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Growing Things: How to protect junipers from winter kill

A young Columbia ground squirrel peeks out from ints burrow entrance behind a clump of ground juniper in the Porcupine Hills west of Claresholm, AB.
A young Columbia ground squirrel peeks out from ints burrow entrance behind a clump of ground juniper in the Porcupine Hills west of Claresholm, AB.

Q: We have eight Wichita Blue junipers, 15 years old, fully trimmed, with annual removal of galls. This year our two junipers facing south turned brown. We’ve cleaned the trees out, fertilized them and copper sprayed for galls, with some new growth resulting. We were told that it’s winter kill and would have to replace them, which we’d rather not do. We would appreciate your advice.

A: Out of the eight junipers only the ones that face south turned brown and from your photo only the side that faces south on both junipers turned brown. I’m afraid that the original diagnosis is correct. The damage is very likely to be winter kill.

The combination of the south sun and winter winds can be a deadly combination for junipers. The needles simply dry up and the water in the root zone is frozen and unavailable for the plant to replenish the loss of moisture. Another cause could be a rapid drop in temperature after a warm and sunny day.

I have applied an antitranspirant to my south-facing junipers. The name of the product is Wilt Pruf. This is an organic, non-hazardous and biodegradable spray that protects the plant from drying out in the winter. Most greenhouses carry it.

Q: Please settle a dispute between my husband and I regarding our lawn. My husband believes that after each time he mows he needs to sprinkle lawn seed on the grass. I feel this is unnecessary and should only be done in the spring after topsoil has been added to the lawn. In addition, the grass seed ends up in the flowerbeds, which means I am forever weeding. Since you are the expert, please let us know who is right.

A: I have to tell you that I cringe a little every time I get one of these husband and wife, settle the argument questions. My reply was, ‘Bet your husband a dinner out and once he commits to the bet tell him I said you are right. You can choke out a lawn by doing what he wants to do. Once in the spring is plenty.’

I received the following reply, ‘Thank you so much for your response and of course letting me know that I am right! We both enjoying reading your informative column in the Edmonton Journal. Take care and enjoy the summer.’ I’m still chuckling.

Q: We went away for the weekend and came back to a dead cherry tree. It’s a very quick demise that has us baffled. Both cherry ‘bushes’ were developed at the University of Saskatchewan and adapted for the prairies. They were planted at least five years ago, with tons of blossoms and many cherries forming. The surviving cherry has lots of fruit but doesn’t look as healthy as it used to.

Any ideas on what is going on and how we can save the other one? No sign of fungus or anything else, and we haven’t fertilized in months.

A: Yes, that is a fast demise. Something that fast brings to mind a few possible causes. One is herbicide damage. If you were spraying for weeds in the area the herbicide might have drifted onto the cherry tree. Another possible cause that can act that quickly is a fungal root rot. Another thought is lack of moisture. Severe drought conditions can cause a very quick death.

There is one last possibility, and that is too much mulch. I noticed in your photo that there is a thick layer of bark mulch under the plants. Mulch that is too close to the trunk of the tree can cause the tree to actually suffocate from lack of oxygen. Since your surviving cherry tree is not looking healthy either I would remove the mulch around the base of the plant.

Mulch is an excellent way to prevent weed growth but it has to be used with care. I use cedar bark mulch myself but only apply it to a depth of five centimetres and keep it well away from the trunk or base of the plant. Good luck and happy gardening!

Gerald Filipski is the author of Just Ask Jerry. E-mail your questions to filipskigerald@gmail.com . To read previous columns, go to edmontonjournal.com and search for Gerald Filipski

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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