This type of mold on a tree is a signal that there is dead tissue in it

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Q: Last winter’s cold almost killed my Chinese sebum tree. Three weeks ago I had a tree care company remove all of the dead wood. I removed the suction cups from the base of the tree and some branches over the course of the season, but now I wonder what this white growth could be.

A: You will need a mycologist to accurately identify this fungus, but it is a saprophyte, which means it grows from rotting wood. My concern is that there is a problem in the trunk of the tree at this point. Treating this on the surface won’t prove to be of much help.

Sebum has been badly damaged and even killed across Texas, especially in the northern two-thirds of its range from the cold. For anyone interested in saving a sebum, the basal sprouts might actually be the better way to go. I’m afraid you’ll have to replace the tree anyway – more branches will die. That’s based on what I saw in many parts of Texas this summer and fall.

I am sorry for this bad news. Hopefully I’m wrong on your case.

Q: My friend has a large bougainvillea that grows in a flower bed near her front door on the Gulf Coast. She had another bougainvillea there before, but she killed it last winter. Your new plant has grown well this year. She wonders how best to protect it when it gets really cold. Should she crop it and cover it, or just cover it up? It would be as difficult to prune as big as it is, but we’ve heard that the pruning should be done by spring.

A: The cold of February is unlikely to repeat itself for many years or even decades. If your area is warm enough that previous bougainvilleas survived, so chances are they will. I would wait until there was a need to do something. However, towards the end of winter it may be appropriate to prune it to keep it in check.

Q: How well will the Dura Heat river birch fare in Texas? I bought one in mid-October. It had spots all over its leaves. The garden center owner said I could return it if the leaf stain turned out to be impossible. I sprayed it with a biofungicide and then with seaweed extract, but now I’m wondering if I should return it and look for a better Dura Heat Birch.

It goes to a bed where Nellie R. Stevens’ holly drowned. I thought it would be a better choice.

A: It doesn’t look like a leaf blot, and if it does, there is no point treating it this late in the year. Birch trees lose their leaves with the first frost anyway.

Dura Heat river birch is a selection that was made because, in theory, it can withstand summer weather better than the species. However, all birch trees in Texas struggle with hot weather. The further west of the Piney Woods you get, the less likely it is that they will be successful. This looks more like heat and low humidity damage than anything else.

And when it comes to Nellie R. Stevens’ holly, they are my all-time favorite large shrubs. I have several dozen in different parts of our rural landscape. Some of them are in very low areas where they grow on heavy clay soil. With persistent rainy weather, the water table gets very high, but they hold up perfectly. I haven’t seen any soaked soils die, but I’ve seen hundreds die when people let them get too dry between waterings.

I would really try to find a way to improve the drainage in this bed and then go back to holly with Nelle R. Stevens.

Q: This stout, twisting vine appeared in one of our beds. It’s not something we remember planting. Can you identify it? Is it Edible or Poisonous?

A: Malabar spinach (Basella Alba). It’s a vigorous Asian vine that is pretty pretty too. Yes it is edible. You can google it for a lot more information.

Q: I have two yaupon weeping holly trees. When I bought them they both had red berries. For the past two years they have flowered, but no fruit. Can you tell me why?

A: They weren’t pollinated or a late frost or frost brought the unripe berries to it. It has to be pretty much one or the other of them if they had flowers.

All weeping yaupons are female plants. Therefore, any plant will be able to produce fruit if there is a male pollen-producing plant somewhere nearby and if there is good bee activity during flowering. In 2021 I wouldn’t worry too much about the extremely cold weather that came so very late in winter, just before flowering. Most of our holly have been shy when it comes to producing fruit this year.

If your plants have been healthy and otherwise grown well, they will soon be bearing fruit every year.

Q: I recently read a story that suggested not raking leaves but leaving them on the lawn instead. That way, we wouldn’t fill our landfills with it, but would return the nutrients and organic matter to the soil. It seems too much of a good thing to produce as many leaves as trees as living oaks do. Please advise.

A: I have no problem at all with a mulching mower 49 or 50 weeks a year. However, for the two or three weeks when leaf fall is greatest, I agree with you. There is too much organic matter to return in a short period of time. I think it’s best at this point to run them through the mulching mower and collect them and place them on the compost heap, or use them as mulch under bushes or around perennials. To be honest, I do this all year round.

Email any questions to Neil Sperry at [email protected]


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