Walter Reeves: Branch spreaders do help trees

A finishing nail in both ends of a dowel makes a home-made branch spreader

Q: What is your opinion about using branch spreaders to increase the crotch angle between the trunk and branches that are growing more upright than horizontal on a mountain ash tree? Is it a good idea or just a waste of time? — Kurt Diegel, Cleveland

A: Apple growers use branch spreaders all the time to make their trees have better spaced and angled limbs.

You could probably buy a few from an apple orchard in nearby Ellijay. Or you can make your own by driving a finishing nail into both ends of an appropriate length of 3/4-inch dowel and clipping the nail head to make a sharp point. Wedge the spreader between the trunk and an upright limb to make it grow more horizontally.

Q: We have moved back to Georgia and are planting a new garden. I need help with the layout for a 30-foot by 50-foot garden. — Sheri Samples, Forsyth County

A: Planting a new garden is an enjoyable adventure, but it's easy to over-plant or under-plant in your first year. You'll also need lots of tips on fertilizing and watering. The University of Georgia has an excellent series of online vegetable gardening publications at

Q: We would like to get rid of bamboo in our yard. The previous owners planted the bamboo as a privacy screen. Can we dig it out? — Jane Cronin, Candler Park

A: You can control it by digging, but it will be a miserable process. A friend found a patch in her backyard three years ago.

She hired a teenager to dig it all up, but she continues to find sprouts coming from undiscovered underground stems. Bamboo extends its underground parts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.

It puts up green sprouts in spring, but it is extending its roots the rest of the year. In my opinion, the best you can hope for is to chop it all down to ground level and then dig up every sprout that appears or spray glyphosate (Roundup, etc.) on any bamboo tip that emerges for the next four years. Either way, eventually you’ll starve it to death.

Q: I had my soil tested last fall, and the report said that my soil was deficient in phosphorus and potassium. I used 10-10-10 for the first fertilization. When should I retest? — Trae Cutchin, email

A: It takes a while for nutrients to spread uniformly through the soil. I'd wait until this fall to test again. For soil testing details, see

Q: In the last few weeks, we have noticed that oak trees are shedding their bark profusely. The bark is simply falling off the trees in bits and pieces. What is happening to our wonderful trees? — Martha Moore, Hoschton

A: There are two possible explanations. The first is that the trees have simply had two drought-free years of growth and the trunks are expanding more rapidly than the bark can accommodate. Another possibility is that the trees have smooth patch disease. This fungus decomposes the outer bark of trees, particularly white oak, and causes it to slough off. After a storm, you might see several large pieces of bark at the base of the tree. Neither condition hurts the tree. If your oaks have full canopies of leaves, there is no need to worry.

Listen to Walter Reeves 6-10 a.m. Saturdays on AM 750 and 95.5 FM News-Talk WSB. Visit his website,, or join his Facebook Fan Page at for more garden tips.