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Q & A with Ron Smith: Spruce trees fall victim to turkeys; irreparably harmed

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Q. We have large flocks of wild turkeys that come to our yard through the woods. We feed them corn in copious amounts. In the last few months, the turkeys have been eating the lower branch needles off our lovely spruce trees. We transplanted these trees about 10 years ago. The lower half to two-thirds of some trees are now stripped. Will the needles re-grow or is all growth from the top?

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A. Some thanks for your kindness by the turkeys. If they have done the stripping job I think they do, which includes the buds for new growth, the trees will be bare to the turkeys' uppermost feeding point. If you have any trees that have not been stripped, get something to protect the trees, such as fencing, some kind of repellent or a sign in "turkey speak" telling them their corn rations will be reduced if they touch your spruce trees again. Sorry to hear about the damage. I had no idea that turkeys feed on spruce needles.

Q. I planted 12 emerald greens several years ago. During this time, at least five have been replaced. I think I have narrowed it down to an uphill neighbor who aggressively waters during the summer months. While reading your columns, I have heard several people refer to fertilizing with Miracle-Gro. However, I haven't found the actual directions you provided. I have 12 of these shrubs that make up two privacy screens. My parents were impressed enough to go out and plant eight of their own. I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of your fertilizing advice so that I can utilize it myself and pass on the information to them.

A. Actually, the Miracle-Gro (or a similar product on the market) directions are on the label. You purchase the kit, which includes the applicator that attaches to the hose end and the water-soluble product. You then apply it. This should be done as new growth starts to show. This gives it a kind of boost for the season and keeps it looking good. In spite of what the directions might say about a reapplication during the season, ignore it! Keep in mind that the companies want to sell product. While it will not hurt the evergreens if the directions are properly followed, the additional applications are not needed, so save your money. It is during the initial year or two during plant establishment that the plants may benefit from fertilization.

Q. In August 2008, I cut live brush on my farmstead near Leonard, N.D. The brush pile includes lilac, box elder, green ash, maple and others. I am planning to chip this material during the winter and then use it as mulch for new garden plantings/trees in the spring. Are there any compatibility issues regarding freshly chipped mulch that I should consider for this project? Does standing dead brush make better mulch than live brush?

A. Generally, dead brush does make better mulch. You can use the new chips as mulch, but you need to be aware of the potential tie-up of nitrogen if applied too heavily. This can be corrected by applying a high-nitrogen fertilizer, which normally would not be a concern with the already dead plant material.

Q. We have a large backyard we want to close up by growing American arborvitae. How fast growing are these trees?

A. American arborvitae is considered moderate to fast growing. It depends on the location (north, south, east or west), microclimate they are in, amount of water available and soil conditions.

Q. We saw a Korean fir in a Spring Hill catalogue, but are wondering if it is hardy enough to grow in the Crookston area.

A. As beautiful as it is, Korean fir likely will not survive in your part of Minnesota. The dependable hardiness range is zone 5, which is well outside of your area. Set your sights and heart on something else or move to somewhere warmer!

Q. I have a praying hands plant that was thriving and getting much too big for its pot. Not being much of a green thumb, I assumed the best thing to do before transplanting was to allow the plant to dry out a little. Sadly, I may have allowed the plant to dry out too much because the leaves are rolled up and limp since I transplanted it. I gave the plant a good watering and allowed the water to drain out of the pot, but the plant is still the same. This was a special plant and I am upset that I may have killed it. Do you think there is any hope of reviving it? If so, what should I do?

A. Based on what you have told me, it sounds like the plant reached a permanent wilting point, which is a point of no return. Sorry!

To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail ronald.smith@ndsu.edu.

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