Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Juneberry Mystery

Healthy June berry on left;
struggling June berry at right, with blue deer fencing.

This is a story of two juneberries, purchased at the same time about eight years ago from my favorite nursery, St. Lawrence, in upstate New York.

For most of their time here, both seedlings have languished. They survived, but despite various descriptions I've read of their "pest-free" disposition, they struggled with an annual, early spring infestation of small, black inchworms which used the leaves to wrap themselves tightly in pencil-shaped cocoons. This left the trees defoliated.

The seedlings remained stunted at about four feet high, small enough that I could painstakingly unwrap each leaf and hand-pick the worms. Still, the trees suffered.

Last year, one of the seedlings took off. I don't know what happened, but it experienced a growth spurt and actually now looks like an attractive young tree at about eight feet high. Yet the other seedling remains stunted.

Even more curious, last spring I found the stunted tree was again beset by those little black worms. The healthy tree was not, even while it stands just five feet away!

Yesterday, I noticed another oddity: The healthy tree is leafing out now, but its blossoms are still not ready to bloom. The stunted tree IS in bloom and has only a handful of its leaves unfurled. You would think both trees would follow the same pattern of either leafing out first, or blooming first.
This is the healthy tree, not at all ready to bloom
but sporting plenty of foliage.

This is the stunted tree, in full bloom but with just a handful of leaves unfurled.

What gives?

I have been watching both my bluebird boxes but have been somewhat concerned to see no activity. Imagine my surprise when I approached the one box and saw that it was so stuffed with nest building materials that it was actually pushing the front-facing door open at the bottom!

Still, I've seen no activity at the box. From the messy look of the nest, I'm guessing it's house wrens. I know that some birds build more than one nest and the female makes the final selection. I do hope this was not a reject nest.

Yesterday was another day of satisfying yard work achievements. I finished turning over sod where my expanded vegetable garden will be located, let the sun dry the overturned clods and, later in the day, began shaking out the loose soil, squashing cutworm grubs as I found them.

I also make good progress continuing to clear out invasives....Japanese barberry, Asian bittersweet and burning bush, mainly... on the north side, in the area where I discovered, rescued and fenced off two cherry tree volunteers. I think I also spotted at least one June berry volunteer and there are certainly more cherry tree seedlings in there. There's still much work to be done, but with shovel, loppers and a misplaced set of hand shears, I am making headway.

I also pulled out batches of garlic mustard as I found it. I've said before, simply controlling the spread of invasives could take up all my time in the yard. Sadly, it will be impossible to ever totally eradicate them.

Still no sign of returning hummers at the feeder. My first spring sighting last year was April 24...that will be this Saturday.

Ahh, so much to do. I have a corkscrew willow I want to transplant. I had planted two of them in an area that gets plenty of moisture, but not so much sun. They want more sun. I'm also itching to pull out another largish patch of pachysandra near the snowball hydrangea tree and sun room, but I will need things to plant there after the pachysandra comes out or I will have created yet another weeding chore for myself.

I'd like to finish up readying the expanded veggie garden and plant my potatoes and put up a second pole support for the beans. I saved some relatively straight, seven-foot-long pruned branches from my winter's work on the giant burning bush and found it fairly easy to create a tripod support for beans by tying the top ends together and sinking the ends in the ground.

Happy gardening!


  1. Those poor Juneberries! A severely stressed tree will flower in one last futile attempt to propagate itself, before dying. The leafy one doesn't need to flower so early or desperately. Have you gotten a soil sample? The trees are nearby, but might have distinctly different soil conditions. It might tell you something. What a mystery. No hummers here yet (north central CT), feeders have been out for two weeks.

  2. I agree with Laurrie ... stressed trees will send out blooms as a last effort at life. Also, get a soil sample. Is there any sign of underground feeders around the stunted tree? Any trunk damage at ground level? You could contact your local Ag Extension office for info on the little black worms, perhaps they can be controlled with hort oil sprayed in winter?

  3. Thanks for both your comments. I have heard that stressed trees might flower early, so what you said makes sense.

    If I see the worms this spring, I make take them to the Extension Office for ID.

    Thanks again!