In this weekly feature gardening expert and certified wit Felder Rushing answers your questions and lays down some green-wisdom. You can get more of your Felder fix at www.slowgardening.net.
I am looking for a way of adding privacy in my backyard. I sit low under my neighbor’s kitchen windows, but I don’t need trees because my house is so tall and I need all the sun for flowers and vegetables. Can you help? - Katheryne of Colorado
Sometimes horticulturists are blinded by our love of plants – which are not always the best solution to landscape challenges. A tree can be difficult in a small space where you also want sunlight; plus, even the fastest trees take a long time to fill up and out.
This calls for some creative screening, which may not be all that hard to do. Which is good, because your choices are limited.
I have learned a lot from my landscape architect friends, who are trained as much — or more — in built or “hard” features as they are in plants (in fact, they typically call trees and shrubs “plant materials”). One of the best examples is how they rely on the power of “baffles.”
You know how you can use your hand to shade your eyes from the sun? Same thing with a small but carefully-placed baffle. Not exactly a fence or wall, a baffle is a small, free-standing structure, like a section of fence that doesn’t go all the way to the ground.
Set two tall, sturdy posts a few feet apart, with a single section of lattice between them, placed where a specific but narrow view is blocked. It’s cheaper than a shrub or tree, and gives instant effect. Plus it can be repeated as needed to create instant privacy – without coming across as unneighborly. You can paint it and even tone it down with a flowering vine.
So you can solve your dilemma quickly and inexpensively, and baffle nosy neighbors at the same time.
A couple of weeks ago you wrote about lichens on trees, but I have a different problem, with mistletoe. I know it is a parasite that can kill my tree. What can I do to get rid of it?
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that cannot survive on its own. It grows roots into the host plant, wrapping around the limb underneath the bark, to tap into water and nutrients. This can sometimes cause tree limbs to die out beyond the mistletoe.
In the long run, it usually is not a serious problem to the host tree; I have seen mistletoe balls that are over four feet in diameter, growing on trees that are centuries old that seem to be doing pretty well.
Besides, there isn’t much practical that can be done about it. If you prune out the mistletoe, it will usually just sprout back out like any other shrub. And killing it with sprays will likely harm the tree more than the mistletoe would, because it doesn’t get rid of the roots, which will pretty quickly start to rot under the bark of the limb. That’s often worse than leaving the mistletoe alone.
So I believe that killing mistletoe is neither necessary nor good for the tree. It simply isn’t that big a deal overall.
If it really bothers you, prune out what you can every few years. Or learn to just see it as another ornamental part of the tree.