On trees, narrow angles lead branches, trunk to attach, but not very well

Backyard Q&A

In the Garden

January 18, 2004|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

A master gardener recently told me not to purchase trees with narrow angled crotches. Can you tell me what this means and why I should avoid them?

Now that our trees have lost all of their leaves, it is a good time to look at the structure of tree branches. The branches of some trees naturally grow at a wide angle from the trunk and appear to grow horizontally. However, other trees produce vertical, upright bran-ches that grow at narrow angles to the trunk. The crotch is the area where the branch and trunk meet, so this second group of trees is said to have narrow angled crotches. Trees with narrow crotches have branches that grow side by side with the trunk, and as they enlarge the bark of the branch and trunk eventually grow together. When this occurs, a seam develops between the branch and trunk and the bark becomes "included," or trapped between the branch and trunk. Branches with included bark do not attach well to the tree, and are prone to decay and breakage. This is the reason many gardeners avoid trees with this structure. One of the best examples of this is the Bradford pear tree.

I would like to order my new perennial flowers through mail-order catalogues. Is it best to order bare-root plants or plants in pots?

You can receive good quality plants either way, but it will depend on the type of plant you are ordering.

Plants with large tuberous roots or rhizomes like iris, daylily, and peony are most often sold as bare-root plants. They transplant readily as bare-root plants, so it makes little sense to ship them in heavy, bulky, soil-filled pots. Also, there are hundreds of cultivars and varieties of these plants available through catalogues as bare-root plants, but you may only find a few varieties available in containers.

With a few exceptions, all other perennials can be purchased bare root or in containers. To save on shipping costs, I order bare-root plants whenever possible and buy my container plants from local garden centers. Keep in mind that various bare-root plants ship at different times of the year. For example, daylilies ship throughout the growing season, while iris and peonies only ship in late summer or early fall. Most other bare-root perennials only ship during late winter when they are dormant.


1. Warm winter days provide an opportunity to complete laborious chores that you may not have time for later in the year. This is a good time to remove invasive plants like ivy and honeysuckle from your landscape.

2. Resist the temptation to dig in your garden when the soil is wet. Digging during wet winter months can compact the soil and can destroy soil structure.

3. Find and remove any bagworm bags from your evergreen trees and shrubs. The bags contain hundreds of eggs that will hatch in the spring and spread the insect.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic.umd.edu.

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