Question: There is huge tumor-like growth on the side of one of our oak trees. What is this and should I try to cut it off?

Answer: The tumor like growth is referred to as a burl. What causes a burl to form on some trees and not others is not fully understood. Possible causes include fungi, bacteria, insects, genetic mutation or physical injury. Regardless, these large bulges are abnormal swellings that develop from a proliferation of bud tissue that keeps multiplying instead of developing into shoots. I see it all the time especially on the trunks of red maple. Burls continue to get larger each year as the tree grows. There are no cures for burls and really no cause for concern. With that said, they do reduce tree vigor and shorten their life. However, do not attempt to remove the burl by cutting it off. Such an injury will lead to decay and shorten the tree's life even faster. The unusual swirling wood grain pattern inside the burl is prized by woodworkers. Entire burls can be carved into bowls or art objects. Thin veneers of burl wood are used on musical instruments. Burls can be quite fascinating, or at least they are to me.


Question: I have been advised to remove the mulch from around my shrubs because it causes termites. Is this something I should do?

Answer: Termites can be found on everyone's property if you know where to look' and they go to great extremes to find wood to eat. They will even enter buildings surrounded by concrete and asphalt. In other words, if there is no chemical treatment to stop them, they will find a food source. Their primary food source is cellulose, a component of wood. But they will also feed on cotton, burlap, paper, and other plant material. They move within earthen tunnels to protect them from predators and from dryness. They go to great extremes not to be seen. Their earthen tunnels can go up trees, vines and walls. Many of the mulching materials that are used around homes contain mostly bark. Cellulose is not a component of bark or pine needles, therefore termites will not eat it. However, termites will tunnel under all kinds of mulch to get to a food source. The best advice I can give is not to pile mulch against the foundation of the house so you can spot their earthen tunnels. Taper the mulch as you get to the foundation. Your protection from termites depends on your termite treatment. Most treatments last around 8-10 years. Have your home inspected by a licensed pest control company every 2-3 years to be on the safe side.


Question: Is it okay to deadhead newly planted annuals?

Answer: Many annual plants have a spike, or single flower stem. Example would be marigolds, salvia and vinca. If you like, you can let the flowers remain until they fade and then snip the flower stem just above the leaves. This method of deadheading will remove the flower and you will be left with just a green plant. However, this type of pruning will encourage the plant to put out new lateral growth and increase flower bud formation. The plants become wider and more colorful. It is somewhat disheartening to remove all the flowers from newly planted annuals, not to mention your gardening skills coming into question. But in about 2-3 weeks you will be vindicated.


Question: I forgot to lime my yard this winter. Do I need to wait until fall and try again?

Answer: You can apply lime year-round. Lime will start the long process of reducing soil acidity with the first rain. Pelletized lime is recommended for lawns, shrubs and flower beds. It is much cleaner and easier to apply than ground limestone. Use ground limestone (flour like) before you rototill to get the lime deeper in the soil and so it can contact more of the soil particles.


Rett Davis is a retired Alamance County Extension Director and certified arborist. You can email your questions to him at