Growing Concerns 408: Find unusual trees, copper myth, quick weed tree killer

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Looking For a Purple Flowering Tree?
Keep Your Eyes Open for These Four Beauties

I have a tree called tamarix, I think. My tree grew from nowhere on my property. A very beautiful thing. It has purple fine flowering in spring. I wish to buy the tree locally. If not locally, then mail order will suffice.

A.K., Livonia


Dear A.K.,

We wonder whether you have a tamarix (Tamarix ramosissima) or another small, 10 to 20-foot tree that sports tiny, purple flowers. Prime candidates are the purple locusts (Robinia sterilis, R. pseudoacacia 'Rosea', or R. neomexicana) and redbud (Cercis canadensis).

All of these trees bloom in shades of purple but the tamarix doesn't bloom in spring with the others. A tamarix growing in warm southern States may bloom as early as May, but when it's grown in Michigan it blooms in late June, in July or can be delayed into August by cutting it back hard in the spring.

Look at the bark and the leaves to see if you have one of the locusts or a redbud, rather than a tamarix. Locusts and redbud have dark gray to black bark. Tamarix bark is light gray. Locusts have small, oval leaflets arranged ten or eleven together like a fern. Redbud has large leaves shaped like plump hearts. Tamarix has tiny leaves almost like a juniper's.

Of all of these, the most likely to spring up from seed here is a redbud.

Redbud is sold at most local garden centers, and tamarix may be available there as well. Arrowhead Alpines in Fowlerville is one of the nurseries that offers redbud, tamarix and Robinia via on-site or mail order sales. To find them or order a catalog go to 1310 N. Gregory Road, P.O. Box 857, Fowlerville, 48836, 517-223-3581,


Dear Janet and Steven,

A tree is ruining my life. The trunk is in the neighbor's yard but its messy top is entirely in mine. I've heard that power company people sometimes kill trees by pounding a copper nail into the trunk. Will this really work?

Anonymous, no city


Dear Anonymous,

Are you for real? Have you tried the sane route of discussing this with the neighbor? You could offer to split the cost of removal and share in the purchase price of a more desirable, better-placed tree.

About your perspective on arborists who trim trees in utility easements -- it's not only an insult to some honest, hard-working people but irrational. Those crews have no need to be sneaky about tree removal. The law is clearly on their side -- if the tree threatens power transmission lines it can be cut down or out.

As for copper nails being able to kill trees, dream on. If that's all it took to kill an unwanted tree, copper nails would not be the rare find they are but would be available at every hardware and garden center.

Timely Tip

Patrol fence lines in early spring to get rid of weed trees that sprout there under cover of tall grass or property-edge shrubbery. They grow so quickly they can become almost inextricably woven into the fence in a year or two. Now is the time that you should be able to identify box elder, Siberian elm, mulberry, ash and tree of heaven as the interlopers they are because they are leafing out earlier, later or a different color than shrubs that belong there.

Dig or pull each weed tree if you can. If you can't, cut the trunk off at ground level and paint the exposed surface of the stump immediately with concentrated Brush-B-Gone, a brush killer. Use a long-handled artist's paintbrush that you can discard after use to dip directly into the herbicide bottle. Wear chemical-resistant plastic gloves to apply the brush killer and be careful not to splash it on the soil or desirable plants nearby.

The oldest and toughest weed trees may have to be re-cut and re-painted additional times but many will die from just one application.

Poison ivy can be beat, too

Poison ivy can be killed by cutting it and painting its stump with brush killer, too. Be careful to avoid contact between any part of the vine and your bare skin, and don't touch your skin with anything that touched the vine even if it's leafless or been dead for a long time. That skin-irritating oil remains in poison ivy wood and roots for years.

Green thumbs up

to accidental success in the garden. Horticulturists at a botanical garden recently told us how they were shocked one spring to find evergreen artemisia cut to the ground though it was supposed to be trimmed only lightly. When the plant grew back lusher and fuller than ever, they didn't just sigh in relief. They took the cue and began experimenting, cutting lavender, sage and other plants back further, with beautiful results.


Green thumbs down

to fanatics who want all non-native plants banned from landscapes. Even if we could define where each plant species "belongs," we doubt we can reset the stage to segregate Asian, African, European and American plants in their original regions. We plant many natives for their beauty, utility and environmental importance but if you outlaw our other responsibly-planted species you'll find us manacled to our butterfly bush!

First published 4/28/01















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