Question and Answer
Q. We are building a new home and in the side yard are two, huge 16-year-old
blue spruce. We are trying to save them so we designed a retaining wall
to include these trees, but huge concrete trucks have had to go rather
close to them. I'm worried they have damaged the roots. The trees have
dead tips hanging from some of the branches. What can I do to help save
these beautiful old trees? I have another spruce farther away, and I don't
see any damage on it. Please help! -- Dee Wallace, Greensburg, Ind.
A. I'm sorry my answer probably comes too late to be of service. In
fact, it was probably already too late when you wrote to this column.
By the time damage is apparent on an evergreen, it's usually irreversible.
In order to protect trees during construction, temporary fencing should
be put up to keep equipment off the root zone. This is an important part
of reducing soil compaction during construction.
Heavy equipment on the site compacts the soil and reduces the pore space
for air and water. Typically, the top four to eight inches of soil are
compressed into a dense mass. This damages existing plant roots, increases
surface runoff and erosion, decreases water moving into the soil, decreases
soil aeration and makes it more difficult for plant roots to grow. It's
difficult and expensive to correct soil compaction. It's much easier to
If you do any more remodeling, keep vehicular traffic routed away from
desirable trees. Also, make sure construction materials are not stored
near trees. Fence off an area equal to 1.5 times the dripline.
If vehicles MUST go over the rootzone of the trees, mulch with a six-inch
thick layer of wood chips to reduce the compaction. This layer of mulch
can be removed after construction.
Do not increase or decrease the amount of soil covering the roots, unless
it is absolutely necessary. The majority of tree feeder roots are located
in the top four to eight inches of soil. When the soil grade is decreased,
not only is the nutrient rich topsoil removed, most of the tree's feeder
roots are removed also. If the soil grade must be increased, aeration
will be reduced. Few species will tolerate fill of even a few inches placed
against the main trunk.
Now that the construction is over, if your trees have survived, make
sure you give them regular watering and fertilizing for the next several
Q. I read your column with great interest and thought you might be able
to steer me toward a good how-to book about common plants and blooms.
I inherited a lovely garden of "stuff" when we bought a house
recently, and I have no knowledge when it comes to their care, such as
when to prune, transplant, feed and all that. There are a variety of plants,
including iris, peonies, hosta, day lilies, clematis, etc. -- Gail Eldridge,
A. Purdue Extension has a good series of publications concerning the
care of many of the plants that you've mentioned. You can peruse them
These are particularly helpful because they deal with Indiana climate
There are thousands of gardening books on the market. You can begin with
an inexpensive paperback covering the basics of perennial gardening, such
as one from the Taylor or Ortho guides to gardening.
Experience is the best teacher. By interacting with the plants on a regular
basis while you weed, water and mulch, look for signs of health or lack
thereof. Weekly inspections will teach you which plants require more or
less water (look for wilting leaves) and which are heavy feeders (look
for a lack of even, green coloration). A friend that gardens will probably
be more than happy to walk through your garden and give advice!
Q. We "had" a beautiful, full, lush honeysuckle vine growing
beside our deck. My 92-year-old grandmother came to visit and wanted a
start of it. I found a root and dug it up. I'm afraid I dug up the "mother"
root as the trellising vines now seem to be dying. I'm sick about it,
because that is one thing that stole my heart away when we found our new
home. The vine was certainly well established as it was growing everywhere.
Is there any way I can save or revive it? Please help! I truly miss the
sweet fragrance that welcomed us home every evening. -- Trina Estes, Bloomfield,
A. Honeysuckles have a fibrous root system so there is no tap root or
"mother" root for you to have disturbed. It is likely, however,
that you inflicted enough root damage to cause the top growth to collapse
from stress. Honeysuckles are tough, durable plants. Even if the top dies
back to the ground, the plant will probably send up new shoots from the
roots next spring. Provide regular water and fertilizer during the upcoming
year, especially during times of drought.