The fragrance of sweetshrub and bay were on the minds of readers in recent weeks. Their goal was to help their plants grow better.
Q. What is the best way to prune sweetshrub to control it and keep it neat? C.P., Lynchburg
A. Common sweetshrub, a native plant also called spicebush, Carolina allspice and calycanthus, is pruned by cutting its oldest stems at ground level with loppers. After that, you can shape the plant by cutting back its smaller stems with hand shears.
Q. Do you have any idea what might have caused this problem in some recently planted willow oaks? It looks like a burn on the outer ends of the leaves. Milorganite was applied to the trees about a month ago. P.H., Lynchburg
A. The pattern of leaf injury shown in your photo suggests a non-infectious environmental condition. It goes by names such as leaf burn, tip burn, leaf scorch and marginal leaf scorch. The possible causes of leaf burn on trees include dry soil, waterlogged soil, deeply frozen soil, nutrient deficiency, girdling roots, root damage caused by construction activity and chemicals such as weed killers, salt and fertilizer.
If all of your young oaks are showing the same leaf burn symptoms, perhaps a little too much Milorganite was used on the trees. Although this natural organic fertilizer (6-4-0) made from human waste is advertised as non-burning, it contains 6% nitrogen that can burn or dessicate plants when applied in excessive amounts. Your oaks' leaves appear to still have some green tissue left in them so they will probably survive this setback and continue growing.
Q. My culinary bay tree's leaves look sickly, as you can see in the attached photo. It grows in a large pot in a sunny room. S.C., Lynchburg
A. The edges of its leaves are brown, indicating a condition called leaf burn. Most likely your bay tree's soil has a toxic accumulation of soluble salts or it has been kept excessively wet or dry.
Q. My husband and I both love working in the yard. He takes care of the grass and I maintain the flowers. I have battled deer but have found various perennials that are not tasty to them. Your information about Milorganite was helpful in deterring deer.
My question today is regarding the use of a product called Mag-i-cal. An ad caught my eye stating it is better than spreading lime. Do you have an opinion or recommendation about it? We live in Wildwood and have battled red clay since 1991. T.C., Lynchburg
A. I am not aware of any university research on Mag-i-cal, and I have never used it. The product comes from Jonathan Green and Sons, and their website states that one bag of Mag-i-cal works as well as up to 15 bags of pelletized limestone. The product is also supposed to combat soil acidity much faster than pelletized limestone using a soluble form of calcium. This sounds hard to believe, even magical.