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Don't mess with the water in the tree

Question: I have a beautiful large crape myrtle that has a bowl-shaped area near the base of the tree where the branches divide. It collects water when it rains and probably holds 1 1/2 cups when full.

There is a smaller second hole farther up on a branch that appears to be where another branch was cut off. This area also collects water.

What can I do to remedy the situation? I was considering filling the holes with a tar-type product for wounded trees.

Answer: No remedy needed. Trees form protective barriers to keep water away from living tissue. Any attempt to cut a notch or put in a drain causes new injury to the tree that can lead to disease and rot. The tar goop also would be detrimental.

Question: One of my oak trees died last summer. I recently had a tree removal specialist give me a bid to remove the tree. He provided a diagnosis of what he thought killed the tree: hypoxylon canker.

If he's right, would you recommend your Sick Tree Treatment to prevent future problems for my other oaks? The other trees are not exhibiting problems, but I am on the watch.

I am organic and have been ever since I built this house and established my yard more than five years ago. This is my first problem with oaks, and I do not want to lose more to diseases.

M.S., Dallas

Answer: Your tree may have died of hypoxylon canker, but that disease is never the only cause. Some major problem caused the tree to be stressed and weakened. This particular fungal disease simply moves in on sick trees to push them over the edge. Mother Nature takes out weak plants.

The stress that invited the canker in could have been caused by one or more of the following: tree planted too deeply, construction damage to the root zone, soil compaction, herbicides or other chemical contamination, too much fertilizer, repeated use of high-nitrogen fertilizer, etc.

You can see this disease on dying and dead limbs in healthy trees. It is no risk to the rest of a healthy tree.

It is a dark gray or black growth that can be killed with a spray of potassium bicarbonate, but it is not contagious to healthy living tissue or other healthy trees.

Question: I have a customer who has a patch of bare dirt in a St. Augustine lawn next to the driveway. From mid-2002 to mid-2003, a chewing tobacco spit cup was dumped there daily. It's been almost a year since anything has been dumped there, and the grass still will not grow. I can't even get a weed to grow.

I have an idea of what I think it might be, tobacco mosaic virus, but I would like a second opinion. If it is TMV, how should the soil be treated for the grass to begin growing again?

I'm prepared to start digging and replacing if necessary, but I'm not sure how far down to go.

If it's not that, what other damage could the tobacco juice have caused?

Answer: Well, that's a new one!

Here's a pretty good illustration of why no one should chew tobacco or dip snuff.

Work some zeolite into the soil and top-dress with earthworm castings. It's simply too much tobacco in one place, not tobacco mosaic virus.

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