I know we are still getting blizzards here and there as winter winds down, but if you are like me, being indoors too much will drive you crazy. Spring is in full swing in the southern most regions of the country, where vegetable gardening is already underway. A late winter storm or two might pop up soon, but there are a few landscape duties we may need to attend to before spring really arrives.
While plants are still dormant, they are easier to inspect and to treat for some insect and disease problems. Inspect all fruit trees, ash, elm, euonymus, lilac, magnolia, maple, arborvitae, junipers and yews. Scale insects can kill a tree or shrub in a few years if left untreated. They remain attached to the branches in a dormant stage and are easy to detect and treat once you recognize them. Compare the healthy branches to the ones that were not doing well last year. Scale insects often look like clumps of scabs or tiny oyster shells. They can be scraped off with a fingernail, leaving bark underneath.
The easiest and safest treatment is a dormant oil spray that can be purchased at any garden center. Follow the directions, which may include a certain temperature requirement for use.
If you have peach trees, you may have seen the symptoms of the fungal disease called peach leaf curl. This disease causes the leaves to be puckered, distorted and reddish in color. The leaves fall off quickly in the spring, forcing the tree to spend energy creating new leaves instead of producing fruit. It can kill the tree in a few years. Fungicides applied when you see the damaged leaves will do no good. It must be applied before the buds start to swell in the spring.
A fungicide applied in the winter is the most effective. The whole tree must be coated and, again, check temperature requirements. You can use either the organic approved Bordeaux mix of copper sulfate and lime or many other fungicides that list peach leaf curl on the label.
Late winter, after the coldest spells have passed, is a good time to prune dormant trees. It is the time of year that there are no diseases or insects to infect the open wounds. Since there are no leaves on the trees, you can see the structure of the tree.
Look for and remove broken branches and branches that are crossing near each other or rubbing on each other. Remove vertical branches growing on horizontal branches. These are called water sprouts and they often have a weak attachment to the branch from which they are growing. As they get larger, they grow through the middle of the tree, rubbing on many horizontal branches on the way up.
Look at the placement of branches around the trunk. It is best if they radiate out in all directions, instead of mostly on one side. It is also best if they are evenly spaced vertically up the trunk. Try to create a balanced tree by removing branches that are not in a good structural arrangement. This is more important on young trees because you can set the shape for many years to come.
The closer to spring that you prune, the more likely it is that birches, maples and walnuts may "bleed" when the sap begins to flow. What seems like an excess of sap may run down the trunk from the new pruning cuts. This sap flow is not harmful and will stop as the tree leaves come out.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at email@example.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.