September 10, 2012

Doctor, Doctor

Doctor, what is the problem with this paper birch?

Lateral branches sticking out on the right horizontally. Loppers. please.

Okay.  Better now.

Doctor, should this paper birch be pruned as well?  Yes, we need to remove that lateral sticky-out branch on the right lower side. Japanese pruning saw please.

That's much better.

My pruning is a clear enhancement, but the real improvement here is that these birches (Betula papyrifera) actually have leaves in September. In every year before this, they dropped their leaves in August.

We planted three paper birches in 2005 and they have grown well, become shade providers, and have added height and mass.  Lovely trees.

But every summer they defoliated in August. There was never any yellow fall foliage, which has been described as golden, twinkling and beautiful.  Not these trees.

Here they were last September, in 2011, early in the month.  They had looked this way since early August.  And they looked this way every year in late summer.

Betula papyrifera likes cool summers and isn't well suited to hot conditions or drought.  In my garden they were stressed during hot dry summers, and each year they got a leaf spot fungus and defoliated early. I could not bear to remove them, but they were really ugly in late summer and early fall.

So this year I had them treated with a fungicide in spring, the same spray that you would use to treat roses for black spot.  It has made all the difference.

The tree guy had never heard of birches needing a black spot fungicide, but the results show that mine benefitted immensely.

But I don't like the idea of spraying large shade trees. I don't want to doctor these big paper birches every year.  I have to say, though, that with the foliar spray this year they look wonderful, and I expect a show of bright yellow fall color in a month.


Doctor, doctor, what should I do?

Should I spray fungicide each year to keep these birches in leaf?

 

18 comments:

  1. I have heard that a mix of milk and water (I think one part milk and two parts water) works just as well as a fungicide would. You might have to do it several times though, on a regular basis.
    They are beautiful trees!

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    1. Ruth, the milk and water formula works great for perennials and small plants but I would need a dairy farm to get enough to spray three large trees! That's the problem --- I have to get this done professionally by a guy with a truck and sprayer. Arrrgh.

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  2. Wow, the foliar spraying certainly made a huge difference. They look fantastic right now.

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    1. Bernie, thanks, it was an experiment this year. Because paper birches are not prone to leaf spot fungus, it was uncertain that this was even what they needed. But what an improvement.

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  3. This is always a dilemma in my garden too. To spray or not? In my garden, it is the weeping cherry that brings this to the fore for us. Your birches are beautiful.

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    1. Barbara, I am quite conflicted about spraying. I don't want to do it and it is expensive since it has to be done professionally. But the change was dramatic, and these are three "anchor" trees in my yard, very visible.

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  4. Laurrie, for that fungus, I'd hose down the tree, then spray with a this mix: a tablespoon each of baking soda, vegetable oil and dishwashing liquid in a gallon of water. What can it hurt.

    Amazing how a little pruning makes a big improvement.

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    1. Lee, I am becoming a pruning fanatic. Well, a cautious one, but I do see how improved the trees look with a little trimming now.

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  5. I understand your dilemma, Laurrie, but what a difference the fungicide made this year! Maybe one of the more organic alternatives offered by your commenters will works just as well in the future. My redbud is looking really stressed this year, dropping leaves already. I'm hoping it's just the drought and that it will come out of it next year. There's not much I can do at this point, but I'm certainly going to keep my eye on it.

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    1. Rose, Redbuds can be tricky trees. They get a canker that causes die back, and they don't handle drought well. And they are short lived even under good conditions. But what beauties they are. . . I would not be without at least one in my garden. Hope yours makes it.

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  6. Wonder if you could try planting society garlic or regular garlic near the base. This is a suggestion for helping roses be disease resistant since garlic is systemic. Just a thought :-) Great pruning job, by the way. Once little snip here and there can make all the difference.

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    1. Toni, it's weird, but there must be something in the soil around these trees. We always have a lawn fungus called red thread that browns the grass in this area, and this year, with the foliar spray from the trees, the lawn is completely fungus free. So who knows, maybe adding fungal-fighting plants around the area at ground level would help too!

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  7. Maybe if you spray a couple of years they won't need it for a few years. They are beautiful now. I would hate to remove them if I were you. It must be that time of year. I got the ole pruners out today too.

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    1. Lisa, I had that thought too... that once the fungus was eliminated from around the area, maybe the trees would be ok on their own in future years?

      Happy pruning!

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  8. hi Laurrie, I don't envy you this dilemma. I generally try to avoid chemicals. Birch trees are so pretty however, especially when they are so nicely pruned. I wouldn't give them up without a fight.

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    1. Jennifer, the spray has made such a difference this year that I am glad I did it, even though I was conflicted about the chemicals and the cost. I don't know if I should let them go now next year and see if they are "cured", or spray each and every year. It really is a dilemma.

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  9. Yes! Spray, spray, spray! You love them, they're beautiful, they eat carbon and make the world a better place. See what happens next year by NOT spraying and then if they look like crud again because it's hot and dry, start spraying. Think of it as a prescription that will keep your trees healthy and better able to survive our climate change.

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    1. Tammy, you're right, i should experiment and see what happens if I don't spray next year. But now that I know how good they can look with the fungicide, I'd hate to let them go even one season without!

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