University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
OUTDOOR WINTER GARDENING QUESTIONS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
How to prune evergreens, how to handle a
potted evergreen tree after use indoors for the holidays, and how to discourage
woodpeckers, are some of the common outdoor winter gardening questions.
If you have a tall Norway spruce, or
similar evergreen such as balsam fir, and want to reduce its height, how do you
go about this? If it is too tall to get
to the top comfortably, either on a sturdy ladder or with a pole saw, then hire
an arborist. It is not worth the risk of
injury or falling just to save some money.
By cutting the top out of a tree, even
one about ten feet high as I have done with some balsam firs, you will find
them getting more bushy over time. And
you will see in a year or two one of the upright side branches near the cut top
start growing upwards to become the new central leader. This is caused by redirecting of plant
hormones that are responsible for such trees growing upright. So, in time, you will have a tall tree once
again without further pruning.
Winter is a good time to prune
evergreens, provided it is warm enough to work outside comfortably. Although the cuts you make by pruning wont
heal until Spring, diseases aren't active
until then either. In Spring, the wounds
will heal rapidly as growth resumes.
Some have a small Norway spruce in a pot
they used for the holidays indoors. What
do you do with it then to keep it healthy?
Such trees, purchased to be planted outside after the holidays,
should be placed outside into a prepared hole already dug, ideally. If you didn’t get such a hole dug, and the
ground is frozen, it is still best to place such a tree outside. These trees need cold, and if left inside too
long they will try to grow, and not succeed.
Needles will drop off, and trees usually will die.
If placing such trees outside, cover the
pot well with soil and mulch until you can
in early spring. If the tree was inside
for more than a couple weeks, and you see buds starting to grow, new growth may
be tender and injured from cold. It is
best to leave such trees in an unheated garage or shed, but with some light and
kept watered. Or, if placing outside,
protect by wrapping with several layers of burlap.
If you have woodpeckers feeding on
your suet and peanut feeders, but then making holes in nearby trees, what
should you do? Sometimes they are
looking for insects, so check to see if there are insects under the bark of the
trees that you can deal with in spring.
If not, and the trees are valuable, you might spread a commercial
product such as Tanglefoot on the bark.
This is designed to not hurt the tree, yet discourage such attacks. Don’t use home remedies, such as
petroleum-based products, that can injure the bark and kill it. If just a few trunks, you can try
wrapping them with screen or fine wire mesh.
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