Creative gardeners find homemade solutions

Gardeners and landscapers are some of the most ingenious and creative people you will ever meet. Just when I think I've heard it all, I hear about another novel approach to a garden problem.
Today, I'll try to help a reader whose birch tree might be poisoned by the remaining roots of an old walnut tree, but first, here's a tale of homemade ingenuity from a reader:
"Steve, I have friends who grew up in the New York City area and I have heard the story of grandpa winterizing his fig tree many times.
"Their Italian grandfather had a fig tree and it was lovingly known as the linoleum tree. He would mulch the base of the tree, tie the branches facing upward with jute rope to hold them, then pack it with newspaper to insulate it and then wrap the whole tree with a sheet of linoleum and more rope to hold it together. Of course, it was the old kind with tar paper insulation. To top it off he would put a bucket on top to hold the linoleum in place. He watered the tree during the winter. It always made it through the winter just fine!
"We thought a thick strong tarp would work in place of the linoleum since some states get some 60 degree days during the winter and it would get too hot in the linoleum." - Helen Paterson
Thank you, Helen, for sharing that story! Do any other readers have any unusual but effective ideas that we can share in this column? Let me know at
Here's a reader who seems to be having problems with a tree that isn't even there anymore...
QUESTION: "I had a black walnut removed nearly three years ago and since then I have planted three new trees about ten feet from where the walnut had been. The first two trees, both maples, died. This year we planted a Whitespire birch and in spite of good growing conditions and good watering, it is dropping leaves very fast now and it appears that the lower branches are dead.
"I have three questions: 1. Could the juglone from the remaining roots of the black walnut that was cut down three years ago be killing my birch tree? 2. If I remove the birch now and re-plant it in a better location, will it survive? 3. What can I do to lessen the trauma of removing and re-planting the birch?" - Katie Beery
ANSWER: I'll answer your questions one at a time. 1. Yes, that's a possibility as there is a residual effect that last for quite a long time. 2. It's quite possible the birch can survive after replanting as long as the juglone has not penetrated too much of the roots.
And now to answer part 3 of your question. First of all, dig the hole in the new location where you are planning to replant it. Then return to the "old" location and dig up as much as you can around the root ball of the tree so as to disturb the roots as little as possible. After transplanting, water every day for five days with a sprinkler so as to wet the foliage. Do this early in the morning for about three hours, then at night for a couple of hours. After five days, cut back to normal watering. I hope your birch revives in its new location. Good luck!
If you want to know more on this subject, there is an excellent fact sheer available free online from the University of Ohio Extension Service. You can read it at or find this column at my Web site and click on a link that will take you there directly.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit
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