Sassafras roots not invasive

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Q: I discovered a sassafras sapling in my front yard eight feet from my home's foundation. I'm trying to remove all plants that have invasive root systems from near my home. Are sassafras roots invasive? Naomi Griffith, email

A: I don't consider it invasive. The sassafras root system is more of a mat of growth rather than having large roots that swell and crack concrete. On a recent trip to New York I walked the High Line elevated park. I was pleased to see how many sassafras trees had been planted alongside the walking path to provide shade, winter interest, and food for the spicebush caterpillar.

Q: We have a watershed area in our yard that I want to dig out and put in a dry steam bed to control the flow of water during storms. The problem is that there are some tree roots where I want to put the stream. The roots are two inches in diameter. Would cutting them hurt the trees? Jerry Fink, email

A: I have a large, but declining, sweetgum in my landscape whose large roots were cut to install a dry creek bed five years ago. I have no doubt that the root damage weakened the tree. This is a case where you need the eyes of a certified arborist to evaluate the situation and advise you. If you severely hurt the tree, its removal will be much more costly than hiring a consultant. Get one at

Q: I have noticed a white wad of foam around the stem where my pecans are growing. What's going on? Virginia Norris, Greene County

A: The foam is caused by pecan spittlebug nymphs. This has been a good year for spittlebugs of all kinds due to frequent rain and high humidity. The nymphs suck sap from the pecan stem and cover themselves with froth to protect themselves from predators. The good news is that they do little damage. You can use a blast of water to wash out the ones you can reach and can then forget about the rest.

Q: I had a giant pine tree cut down and have a pile of chips in the yard. Instead of picking them up I thought I might plant a crepe myrtle in the middle of it. Is this a good idea? Teddy Alexander, Marietta

A: The crapemyrtle will suffer for a few years if you don't remove the chips. Soil organisms that decompose wood chips need lots of nitrogen to accomplish their task. They will use most of the life-giving nitrogen the crapemyrtle needs to grow. Your plant will have yellow leaves until the fungi have completed their job, at which time the nitrogen will become available to your plants again. Rake out as many chips as you can, then fertilize the new crapemyrtle with a slow release product (Osmocote, Dynamite, etc) at planting. Give the rootball a feeding with water-soluble houseplant fertilizer every two months during the growing season. This should satisfy the nitrogen needs of the fungi as well as the crapemyrtle.

Q: Is there any plant that has fluorescent and/or phosphorescent properties? Mark Lamb, email

A: Hunters have long known of "foxfire", the glowing tree stumps caused by decay organisms. Likewise, visitors to Hawaii gasp at the glowing blue waves caused by phytoplankton. Certain cave fungi glow in darkness. The drug quinine can be used to water plants and they will glow under ultraviolet light as a result. The latest luminous plant effort is, which received $480,000 from a Kickstarter campaign to develop seeds for glow-in-the-dark plants. On the other hand, a Kickstopper effort has been organized to prevent these transgenic seeds from being distributed. Perhaps we'll have glowing trees lighting our streets before we know it!