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Gardening Tips: January

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Planting Christmas tree:
If you have bought a live Christmas tree with the intent of planting it outdoors after the holiday, there are some things of which you should be aware. Never leave the tree in the house longer then 7 to 10 days after Christmas. The longer the plant is in the warm house, the less likely the plant will survive outdoors. After removing the plant from the house, take it to an unheated garage or shelter for several days to help the plant acclimate to the cold weather. Keep the ball moist at all times, but do not allow the root ball to freeze since this will result in root damage. Dig the hole the right size for planting. Be sure to plant the tree at the right depth and water it in well. Apply a mulch layer of 3 to 4 inches out to the drip line of the tree to insulate the soil from extreme temperatures in order to prevent root damage


If you missed this important application last month its not to late. Spraying an anti-desiccant could mean life or death to some evergreens. Evergreens that are sprayed with these anti-dessicant products are protected from moisture loss, even when the plant is exposed to harsh winter sun and winds. For full details see December’s gardening tips.  These products usually have a life of about 60 days so reapplying in February may not be necessary. 

Winter pruning:
If you have a lot of major pruning to do in your shade and ornamental trees, the winter months are the best time to do this work. Without the leaves on the trees, it is much easier to see the branching patterns. Start by removing all dead wood and thinning the interior of the tree. You are also looking to remove cross over branching and competitive branching. Be careful not to thin the tree too much. It would be better for the tree to prune it half way this year and half next year. Pruning and thinning too much will cause the plant stress in recovering and it will respond by growing multiple suckers the following year. If the job requires using a ladder or chain saw, consider hiring a certified arborist to do the job safely. Chain saws are very dangerous, especially when using them in a tree or from a ladder. Never top a tree by just stubbing it back. Head reduction can be done by selectively pruning back to a lateral bud to reduce the size of the plant. Lifting the head of a tree is the removal of lower branches from the trunk to create more headroom between the ground and lower limbs of the tree. This is done mainly to give plants growing under the tree more light and air. These cuts will heal much more quickly if the branch collar is left in place and not cut into.

Rodent control:
Check the mulch layer around newly planted trees and shrubs for rodent nests or chewing damage. These rodents are drawn to young trees and shrubs for their tender bark, which provide food to survive the long winter. You can protect these trees by not mulching against the trunks or not planting groundcover within a foot of the trunks. If this a constant problem, try using a commercial tree wrap during the winter months and removing it in the spring. Be sure to inspect around the tree ring because some rodents burrow in the ground and feed on root systems.

Attracting birds:
Birds can be an important aspect of our backyard environment. The population in your backyard can be increased with the proper selection of trees and shrubs. To attract and keep them all year you need to provide food, cover, nesting areas and water. The selection of food production plants can ensure the presence of birds year-round. Since birds require cover there should be a mix of deciduous and evergreen plants, this will provide protection from the weather and natural predators. Some plants that are good for attracting birds in the winter months are Dogwood, Hawthorn, Holly, Japanese yew, Crabapple, and some Viburnum. If the landscape does not provide food during certain times of the year, you can supplement with commercial seed mixes. Some birds will feed on a large variety of seeds but some will only eat one or two varieties. The seeds that appeal to the majority of birds are sunflower, millet, nyjer (thistle) and peanut hulls. A source of fresh water is also necessary for keeping birds year round. Birds need water to drink and bathing, so they are attracted to water just as they are to feeders. The water source should be shallow and replaced on a regular basis running water such as a shallow fountain is ideal. During the winter months a birdbath heater will keep ice from forming.