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Fielding Questions: Should soil be added to tree roots?

Q. Is it a good idea to add soil around my beautiful blue spruce trees? I was always told that this would harm the roots. – Geri Engle, Fargo

A. It is usually not advised to add soil over the root zone of trees. Tree roots grow and occupy the soil layers and depths that best optimize their growth. Additional soil can smother roots and lead to a tree’s decline. An inch of soil would probably cause no harm, but it sounds like your trees are beautiful, and I’d hesitate to make changes. Spruce roots are fairly shallow, and deep cultivation is also not recommended.

Q. I’ve moved into a new house and haven’t planted grass yet. The property still needs to be graded and a sprinkler system installed before grass is planted. Should we take our time with this since the dogs days of summer haven’t happened yet? I want to make sure the lawn has enough time to grow before the fall months.

– James Frandson, Fargo

A. You have several options for establishing a good lawn before fall, and a sprinkler system will help greatly. Late summer and early fall before Sept. 15 is the preferred time for lawn seeding.

Cool temperatures and autumn moisture favor vigorous grass establishment, and weed competition is less. Spring months of May and June are next best, and grass can do very well. The least preferred months are July and August.

Hot, windy days make it difficult to maintain uniform, constant moisture that is necessary for grass seed to germinate. But it is possible. Mary and I seeded the lawns at St. Anthony’s church on Fargo’s south 10th Street in July a number of years ago, and it performed well with vigilant watering. Your sprinkler system will help, regardless of the option you choose.

Q. I have an older maple tree that has many small holes in the trunk and some of the bark is peeled off, but it does have leaves. I also have two evergreen trees that are dead with small holes in the bark, too. What should I do with them and will this spread to other trees? They are not next to each other. – Lois Breker, Rutland, N.D.

A. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there are few, if any diseases and insects that move between different species of trees. That is why diversity in planting is important to prevent widespread problems caused by using too many of one type.

Your maple and evergreens probably had separate, individual troubles. Peeling bark on the maple indicates injury from another problem, and the holes may be caused by insects that have moved in secondarily. Likewise with the spruce. Or if the holes are in neat rows, sapsuckers or woodpeckers may be responsible.

Burlap or tar paper wrapped over the area of activity can deter them. Now for the bad news. Your dead spruce will remain dead, and the only choice is to remove and replace.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city, and state for appropriate advice.