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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

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HOME GROWN 331

We have a water softener. It appears that the softener drains its salty water outside beside the house. I have an evergreen and a dogwood that have been looking worse each year right by where the salty water drains. What can I put on the ground to neutralize the salt so I can save 
these trees?


Unfortunately, horticulture has little in common with cooking. You can't add sugar to counteract the salt. And there really are not any other products that make the salt go away. The only thing would be water and lots of it. Huge quantities of water can push the salt through. But that water softener keeps running and dumping salt. So the hope of a fix is only fleeting. The reason that the plants in the vicinity of the softener look bad or die is because they disrupt the function of the plant roots. Roots take in moisture. Salt absorbs moisture. Salt does a much better job of taking moisture from the soil and literally sucks it out of the plant roots. Once the salt desiccates the roots, they are very dead and can never be rehydrated. If the evergreen and the dogwood look bad, there's no hope. If they are less than fifty percent damaged and are small enough, they could be moved to new locations in the spring. There survival will still be iffy. Don't replace your ailing plants. The next ones will have the same fate.

This year we are buying our first Christmas tree. Have you got a few things that we should look for so we get a good tree?

I've got a list and you don't even need to check it twice. Before your leave the house, decide on the size tree that you want for your chose place. Often, you are paying by the foot for a tree. Set a top price limit but remember that the $10 trees are mainly a thing of the past. Cutting a tree at a tree farm will guarantee a fresher tree than buying from a lot. But with a tree from either a lot or a tree farm, run your hand along the needles. Green needles should not be falling off the tree. Check the newspaper for locations and hours of Christmas tree farms. If having a tree with a fragrance is important, direct your nose to any of the firs, especially Fraser. They supposedly retain their needles better than balsam, which is another scented tree. The firs and Douglasfir will have a clean evergreen scent. Concolor or white fir smells like tangerine or citrus. Spruces and pines have little odor. If softness of needles is important because of little kids running into the tree or putting on ornaments, avoid blue spruce because they can be prickly. If color is important, Fraser fir is impressive with green glossy needles on top and needles that almost appear to be white or silver on the reverse. Concolor firs have a soft, frosted blue coloration. If you buy a pre-cut tree, recut the trunk when you get home and put it in a bucket of clean water. Removing the trunk end that has sealed over will allow the tree to absorb moisture. If your tree was one that you cut, bring it home and put in water, too. If the cut end is dry, slice off another inch. Make sure that the tree has water in the tree stand for as long as the tree is in the house. Dry trees can be fire hazards. They can also shed tons of needles that some unlucky soul will have to pry out of the carpet or plug up the vacuum cleaner with. Some growers may offer other evergreens like Canaan fir or Black Hills spruce but if smell is important, keep your nose on the firs.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950

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