Oak tree branch tips

What culprit could have created this mess of oak tree branch tips? Got any guesses?

This past week, I had to once again put my plant detective skills to work when more than 100 branch tips from an oak tree were found scattered around the base of the tree.

First culprit to eliminate was wind. No other trees had fallen branches (now that the Autumn Blaze are about all gone), and a wind significant to have blown the branches off would have blown them around as well. But there they laid in neat little bundles.

Next, I checked the end of the broken tips for chewing or any similarities between the branches.

A friend suggested it might be a twig pruner, the larval stage of Elaphidionoides villosus. These larvae hatch after being laid in a single manner per branch by the adult beetle. After feeding and causing damage, the branch tips fall with the insect larvae inside. In this case, the branch end will have a distinct oval shaped circle which will be your clue. That was not the case for me, but my next clue was finding that the branch tips had acorn pieces scattered around in the limestone gravel. So, guess who?

Squirrels again! So not only did they cause me to break my leg last summer, now they are back to destroy my oak? Not happening.

Within 3 days there were more than 200 branch tips laying on the ground — this is war!

If you find that you actually have the twig pruners causing damage, gather up and destroy the branch tips as the larvae is burrowed inside and will hatch the following year. Seldom does the beetle cause the death of a tree, which is the good news. Not so much good news in store for my red squirrels.

Little garden on the prairie

A question this week from the market was about starting a prairie garden.

In this case the area is already garden ground, so that makes things a lot easier. To establish large areas, folks will often spread seed as it is the cheapest method, but also is the most work (weeding) with the poorest result.

Preparing the area by eradicating weeds or established turf is the first challenge. If you have a light rack system, you can start your own transplants from seed. You can buy seeds in packaged mixtures or buy them as individual varieties such as coneflowers.

My first choice would be to install plants — more expensive but just start smaller. Plants will give you the best, and quickest, results. I have yet to talk to one gardener that was happy with or survived the act of scattering large areas with seed. Yes, something might have grown, but is it your prairie plants or local weeds? If using seed, try at least to plant in rows that you can get a shuffle hoe though. Eventually the plants will fill in and they won’t appear to be in rows, meanwhile you will have some weed control.

It’s getting to be that time …

Are you one of those plant parents that brings your indoor plants outside in the summer? Soon it will be time to bring them back in for the winter. The majority of houseplants are tropical, and are not fond of nights below 50 degrees on a consistent basis.

Before bringing them back in, check for insects or disease issues. Expect that you may lose some leaves, perhaps 15% or more, as the plant adjusts to its new location. My best advice as it relates to moving plants is: Leave your indoors plants indoors. Moving plants to and fro creates a lot of plant stress. Even the brightest indoor location does not match being outside in the shade with light from all sides.

Many climate elements affect your plants, especially when you bring them outdoors in the spring. Wind, sun strength, humidity changes, cooler night time temps, and insect issues are more likely. Never set your indoor plants outside just for a bit of sunshine. They’ll fry. Yes, I’ll admit to having done this back when I was a naïve plant person and killed around 12 plants in one sunny afternoon. Imagine my surprise when I went to bring them in the next day.

Right now, I have one indoor plant — the family Christmas cactus. When autumn comes, I need a plant break and keeping the green outside my door suits me best.

The Mankato Farmers’ Market is now open for 2019, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the Best Buy parking lot in Mankato. The Tuesday market is held 3:30-6 p.m. at Best Buy. The Thursday market will be held 3:30-6 p.m. at the Food Hub in Old Town, 512 N. Riverfront Drive.

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Features Editor, Mankato Free Press Associate Editor, Mankato Magazine

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