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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
02-11-05 Diplodia Tip Blight on Pine trees; caring for African violets
02-14-05 Caring for Ficus in winter; indoor pests: larder beetles
02-14-05 bonus! Fertilizer for gardens - designer vs "regular"; why gardenias don't like our houses 
02-21-05 vole damage in lawns & woody plants; how to root cacti and succulents

This week's HomeGrown

Extension web sites:












I have some big trees at the rear of our property. Some of them have vines growing up and into the tree. My father-in-law told me that I have to get them removed because he said they are strangling the trees. Can I tell right now, this winter, what these vines are and are they killing my trees?

Let's look at the important issue of "strangling" first. There are no Tree Constrictors in Michigan. Strangling would involve compressing a tree so tightly that the nutrient flow to the tree was cut off. Just looking at most vines shows you that they grow straight up and many don't encircle anything. It's a great dramatic statement to make, striking fear into homeowners everywhere. The only thing that a vine could accomplish would be to get tall enough that grew into the canopy of the tree. If the vine was immense, there possibly could be enough vine leaves that it would shade out tree leaves. Death by shade is nowhere as much fun as death by strangulation. The tree has a better chance of being hit by lightning. As to who the vines are, there are basically four choices. The picks are grape, Virginia creeper, bittersweet and poison ivy. 

Grape vines are dark-stemmed and thornless vines. The young vines are relatively smooth and older vines will have a bark that is stringy or shaggy looking. Grapes are produced once a season and are often very sour. The leaves are generally spade shaped and some are deeply loped. Grape vines hang on with tendrils. 

Virginia creeper vines are smooth and often have small dots on them. Leaves are arranged in groups of five arranged in a fan-shaped pattern. Blue colored berries are produced in the fall. The vines grasp onto objects with tendrils. 

Bittersweet is a tangled or high-growing vine with egg or wedge shaped leaves. Vines are brown, smooth, hairless and thornless. There are no tendrils. Berries have orange colored pods with scarlet seed coverings inside. 

Poison ivy is the one to really identify if you plan to remove or prune a vine. You can get a rash from handling this vine at any time of year. The leaves are arranged in groups of three. The stems are brown, rough barked and have hairy fringe-like projections that are called aerial rootlets. Leaves can be anywhere from light, dull green to deep, glossy green. Relax. Since the health of your trees isn't threatened, you don't have to do anything.

[Editor's note: The tendrils on some of these vines can damage individual branches, if the vine is left on for several years. It it's convenient, Trim Pines does recommend removing as much of a vine from a tree as you can.]

I was doing some work on the house and had to remove some wood on the outside to expose the two-by-fours. At the bottom of the wall cavity, there was a pile of different kinds of insects. I don't know if they were dead or alive. I'm worried about the house. Is this a problem?

It's only a problem if you were one of those insects that lost your discount motel room. There are a number of insects that spend the winter as adults. They hibernate somewhere where they won't freeze. Your wall void was a super choice. In the spring, most of them will be stampeding out to the trees and grass. The rest of them dropped dead during the winter. None of these guys are house damagers. After all, how much trouble can you get into when you are asleep or dead? Most homes will have insects getting into the wall voids. They usually exit without much attention. Your problem is that you found them. And that's your only problem. Broom them out or suck them up with a shop vac if it makes you feel better.

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


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