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Q. I’m looking for a tree about 20 foot tall for the corner in the backyard that will be decorative all four seasons: flowers in the spring, pretty green foliage in the summer, colorful foliage in the fall and berries in the winter. I live in Fort Wayne, and the soil is a lot of clay. Can I still plant this tree in December? Will it need watered?

Also, one more question please. I’m not sure what kind of decorative tree we have in the front yard, but it’s been there about 10 years, and this year the leaves and berries seemed very sparse. I didn’t notice any bugs on it. Is there some fertilizer I can put on it?

A. Recommending a specific tree for someone else is a bit like recommending what model cell phone to buy — so much of this choice is about personal preferences, budget, etc. I can think of several that would hit three of your four criteria, but I am hard pressed to come up with a recommendation that meets all four. The crabapple ‘Prairiefire’ might come pretty close — it has coral-red flowers in spring with red-tinged green foliage, purple-red fruits in summer that persist through the late autumn, speckled bark and interesting red-purple fall color. Washington hawthorn has white flowers in spring, good fall color and glossy red fruit that persist well into winter.

I suggest these additional ideas for small trees with multi-season interest.

Crabapple ‘Royal Raindrops’ has burgundy-red spring blossoms, red-purple fruit in summer through mid-autumn, lovely cut-leaf foliage that emerges deep red in spring changing to green in summer and orange-red in fall.

There are numerous other crabapple cultivars that have outstanding flowers and fruit, but not particularly great fall color, such as ‘Sugar Tyme’ (white flowers, red fruit), ‘Bob White’ (white flowers, yellow fruit), ‘Donald Wyman’ (white flowers, bright red fruit), and ‘Red Jewel’ (white flowers, red fruit).

Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) has white flowers in spring, followed by edible red fruits in early summer, which the birds devour, and many selections have excellent yellow or orange fall color.

Japanese maples come in a wide array of foliage color and shape, and tree size and some have outstanding color in spring, summer and/or fall.

The Kousa dogwood is a wonderful small tree or large multi-stemmed shrub with white flowers a bit later than the flowering dogwood, good fall leaf color and outstanding mottled bark for winter interest.

Speaking of outstanding bark, my personal favorite is the paperbark maple, Acer griseum, with cinnamon brown peeling bark and great fall color.

You’ll need to wait to plant until the soil thaws in late winter or early spring to plant your new tree. Information on planting trees and shrubs can be found in Purdue Extension Bulletin HO-100 http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-100.pdf and fertilizing woody plants in HO-140 http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-140.pdf.

Q. A friend of mine covers his tomato garden with a large amount of grass clippings. Does this create a fungus? By mid summer, his vines turn black and die. When I used to raise tomatoes, I would have green vines and green tomatoes until frost.

A. Grass clippings don’t directly cause fungal disease of tomato plants. However, any mulch that is applied too thickly can keep the soil overly wet, leading to conditions that favor the development of fungal infection. Several common tomato diseases can cause blackened foliage, including late blight, which was a problem in Indiana in 2009. There is information about this disease available from Purdue’s department of Plant Pathology at http://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/hot09/8-6.html. If your friend continues to have this trouble in next year’s garden, you might suggest that he contact the Purdue Extension office in his county to get help diagnosing the problem. You’ll find contact information for your county at http://www.ag.purdue.edu/extension/Pages/Counties.aspx.

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