Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Keep area near tree trunk open to air, sunlight

Dear Helen: A friend recently moved into a house with a young sweet cherry tree in the front lawn. The previous owners had planted a ring of lavenders right around the base of the tree. Leaving aside the fact that lavenders and cherries have different water requirements, is it ever a good idea to plant ornamentals close to the trunk of a tree?


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No, it’s not a good idea. Keeping the area where a tree trunk meets the ground free and open to fresh air and any available sunlight is crucial for the health of the tree. Plantings, or piles of mulch, up against a tree trunk can harbour pests and foster disease and decay.

Sweet cherry trees are traditionally grown in grass, ideally with the grass plants kept away from the trunk. If your friend is interested in the idea, clover in the lawn would add fertility to the soil from the nitrogen on the clover roots. A caution about clover: Most clovers, like the often used white Dutch clover, attract bees to the blooms. Wear shoes, and think about whether children would be playing on the lawn.

Though considered a lawn weed by some, English daisies (Bellis) in lawns bloom during the sweet cherry late April bloom time and attract bees to help pollinate the fruit tree blossoms. Single-flowered varieties are best for feeding bees. I have the classic English daisies with white petals and yellow centres in my lawn.


Dear Helen: I have noticed many dying weeping birch trees on the Saanich Peninsula. I noticed this first a couple of years ago when I saw the trees starting to display bare branches at their canopy tops. Are we losing these magnificent trees?


Birch dieback has become an issue in recent years, likely due to a series of long, hot, dry summers weakening the trees by causing them to be drought-stressed and susceptible to insect infestations.

Wilting and dying of the foliage at the top of a tree is a sign of birch dieback. It is usually accompanied by the presence of D-shaped insect holes in the bark, made by bronze birch borer larvae tunneling into the tree and cutting off its food and water supplies. Drought-stressed trees are most vulnerable to this pest.

Once the dieback and borer damage are visible, a tree will continue to decline. Once more than half of a tree had died, it should be removed. Existing trees that still appear to be healthy are most likely to survive if they are supplied with plenty of water, fertilizer and mulch, and if they grow in a cool, most, shaded area.

Weekend column. I’ll be taking a break from writing the Saturday column on the upcoming holiday weekend. A happy Labour Day to all. The Events below cover the period through next Wednesday.


Picnic in the gardens. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is inviting families and friends to the last Picnic in the Gardens of the summer this evening. Enjoy local musicians, browse through the works of local arts vendors, visit a Master Gardener booth for answers to gardening questions, and check out sales of plants propagated from the gardens. Admission is by donation between 5 and 8 p.m. hcp.ca.

Government House plants. The Plant Nursery at Government House, 1401 Rockland Ave. in Victoria, is holding its last sale on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The extensive plant choices include the golden Choisya ‘Sundance’, feathery astilbes, small red Japanese maples, tough and showy heucheras (coral bells) as well as salvias, phlox, sedums and much more. Plenty of plants for sun and shade.

VRS meeting. The Victoria Rhododendron Society will meet on Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. Brenda Macdonald will present Rhododendron Colours for Fall (Re-bloomers for your Garden). Anne Allen will make a brief presentation on the Barlup Hybrid project at HCP.

VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society will meet on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. John Veillette will describe a biodiversity hotspot that was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site last year in The Tehuacan: Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve. The pre-meeting workshop at 6:30 will feature Cam Picyk presenting Preserving the Flavours of Summer with Fermentation. Learn about this natural way of processing food and its added health benefits.

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