Assessing Summer’s Misdemeanors

At the end of a long growing season we might ask ourselves: ‘What can we do better?’ 


It’s not a bad idea to have a blunt friend come into the yard and attempt to answer that question. After a while we can’t see our own handiwork. 

Your friend might say, ‘Your pines could use more sun, see the thin, long needles on these?’ Or: ‘Your boxwood is bronze; maybe too much sun?’ Or: ‘When was the last time you tested your water pH?’ Or: ‘What in the world were you thinking, leaving these whiteflies unmolested all summer?’

We may wonder why last year we lost two branches on a tree and this year six more are gone. 

Puzzlers to consider: 

  • Branch / twig loss: Too little water, too little fertilizer, or a root problem
  • Burned leaf edges: Too little water (or, sometimes, if soggy soil, too much water), too much sun, chlorine burn, or fertilizer burn 
  • Burned new needle tips: Too little water
  • Burned old needle tips: Too much water
  • Overall plant stress: Too little fertilizer, or too much ambient heat–consider shade cloth
  • Yellow leaves: Too little fertilizer, not enough iron, poor water quality, too much sun, or…fall

Given that so many things can cause the same issue, this list is tricky to use. Yet problems that are dark to us may scream to the sharp-eyed visitor. 

Our losses in branch or tree are often because minor elements of plant husbandry done chronically wrong become big problems later. This slow erosion can look like the reverse of an IRA building over time, where your plant decreases until there’s nothing left. 

On that cheerful note, for those celebrating Thanksgiving, happy holidays and happy feasting (given this posting date, that would be leftovers). 



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  1. Ray says:

    Too true Michael , you can visit us and check our trees out😎😎😎. I take advice well.

  2. Andy Moerlein says:

    This is a FUN ONE!!!!!

    U R a lively writer.

    LOVE IT! Andy

    • Chris Cochrane says:

      Well chosen illustrations– both in graphics & text. Thanks for making the downbeat message feel upbeat!

  3. Very good questions and that sometimes we do not have the answer at a glance. We have to study the behavior of our trees and learn from the signals that the trees send us.

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