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Cypress trees are dying. Is it fungus or over-watering?

A lot of tree questions from readers this week...

QUESTION: “HELP! My three Leyland Cypress trees have several totally brown branches, including the three-foot top of one of them. I believe this is due to over-watering before I went on vacation. (I have taken care of them in every other way for four years.) My question is: will these brown branches and tops ever come back to green? If not, I want to cut the branches out and by cutting the top on one of them I will be "topping" it, unfortunately. Do you have any good news for me?” – Christa Pratico

ANSWER: I’m not sure I have much “good” news. I believe the best thing to do is to trim off the parts that are dead and re-shape. As for the cause, it could be from over watering but also they could be succumbing to a fungus that does affect these particular plants. If you decide that they are beyond saving, I suggest you replace them with Cedar Green Giant. It is the replacement hedge plant for Leyland in the South and hemlock in the North. It is a tough plant that resists pest and disease problems and drought.

QUESTION: “I planted 20 quaking aspen two years ago and all of them are doing poorly. Two have died. Three of them were healthy and bushy all season until recently after a long rain they appear to be dying. The soil is a sandy clay but when I planted them I mixed in plenty of mulch and potting soil. Each hole was about 1' wide by 2' deep.

By poor I mean that the leaves are small and usually golden or grayish with black edges. The black part is usually about 10% of the leaf but occasionally consumes the entire leaf. That might be a fungus of some kind but I also see signs of insect damage (mites?). I thought that they might improve this year but they look exactly the same.

Is there anything I can do to give them more life or help them through the winter? I have year-around lawn care, so they are getting some fertilizer, however I wonder if the weed killer is damaging them.” – Ryan

ANSWER: From what you have said, I think it is possible that the weed killer is doing them in. Lawn fertilizer from your lawn care company could also be adding to the problem. I can recommend a product I have used that takes out the toxic elements in the soil and can start you on the way to rebuilding the soil and eliminating the need for excessive watering and over fertilizing. It’s an organic product called Global Earth Tek. Look for it online (Google it!) or if you still can’t find it, send me an e-mail and I’ll forward some shopping information. Let me know how it develops.

QUESTION: “I enjoy your newspaper column very much. I have a question concerning holly trees. I have two in my front landscaped area of the house that have grown too large for the space. They are about 6' tall and 3-4 feet wide at the base and are somewhat pyramidal in shape. I want to move them to the back yard where they will have more room to grow and spread which will also provide me some privacy from the neighbors behind me. Is it okay to transplant them now or should I wait a little closer to spring? They will also be planted under some large hackberry trees in my back yard.” – Michael

ANSWER: You can move them now as long as you can get in the ground to dig. At this time they are in a dormant state and can be moved. If you have someone in the area that has a tree spade or a mechanical digger, it would be better for the trees. Contact a local nurseryman or garden center to make this happen. Unless you have experience in doing this you could have a bigger job then you are used to. Frankly, you might want to ask yourself if planting them under the hackberry with no sun would be a good place to put them before you start.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org