1. Q: I have a couple of Catalina Cherry trees in my back yard. After many years of sweeping up and tossing out the fruit (I didn't know what it was) I finally started eating them. They are not as sweet as most commercial varieties, and very little fruit (mostly pit), but still tasty. The pits are very large, and easy to crack open. They nut meat smells exactly like raw almonds. I nibbled one and it tastes like raw almonds. Can these be dried and eaten or roasted and eaten?? I have heard rumors/old wives tales that stone fruit pits contain cyanide, and can be lethal, yet my dog swallows them, and a friend of mine ate half of one with no apparent ill effects. What do you know about cherry pits, or Catalina cherry pits, if there is a difference?

A: All cherry pits contain small amounts of cyanide and cause poisoning if eaten in large quantities. The key is the dosage or amount as with any product- for example, plain ole table salt--a necessary mineral for the body, however, too much and it is all over.

2. Q: We have a sweet cherry tree that we planted in 1993. It has done well so far, but we recently noticed a sticky, sappy substance coming from the bark at its base. We have been very careful when mowing or working around the tree. What could be causing this? Is it an injury?

There are several possible things that may have caused your tree to "bleed" (1) bark damage caused by lawnmower or WeedEater trimmer (2) bacterial canker or blight (3) borer insects in the trunk. If it is borer insects, you will see a small, round hole under the sap (after removing the sap) It is too late to treat since the borer is already in the tree and doing its damage.

3. Q: I just got back from a ten day vacation and found that my cherry trees went from looking very healthy before I left to apparently dead now. The leaves are a burnt orange color. My neighbor's cherry tree also died during this time. I have several other fruit trees (apples, peaches, plums) and they look fine. All of my trees are about five years old. The weather was mostly hot and humid with no rain while I was gone. I watered my trees before I left so I don't think they got too dry.

A: A big problem we have in Texas about this time of year is cotton root rot. It kills just as you described, healthy one day and dead the next. Although, I doubt this is what happened to your cherry trees, it does sound like a root problem of some sort--probably a different fungus-- maybe post oak root rot. What happens is that these fungi are feeding on the roots all the while we think the plants are doing good. Then when the stress of summer sets in we only have a limited root system to support the top and wham the plants die overnight. So in reality they die from a lack of water, but not because none was available.

The only way to know for sure is to take some root samples to your local Extension agent and ask him to have an expert look at them and see if he can determine if a fungus was involved. Also not all plants are equally susceptible to the fungi; ie the reason some plants look good and others die.

Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about such fungus problems except avoid the area for planting again.

4. Q: I planted two bing cherry trees two years ago. I want to keep them low to the ground (no more than 6 to 8 ft tall). When is the best time to prune them and will it be OK to prune the branches as they begin to exceed the 6 to 8 ft height?

A: The best time to prune is right at budbreak, just as the buds begin to swell. In this way the wounds will heal over rapidly and not be open for an extended period of time. No problem with pruning to keep them at 6 to 8 feet. Try not to cut or lop branches right in the middle though. This cut is referred to as a heading cut and encourages rampant growth at the cut off point. Hence remove the limbs back to a main branch to reduce the amount of this regrowth. You can continue to prune all summer as well to keep your trees in bounds.

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