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Skaggs: Give trees, shrubs a little TLC this winter
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Halloween is behind us, and Thanksgiving is fast-approaching. Many already have begun shopping and making their holiday preparations.

And while this is a busy time of year, you shouldn't completely forget about the trees and shrubs that make up the ‘bones' of your landscape.

Trees and shrubs provide structure, texture, color and form to the landscape and are valuable long-term investments.

Winter is a difficult time for trees and shrubs. They must endure drying cold winds; food reserves must be carefully conserved for the coming months; and water will be lost from the tree. And, hungry animals often will feed on the resting buds and twigs.

Little things can help your trees and shrubs survive the long winter. A few small investments now can payoff in a big way, yielding healthy and structurally sound trees and shrubs. Here are a few things you can do to winterize your trees and shrubs.

  • Remove or correct structural faults and deadwood that is clearly visible.
  • Properly prune branches that will hang too low when loaded with rain or ice.
  • Remove damaged and declining twigs, branches and bark. Do not leave pests food for winter.
  • Remove any new sprouts that have grown at the tree base or along the stems and branches. Pruning should conserve as many living branches as possible with only a few selective cuts.
  • Spread a thin layer of composted organic mulch to blanket the soil. Mulch is nature's way of recycling valuable materials, but be careful not to overdo it.
  • Fertilize with all essential elements, if they are in short supply. But be sure to go light with the nitrogen, especially under large, mature trees and around newly planted shrubs. If you are unsure of your plants' nutritional requirements, have your soil tested at the county Extension office.
  • Fall is an excellent time to apply lime to trees and shrubs struggling to grow in acidic soils. Lime is applied to increase soil pH. Lime takes two to three months to work, so a fall application will provide ample time to increase pH.
  • Watering may be needed where soils are cool but not frozen if we move into a period of little rain. However, be careful not to overdo it as it is much easier to over-water your trees and shrubs in winter as moisture loss from evaporation is reduced.
  • If making new additions to the landscape, keep in mind that some ball-and-burlap trees and shrubs now are sold wrapped in synthetic burlap. The problem is that the fake burlap won't rot in the ground. This results in a root-bound plant that doesn't grow well if you leave the burlap in place. If in doubt, cut it away from the root ball once the plant is in place.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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