I know everyone is still cleaning up from Irma, but my neighbor’s giant juniper toppled into my yard, crushing the fence and my butterfly garden. Before I go talk to him I want to know, isn’t he responsible for getting rid of the tree?

 

Mother Nature is at the root of this question. If the tree was dead before Irma struck, your neighbor is responsible. However, if the tree was healthy with green branches, I am afraid that the court would side with Mother Nature. If the tree was downed by Mother Nature, and was healthy, the cleanup belongs to the person whose land it fell on. I know, it seems a little unfair, but that is the law. For all the details go to: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fe962.

In the spirit of being a good neighbor, you might also want to offer to split the cost of removal and let go of the stress this is causing you. Also, one thing to consider is to do nothing.

Let the fallen tree become a refuge for different kinds of wildlife. If you want a more formal garden, you will have to remove the tree, but if you are a fan of birds and small critters, you may be creating your own stage for wildlife. Pick up your binoculars and watch the nature show, rather than stress about what Irma laid down in your back yard.

I love my big maple tree, but every time we have a storm its big roots poke up further. I have tripped and fallen twice. Would it hurt the tree if I cut them back before I fall and break an arm?

Before you get a saw or ax from the garage, let’s talk about what tree roots do for the tree itself. Tree roots anchor the tree and absorb needed water and nutrients from the soil. So if you want the tree to live, let’s consider options that will not harm the tree or you. Since you cannot avoid walking over the roots, let’s concentrate on how to make a trek around the tree a safe one.

There are several options, some far more labor intensive than others. The first, and perhaps most beneficial to the tree, is to add enough soil that the roots are level with the rest of the soil, then if you want you can cover the roots with three to four inches of mulch. The goal is to make the path even and safe for you to walk on, and do no harm to the tree. Put as much tree mulch as needed to make the path even, and safe for you to walk on. There are several different kinds of organic mulch. Wood chips may work best to fill in between the roots and allow the roots to absorb the water and minerals that they need. (This one is easy to do.) You may also want to consider pine needles; they tend to stick together and stay where you put them, especially if you have a little slope. If you want to do this job less often, you may want to spend a little extra for shredded hardwood. It is a little heavier so it does not wash away easily, and decomposes more slowly than wood chips.

You could also even out the pathway by placing pavers between the roots and filling it in with pea gravel. It would create a great focal point for your yard, but is a lot of work and the tree roots won’t do as well as they would if you cover them with healthy mulch.

One more option is to build a slightly elevated walkway made from pressure-treated wood. This method is beautiful and far safer, but a bit expensive and something that most of us could not do without a lot of help. A few loads of inexpensive wood chips dumped onto the roots and evened out with a rake gets my vote. For more information, go to: www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/other/compost_mulch/hgic1604.html.

I am sick of seeing nothing but ripped up trees, standing water and all the summer colors fading. Is it too early for me to add some color by planting camellias and holly?

It is the perfect time to paint your garden with winter color, by planting flowers and trees that will bloom during the cool winter months. Female hollies (llex spp.) with their bright red berries, bring any winter canvas to life, and they attract birds to complete the picture. If you do not want to plant your hollies in the ground, containers work very well. Insulate them with 2-3 inches of mulch on top, avoiding the root ball. And make sure you give them enough room to spread out. Give the root ball about a foot of space all around. The plant should sit just above the soil line. They prefer a little shade, and for the most part can tolerate may cold snap we may have. For more go to: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg021. Hollies shouldn’t need protection from the cold here; most of them are fine outside. If it gets really cold, the roots could freeze if in a container.

Another stunner in the winter landscape is the camellia with all its beautiful faces. From clear white to ruffled pink and my favorite, the formal double. Begin by doing a soil test to match the right soil, sun and plant. Camellias thrive in partly shaded areas with well-drained and acidic soil. If you do not have the perfect conditions (and most of us do not) you can either amend the soil for each planting or simply find a large container, and create the perfect mix for the many varieties of this winter stunner. For more: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep002.

Connie Timpson is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. If you have gardening questions, you can speak to a master gardener from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Duval extension office at (904) 255-7450.