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The berry cluster on a native sumac bush stands upright, while the cluster hangs from a tree of heaven, which also doesn't have a sumac's pretty fall leaf colors. - Original Credit: Handout
The berry cluster on a native sumac bush stands upright, while the cluster hangs from a tree of heaven, which also doesn't have a sumac's pretty fall leaf colors. - Original Credit: Handout (Ellen Nibali / HANDOUT)

I’m on the alert for invasive spotted lanternfly. Is this tree of heaven? I want to remove it from my yard if it is going to attract them.

You’ll be glad to know this is native sumac, not tree of heaven (Ailanthus). Notice how the sumac berry cluster points up, like a red flame. Tree of heaven seed clusters hang down, each seed inside a flat samara like a small disc, that dries to brown-gray in winter.

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Both have long, compound leaves, but sumac’s fall leaf color is pretty reds and oranges. Tree of heaven’s fall leaves are described by plant guru Michael Dirr as having “no fall color” — not attractive at all. Sumac berries are highly valuable to wildlife and can be made into a beverage like raspberry lemonade. So sumac can be enjoyed by you and your wildlife.

Meanwhile, spotted lanternflies have been laying eggs. The gray egg masses look like mud, and can crack as they age. Check tree trunks, but also anything else outdoors, including vehicles, especially those that have been in Pennsylvania. Report any evidence of them. Search for “spotted lanternfly” on the Home and Garden Information Center website..

Something is happening to our hollies and laurels. Their leaves started to get off-color, then brown, some weeks ago. We were told it was lack of water. I began slow, soaking watering. Now we’ve had rain, but still no improvement. How can I help them recover? Who should we call to treat them?

We have had record-breaking drought in recent months, with up to a 6” rain deficit. Recent rains are only beginning to replace lost soil moisture. Our beautiful fall weather has come at a cost to plants declining from drought stress.

Your plants are too far gone to recover. By the time shrubs wilt or turn brown, it is usually too late. Below ground, some roots already have dried up and died. Water will not revive dead roots. A severely diminished root system struggles to support above-ground growth.

In evergreens, the symptoms of drought are very slow in showing. (Think of Christmas trees which stay green for weeks after being cut down.) Evergreens, especially broad-leaved evergreens including rhododendrons, azaleas and inkberry, suffer even more if they go into winter in dry soil. (Some soil is now dry a few feet deep.) Water deeply until the ground freezes.

Give yourself a rain gauge as a gift — it’s the only way to truly know how much rain your plants are getting. Summer storms are highly localized, and a weather report cannot reflect your rainfall accurately.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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