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IN THE GARDEN: Replacing Japanese maple tree can be done by company or self — good opportunity to look for problems

by Janet B. Carson January 14, 2023 at 1:31 a.m.
Removing a Japanese maple takes a lot of digging, pulling and lifting, unless the tree died of root rot. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q: A couple of years ago, I wrote to you about the sad state of my Japanese weeping maple tree. You told me to cut the dead part off and see what happens. Well, it is one breath away from heaven. How do I dig it up and remove it from the bed? I would like to replace it with another but have no clue how to get it out of the ground.

A: You have a couple of options. If you are wanting to replace it with a fairly large Japanese maple, you might let the nursery you buy it from dig up the old one and replant the new one for you. Some tree companies have tree spades, which make the digging up process pretty easy. The spade goes down around the tree and lifts it up, making a hole for the new one. If you want to do it all yourself, start by getting a sharp shovel and begin root pruning — making straight cuts down in the soil in a circle around the base of the tree. Once you have a complete circle, go down deeper and try to wedge up under the tree, going around and around until you can "lift" the tree and rootball. I would suggest cutting the top down to make it a bit more manageable; leave a 3-foot trunk to grab onto. It won't be easy, since the root systems are pretty tenacious, unless the tree died due to root rot. Do look at the roots when you dig it up to see if there were any drainage problems.

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Q: Right after the cold hit in December I saw a bit of damage on my azaleas, but it didn't look awful. Once we had warmer weather, I thought they would look better, but they look even worse. I scraped some branches and there may be a little green down low, but at the top they are crispy critters. Do you think they are dead, and I should replace them now? They are so ugly.

A: Brown is the new green this year. I know it is hard to look at all the plant damage in almost every yard, but just ignore it for now. I do think we will have some plant replacement in store for us in the spring, but how badly yours are damaged is anyone's guess at this time. Don't scrape on bark or do any pruning now, because winter isn't over. Let's get through the winter and see what begins to grow next spring before we start digging up "dead" plants or pruning them.

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Q: My fig tree needs to be shortened, and I'm wondering when is the best time to do that in Central Arkansas.

A: I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Mother Nature did that for you already this season with the bitter cold we had in December. Don't prune the fig now, but wait until spring and see where it begins to grow. In some cases, that could be the soil line. If you are lucky and have no damage, prune as soon as you see new growth, since figs produce fruit on the new growth. If you prune now, you are cutting off any protection the plant could have if we get more wintry weather.

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Q: I want to try growing purple/red cabbage for eating. I have not seen plants or seeds here. I live in Little Rock and grew green cabbage for the first time in 2022. I only need about 10 seeds or plants (prefer plants). Do you know where I can get these? Thanks for any help you can give me.

A: It takes 6-8 weeks to grow a cabbage transplant from seed. Seeds should be available at many plant outlets, but in late February through March you should be able to find transplants of purple cabbage to plant wherever vegetable transplants are sold — nurseries and garden centers. Unless they have a greenhouse, I find that most home gardeners do better starting with transplants rather than seeds for long-growing vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower for the cool-season crop, and tomatoes, peppers and eggplants for warm-season vegetables.

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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