Q. What is killing the pines?
A. The Cape’s pitch pines are being attacked by an insect called the black turpentine beetle. The beetle chews through the bark eventually severing the xylem tubes, which bring water up, and the phloem tubes, which bring sap down. You can see the little holes on the trunk of the infected tree as well as the ooze of sap and bug poop coming out. The pine dies from lack of water since it’s xylem tubes get severed. As the beetle can migrate to healthy trees, infected ones should be removed.

Q. What does Eager Beaver Tree Service do all winter when it’s cold out?
We certainly don’t hibernate! None of us would like to have a desk job, even in the winter. We just get dressed warm enough and go out and work in the cold. It’s invigorating. We get more done per hour because you have keep moving to stay warm. All the services we provide in the summer: removals, pruning, stump grinding, and underbrush clearing, can also be done in the cold weather with a winter discount.  Pruning can be easier as the framework of the trees is more visible.  Deadwood can even be pruned from leafless deciduous trees, as the little buds on the ends of the twigs indicate a live branch. Eager Beaver loves the cold and snow and works all winter.

Q.  What trees would you recommend planting on Cape Cod?
A. For smaller trees :  Kousa dogwood, redbud, Japanese red maple, longstalk holly, paperbark maple, hinocki cypress, leland cypress and shadbush.
For larger trees:  river birch, sourwood, concolor fir, linden, beech, horse chestnut, ginko (male), larch, honey locust, sugar maple, sycamore, dawn redwood, sweet gum, Fraser fir, blue spruce, stewartia

Make sure you have plenty of space for the tree to grow into.  Don’t plant too close to the house.  Don’t plant under wires.

Q. How do you plant a tree or shrub?
A. Choose a site that will accommodate future growth.  Most fertile native soils require no supplements.  If soil is poor, improve it with a mix of topsoil and peat moss.  The planting hole depth should equal root ball height.  The hole width should be three times root ball diameter.  Remove wire, string, burlap and plastic from ball and place the plant so that top of the root ball sits at grade level, not below.  Create a ridge of soil around the rim of hole to retain water.  Mulch lightly, keep soil moist, not soaked and stake only if necessary.

Q. What are those fuzzy and/or blotchy greenish/grayish patches on the trunks of my trees? Do they hurt the tree?
A. They are lichens, a combination of algae and fungi.  The non-green fungi provide the structure and soaks up moisture.  The green algae make food through photosynthesis.  Lichens flourish in areas of high humidity like Cape Cod.  They just sit on the bark of the tree. They don’t penetrate or hurt the tree.  They’re usually on the north side, where the sun doesn’t dry out the plant as much.

Q. I hear so much about Lyme disease and ticks. How do ticks get on someone?
Ticks have a bunch of little velcro like feet. They can hang out on the leaf margins of plants, especially grasses and underbrush. As you brush by the host plant you might become the host person. Underbrush can be sprayed, avoided, or removed with a brushcutter.

Q. When should you prune?
A. For maximum flowering, prune spring flowering plants as soon as the flowers fade. Prune summer flowering plants in early spring before growth starts.
Evergreen shrubs are best pruned in May or June when shoots are new. Pine trees shouldn’t be pruned in spring or summer as the sap scent might attack borers. Any tree can be pruned when dormant.

Deciduous trees can be pruned whenever the saw is sharp.

Q.  Should pruning wounds be covered with pruning paint ?
A. No.  Research shows that wound dressing does not stop rot. A tree can do a better job on its own.

Q. Should trees be cut back from the house?
A. Yes.  Too much shade is bad for buildings.  The foliage of trees and even high foundation plantings can block the sun from drying out the house after a rain. Mildew and eventually wood decay set in.  Cutting back trees from the house also eliminates an easy route for squirrels onto and possibly into the house.  It helps reduce leaves in the gutters too.

