try to dig up some roots of that tree to send in with the samples as well. I will forewarn you that when a tree is on its way out, there is usually very little that can be done. But you do need to know what is going on.

Q I have many baby hellebores. When is the best time to transplant?

Hellebore sprouts need a year or more of growth before they're mature enough to flower. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)
Hellebore sprouts need a year or more of growth before they're mature enough to flower. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Janet B. Carson)

A Hellebores do most of their growing from fall through spring. They don't put on much new top growth (if any) from June through September. You could move them now through May. Even though they aren't growing on top, the root system will grow in the summer, so don't forget to give them some water. If they are really close to the mother plant, which is blooming, you can wait until blooming is over so you don't interfere with flowering. It will take another year or two until the babies are big enough to begin to bloom on their own.

Q Could you tell me what this weed is that invades my liriope/mondo grass and how I can get rid of it? It seems very winter-hardy.

Mondo grass is not a true grass, and any broadleaf weed killer applied to the invading vine would hurt the mondo, too. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Mondo grass is not a true grass, and any broadleaf weed killer applied to the invading vine would hurt the mondo, too. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A By any chance do you have any crossvine or smilax vines in your yard? It looks to me like one of those. Unfortunately, anything that would kill this broadleaf "weed" would also kill your mondo grass. Mondo grass is not a true grass and could be damaged by any broadleaf herbicide. Your only option is to spot spray with Roundup when the temperature warms up a bit, or hand dig the weeds. Then let the mondo grass fill back in.

Q One of my camellias was covered in buds last year but just won't bloom. It is on the north side of the house and has good morning and afternoon shade. Ideas? Also, is there an Arkansas-hardy dwarf mock orange that has the same blooms and scent as the traditional?

Camellia japonica sets flower buds at the end of summer for fall or winter blooming, but the buds can be nipped by frost. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Camellia japonica sets flower buds at the end of summer for fall or winter blooming, but the buds can be nipped by frost. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

A You have a Camellia japonica, one of the later-blooming varieties. All camellias set their flower buds at the end of summer for fall or winter blooming. This year, with our rollercoaster weather, some buds have been opening sooner than they should be, and a few flowers have been nipped with a frost. One of mine normally doesn't bloom until late February to early March but has been trying to bloom since early January. I think you just need to be patient, and they will open in time. If your buds start to show color and then turn a mushy brown, that is freeze damage, which we hope won't happen. As to the mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius), they are all hardy in Arkansas. There are some newer varieties that have larger, showier blooms, but sometimes the trade-off is fragrance. There are standards as well as dwarf varieties. I have heard tell that Belle Etoile is particularly fragrant as well as Innocence. Miniature Snowflake is a dwarf, fragrant, double-flowered variety. Go take a whiff at your local nursery this spring to find a fragrance you like. Good luck.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email jcarson@arkansasonline.com

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