Poplar tree can grow leaves in weird ways

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I have a poplar tree in my backyard that is 1 1/2 years old. Over the past year and a half it has done a few funny things. Upon planting it, the leaves went yellow in the summer. I think we were over watering.

Last summer (summer No. 2), we went easy on the watering and the tree grew very well with the exception of one strange thing, the new leaves that grew on the bottom branches were small to regular size (2–4 inches across), but the leaves that grew on the top new growth part of the tree were extremely huge (10 or more inches across).

Also, the center top most branch curled over last summer and is still that way. Will that curved over branch straighten back up and grow as we move into spring, or do I need to cut it off so that the top of the tree continues to grow straight?

— Kevin

Those big leaves you saw last summer are completely normal. In fact, they are a good sign. When members of the genus Populus (cottonwoods, poplars, aspens) are planted, their leaves are relatively small and somewhat sparse. They do this while they’re putting most of their energy below ground, rooting out and establishing themselves.

Once that process has happened, they’ll often push out growth that has these oversized leaves like you saw. I like to term it “exuberance” on the part of the tree. People often think they got a cottonwood instead of a petite aspen or something. It’s just a sign that the tree is happy and progressing.

This coming year I would expect your tree to “downshift” and produce more normal sized leaves. However, it’s still normal for a cottonwood to produce slightly larger leaves later in the season compared to the leaves that first come out in the spring.

That curled over stem is not going to straighten for you. I’d get up on a ladder now and cut the tip off.

My yucca cactus get those pretty white flowers in the spring but then all of these brown bugs hang on the flowers and cover them. How can I kill them?

— Carla

Those yellowish-brown bugs you’re seeing on your yucca flowers are aphids. It seems that they magically appear when the flower stalk elongates and the flowers start to open. Besides looking awful, they suck sap from the plant and pretty much ruin the flowers.

They’re fairly easy to control, but the trick is to start treating for them when the flower stalk is growing up so you can nip the problem in the bud, so to speak.

Probably the most effective treatment is to use a systemic insecticide spray such as acephate or imidacloprid. In fact, done early, one spray usually can take care of the problem for this year. Malathion also works effectively, but since it’s not a systemic, make sure you get good coverage of the flower stalk with the spray.

If you don’t want to use chemical insecticides, giving the plant a shower every couple of days with a hard spray of cold water from the hose will help keep the aphid numbers down. Also, insecticidal soaps and season-long spray oils are quite effective but, as with the malathion, you need to get good, complete coverage.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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