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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: the beautiful Stewartia tree

A Stewartia tree growing in reader Frank DelliSanti's

A Stewartia tree growing in reader Frank DelliSanti's garden. Credit: Handout

DEAR JESSICA: Last year I lost a 20-year-old tree to Tropical Storm Irene. It was one of four along my property line. I would like to replace it, but I'm having a hard time finding out what kind of tree it is. The delicate bark peels like a birch, and it flowers in spring and early summer. The petals are white, and their center is yellow. It is multi-trunked, and in fall the leaves turn many wonderful shades of red. I have attached some photos.
-- Frank DelliSanti, Deer Park

DEAR FRANK: That's a Stewartia, which seems terribly underused in the Long Island landscape. As you've pointed out, it has a beautiful exfoliating bark that adds dramatic interest in winter, beautiful autumn color and springtime flowers, all of which combine to make it a wonderful four-season addition to your garden. Although Stewartias can grow to 40 feet, they're initially slow-growing. They do best in moist but well-drained acidic soil in a spot with full morning sun or part shade.

DEAR JESSICA: We have a row of 24 arborvitaes behind our home, planted in 2006. This past spring we noticed some browning, and with further investigation we noticed hundreds of these tiny white bugs inside the trees. We haven't done much with these trees since they were planted, Holly-tone once a year and rainwater is pretty much all they've gotten. We've also applied mulch every two years or so. We are worried that our neglect has caused this problem and don't know if these bugs are eating the trees or if they have some kind of disease. If you can help at all, we'd appreciate it. We'd hate to lose these beautiful trees.
-- Patricia Stephenson, Port Jefferson Station

DEAR PATRICIA: That's arborvitae leaf miner, and your tree is displaying the classic infestation symptoms of browning at the leaf tips. Left unchecked, trees can turn completely brown, but the good news is you can save them.

The arborvitae leaf miner emerges as a very tiny caterpillar that mines between leaf surfaces and eats all the chlorophyll, which is why the trees turn brown. They will bounce back if you apply a systemic insecticide like acephate, sold under the brand name Orthene, or spinosad, branded as Conserve. It's advisable to hire a tree professional licensed to handle pesticides instead of attempting this yourself. Also, you're using the wrong fertilizer on your trees: Holly-tone is for acid-loving plants; arborvitaes do best in alkaline soil. Instead, apply lawn fertilizer once a year at the rate of two to four pounds per 100 square feet.

DEAR JESSICA: Do you know whether Newsday is printed with soy-based ink, as many newspapers are today?
-- Anna Feuerbach, Bellmore

DEAR ANNA: Newsday is printed with both soy-based colored ink and petroleum-based black ink, as is the standard for most U.S. newspapers.

Cornell University's Waste Management Institute maintains that newspaper is safe to compost. And although some of the (black) newsprint still is petroleum-based, the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains it does not pose any threat if used as mulch or in compost., the website for Organic Gardening Magazine, actually recommends the use of black newsprint as a safe and effective mulch in both flower and vegetable gardens. However, both the site and the Cornell institute warn against using glossy color pages, such as from magazines or newspaper inserts, around plants or in compost, as their inks may contain heavy metals.

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