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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.


2004 Editions

01-13-05 Fungus gnats; deer protection for trees
01-19-05 After cutting down trees: to chip or not to chip? Also: starting seeds indoors for spring planting
01-27-05 Excessive plant growth in ponds; problem trees and/or problem sites

This week's HomeGrown

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I just noticed that my big Austrian pine has many dead branch ends. The ends of the branches look like there are four or five little ends that have died and are hooked over like the top of a cane. This is at the end of most of the branches and there are hardly any green needles left on the tree. There is sappy stuff on a lot of the branches. Iím sure it was fine this fall. What do I do now?

Get out the chain saw. Things went bad for this evergreen long before last fall. Multiple dead branch ends on one branch tell you there were a number of attempts over a couple of years to grow. What you are describing sounds like a fungal disease called Diplodia Tip Blight. This affects Austrian, mugo, Scotch and red pines. Itís seen often on older, larger trees. It is most severe on Austrian pines. Diplodia kills new shoots in the spring. These shoots curl and turn brown. The trees also shed older needles in the fall. When no new growth is being produced and old needles continue to be shed, eventually these come together on a branch. Now itís a dead branch. By the time a tree has gotten as much damage as yours, it is virtually impossible to save. If you have other pines that could have Diplodia, inspect them now. Make at least a weekly visit to your yard during the growing season and look carefully at the plants. Look for insects, leaf spots, browning tissue or weird growth. The time to get on the pest train is as soon as you find a problem. Donít wait. Rarely do problems just disappear. There is an opportunity to treat trees with a fungicide if Diplodia is just beginning. The folks at your Extension Service can give you the product names and timing. Spraying would begin in the spring.

My mother gave me about ten African violets to care for while she is traveling for the winter. They are dying and I donít know why. The ones that arenít dying wonít bloom. I have them on the windowsill and water and fertilize them all the time. Some leaves are getting brown and mushy. Other plants have rotted off where the main part of the plant touches the soil. I shut the curtains one night and left them on the windowsill. A bunch of them turned dark green got soft and died. Whatís happening?

Lack of knowledge is a deadly thing when youíre dealing with African violets. Letís be really positive and talk about how to grow them correctly. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on how your tropical beauties got on the road to Hades. African violets have some requirements for happy living that other plants donít. They need to be warm which is about 70 degrees. Window ledges behind closed curtains during the winter are best suited to Popsicles. Your violets froze. Even sitting on a marble sill with open curtains can chill their little roots. To water correctly, move the pot into a shallow container of room temperature water and let it suck up enough to moisten the top of the soil. Repeat when the soil surface is dry but donít let the plant wilt. Use rainwater, melted snow or water from a dehumidifier. You donít need the minerals from tap water or water softener stuff for plants. All this negatively changes the soil structure and adds soluble salts. Watering the plant from the top and getting water on leaves can discolor leaves or cause the crown of the plant to rot. During the winter, there arenít enough hours of sunlight to induce flower formation. You need 14-16 hours of light. Because of the lack of light, the plants do little, if any, growing. At this time, the plants donít need fertilizer. This can actually cause more problems. I suggest you visit any one of a number of local stores that have live healthy African violets for sale. Run out and replace the victims before mom returns.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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