Q. Should my trees be sprayed for gypsy moths?
A. Only if there are gypsy moths present and there haven’t been for quite a few years. There is no preventative spray for gypsy moths.

Q. What are those moths that have been flying around my outdoor lights in recent Novembers?
A. Those are winter moths, a new arrival to the area. They will lay eggs that hatch out into caterpillars in the spring. Caterpillars love to eat leaves.

Q. My foundation plantings are getting too big. Can they be severely pruned back?
A. Yes, they’ll live, but look like hell for at least a couple years. Consider replacing overgrown shrubs with plants that don’t grow so big.

Q. Do I need to fertilize my plants?
A. It depends. If they seem healthy enough, green and lush enough, leave them alone. If they don’t look green or healthy enough, fertilizer may help. Trees growing in lawns especially benefit from fertilizing because they aren’t getting the nutrients of decomposing leaves and organic matter.

Q. A few years ago we took down some trees. The stumps are still around. How can I get rid of those pesky stumps.
A. The simplest way is to have them removed by a stump grinder, which is a machine that grinds the trunk and roots 8-12 inches below grade. The hole can then be filled and seeded if desired. The store bought chemical treatments to remove stumps do not work.

Q. I have some trees that have branches very close to power lines. Is it my responsibility to have the limbs pruned away or the electric company’s?
A. The wires along the street are the responsibility of the electric company. The service wire going from the street wire to the house is your responsibility. Inspect your trees and contact the electric company if the street trees are close to the wires. They’ll trim the branches back for free. If the service wire has branches touching or very close, be very cautious. Even though the wire has a covering, it is not insulation. It would be safest to call a professional.

Q. My shrubs don’t have many flowers. How can I increase the flowering?
A. Make sure they’re getting enough light. If they’re not, thin out overhead branches. Fertilize with a low nitrogen fertilizer. Deadhead, or remove the flower after it fades. The plant then will put its energy into new flower bud formation for next year. Deadheading can double or even triple the amount of flowers on a plant.

Q. What is an “acid-loving” plant?
A. Plants that have a high demand for trace elements available only in a low, or acidic, ph. Examples are dogwoods, hollies, rhododendrons and azaleas. Fertilizers for acid-loving plants contain the required trace elements.

Q. Why does one lime?
A. Cape soils are generally acidic. Nutrients can best be absorbed by most plants at a higher ph. Limestone raises the ph, thus increasing the absorption of some nutrients. Liming also supplies calcium to the plant.

Q. Why mulch?
A. To conserve soil moisture, to stabilize soil temperatures (especially in winter), to decrease weed growth, to provide a source of organic matter, and as erosion control. An inch is fine, but too much mulch will absorb too much water and the plants might not get enough. Don’t mound up mulch around a tree trunk.

Q. How does an herbicide work?
A. There are two types. Soil soak herbicides have to be absorbed by the roots. Avoid these—they’re very expensive and polluting. The other type is absorbed by the leaf and translocates throughout the plant, killing it within a couple weeks. Roundup and Kleenup are this glyphosphate type.

Q. What does core aeration do?
A. The machine removes “plugs” of soil from the lawn, thereby loosening up compacted soil, enabling water, oxygen and nutrients to get to the roots of not only the grass, but the trees too. Excellent for tree health.

Q. What is the vertical crack in the trunk of my tree that seems to have happened this winter?
A. It’s commonly known as a frost crack. It tends to happen to thin barked trees like Kwanzan flowering cherry. The crack occurs with rapid winter changes in temperature.  The bark splits vertically, but it’s usually not a health problem, just a cosmetic concern. The split occurs on the south side of the tree. It can be prevented by wrapping the trunk in winter.

Q. How can you identify a dogwood tree?
By its bark.  (ha ha)
If you have any questions, please email me.
The Barnstable  Cooperative Extension Service is a fabulous resource and an excellent use of our tax dollars. The service is staffed by sincere nature lovers who respect scientific research. Their website is The phone is 508 375 6690.