I know I am in for quite a rough winter when I am already thinking about Spring and planting my garden before Christmas even arrives. We have, in my opinion, two of the worst months coming up and I am already wishing I could be playing in the garden more so I need to focus on what I can do in the garden to keep my trees and shrubs happy while keeping me focused on the upcoming growing season. I thought after a little brainstorming, it would be beneficial to share some of my thoughts.
First and foremost, I absolutely need to apply new mulch in my landscape beds and backyard this winter. Now I know that it is a Spring ritual to put down mulch and make flower beds look fresh and now just in time for the flush of new growth. While it’s nearly impossible to argue against the aesthetic pop of fresh Spring mulch, it is almost as hard to argue against the plant benefits of putting mulch down in the late fall to early Winter. All of the benefits of mulch are essentially the same regardless of when mulch is put down but it is of most importance during the Summer and Winter which are the two most stressful times for plants. Fresh Spring mulch applications help protect roots during the Summer but can often break down enough during the growing season that much of its insulation and protective value is lost by the time Winter comes. One added benefit is that it is usually much easier to work around shrubs in the Winter and all perennials have died back making application easier.
With the leaves off of most trees and dormancy fully set in, it is a great time to do structural pruning as well. I have a very fast-growing and aggressive Chinese Lacebark Elm in my backyard that would be a structural nightmare without annual attention so it always gets a bit of pruning in the Winter. Bare limbs make it very easy to see any developing structural issues that can be addressed before they become structural failures. My largest focus is always subordinating co-dominant stems and reducing back aggressively growing lateral limbs to help coax my Elm upward before it develops primary limbs too close to the ground. Without previous pruning, the Elm would look much like a Bradford Pear with multiple interior stems that would cause the tree to split in half as it grows larger.
Knowing that I have been properly pruning my Elm keeps me out of the risk zone of having future failures, but most trees aren’t planted and pruned by a Certified Arborist every year. It’s for this exact reason that I begrudgingly accept Winter as I can see through the canopy of trees to determine if there are any larger structural concerns or defects on my client’s trees. While I don’t have larger trees to worry about on my property, I do somewhat like this time of year as I can catch issues on my client’s properties before potential issues turn into failures. It not uncommon for broken limbs and split stems to be masked by foliage until leaves fall at which point they stick out like sore thumbs.
Finally, this is a really great time of year to live a little in the future and plan out what your goals are for your landscape, gardens, and trees in the coming year. I am already focused on purchasing flower and vegetable seeds with some of my earliest plants, Lisianthus to be exact, going into my seed starting tent on January 1. They take 3 to 4 months of growth indoors before they can be planted outside so an early jump is the only way to successfully grow this plant. While most sane people do not dive into gardening as much as myself, it is still a great time to look around your landscape to see if there are any areas that could use a new tree or shrub or possibly even need one or two fewer. A dormant and quiet landscape makes it much easier to assess the “bones” of a landscape.
As the holiday season quickly comes and goes we are all left with several cold and usually dreary months that make most of us yearn for Spring. Take that time to decide your goals for your landscape and trees in the coming year and start making a plan. If your assessment turns up issues, it’s much easier to address them in the dormant season and if not, a plan will already be made when the time is right.