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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Why maple trees drop an abundance of polynoses, why cannas don't need overwintering

Reader Stuart Koenig of East Northport got a

Reader Stuart Koenig of East Northport got a lovely surprise -- blooms on his canna -- when he brought the tropical plant indoors. Credit: Stuart Koenig

DEAR JESSICA: We have a large maple tree that is over 60 years old. It is such a beautiful large tree that we even had an arborist prune it to keep it healthy. However, for the past two years, the tree has produced polynoses (or helicopters) year-round instead of just during the spring. In a week's time, we can fill up an entire garbage can. It has been nonstop. I have read that the tree produces extra polynoses after the tree has had a stressed winter. It is not showing signs of stress and looks relatively healthy. Is there something we should be doing to prevent this? I really do not want to take the tree down. — Debra Burns, West Sayville

DEAR DEBRA: Those "polynoses," also referred to as helicopters and whirligigs, are technically called samaras, and they are the fruit of your maple tree. Each winged samara contains seeds, which, as part of their brilliant design, float aerodynamically away from the tree before landing on the ground. Eventually, the wings are separated and the seeds become lodged into the soil, or planted.

Different types of maples — red, sugar, black, for instance — drop samaras at different times of year. I'm assuming you have a red maple, which typically does this during spring. Like many fruit trees, oaks and even maples can be "alternate bearing," which means they put all their energy into producing an abundant crop one year and then seemingly take the next year off to rest, producing just a few. Maples often have a longer cycle of two to five years, as do oaks, which produced bumper crops of acorns on Long Island in 2016.

But since this is the second consecutive year you've experienced this, my guess is the weather has played a role, and your tree is responding to recent harsh winters by going into survival mode and producing as many potential offspring as possible to keep its lineage alive.

There really isn't anything you can — or should — do to prevent this. But you'll want to be diligent about raking the samaras away before they root into little weed trees all over your property.

DEAR JESSICA: I have had a very large canna plant in a large pot for many years that I have kept inside on my dining room window sill. It has southern exposure and gets plenty of sunlight. Up to this year, it was rather skimpy looking, so I brought it outside during the warm, humid rainy summer. During that time, it really flourished with plentiful lush green leaves. When the weather started getting colder in October, I brought it back indoors. A day or two later I was surprised to see beautiful yellow and red flowers blooming from the top of the plant, something that hasn't happened in years. Did I do something right? Do you have any further suggestions to maintain the beauty of this plant? — Stuart Koenig, East Northport

DEAR STUART: You seem to know something about cannas that many folks do not: their bulbs — rhizomes, actually — don't need to be stored over winter. Unlike, say, tulips, cannas don't require chilling or a period of rest to store up energy to bloom again. They will produce flowers year-round under the right conditions.

As tropical plants well-suited to swampy conditions, they only enter dormancy as a means of survival during periods of drought, so they'll keep growing and blooming as long as they receive plenty of sunlight and water, which they likely received outdoors during summer. Your dining room seems to be providing sufficient sunlight, as well.

Provide a balanced fertilizer over winter at one-quarter the recommended rate, and increase that to one-half what the package label directs during spring and summer. In addition, when the flowers fade, cut away the entire stalk on which they grew. The plant will then be better equipped to direct its energy into producing more stalks and flowers.

DEAR JESSICA: I recently moved my crape myrtle to a more sun-filled spot in my yard, and it is flourishing. I would like your opinion as to how I should prune it and when it is best to do so. I've had many blooms this season and I want to ensure that continues. I read your thoughts and advice regularly, and I look forward to your insight so that my wife can believe that I have another talent that she never knew I had! — George Wurzer, Huntington Station

DEAR GEORGE: It doesn't sound like you need my help to convince your wife you have a green thumb. You seem to be doing very well on your own.

Most people don't bother pruning crape myrtles — even I don't — but your instinct is correct: Pruning these trees results in earlier blooms, and more of them.

The best time to prune crape myrtles is early spring, before they break dormancy. Select the five or seven strongest, most attractively spaced trunks, and cut all the others off at the soil line. This will allow for ample air circulation throughout the plant and sunlight to reach all its parts. Next, observe the tree from a distance and plan your strategy. Then make cuts with an eye toward reducing crowded, crisscrossed and weak or damaged branches.


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