Preparing for Spring
By Debbie Czarnopys-White, Master Gardener
There is a piece of advice going around the internet to trim trees and bushes before breeding season to help protect native wildlife. Generally, this is good advice and it’s given to help protect our wildlife, both birds and mammals. However, some trees and shrubs should be pruned immediately after blooming anyway. This group includes many spring blooming varieties. Tree loving and tree using animals include squirrels, owls and birds of all kinds, opossums, raccoons, and foxes using low level dens. If pruning is actually needed, doing it now is recommended. However, unless the tree is causing harm or is otherwise damaged, try to remove only those branches necessary to help sustain the tree. The place to remove a part of a branch is just past the growing point or bud. To remove a whole branch, move out about a half inch at most from the tree trunk and saw carefully. This allows the tree to heal over the cut and survive. Already I’m seeing trees damaged beyond repair when cut in between these growing points or too far away from the tree trunk. Using any kind of material to paint over the cut part just seals in the escaping moisture and helps speed decay.
Returning again to the topic of placing too much mulch around the tree or shrub base, this is like building a mulch volcano or as I call it “a cone of shame”. This does not allow moisture or even irrigation to get to the root system. It provides a home for all sort of burrowing creatures, some of which might really like to gnaw on your trunk structures. It prevents sun from getting to the tree or shrub base so it is like keeping part of the tree or shrub in the shade and the rest in the sun. This can only continue for so long until the plant gets frustrated and may not grow regularly. When applying mulch, do not allow it to touch the base of the tree/shrub. Also don’t apply gravel right up to the base as it can get imbedded in the trunk and inhibit growth. I have carefully removed gravel of various sizes to prevent just this when I’m able. All parts of the plant need room to grow and they can’t grow into gravel and survive.
If preparing for spring plantings, check the final height and width of the selection you’re about to choose. Don’t forget the roots need room as well, so unless you want tree roots coming into your house or other areas, provide adequate space. Consider some slow growing trees as well as faster growing shrubs. Although it’s true, we may not be around to see the final results of our efforts, wouldn’t it be a great practice or tradition to do anyway?
As the weather will continue to warm up, consider taking journeys into your garden area or yard to see what tasks may need to be done. They may include picking up some plant litter, reestablishing some plants back in the soil if they have been heaved out by freezing and thawing, securing an arbor area, or even doing a little garden tool repairing. Start some seeds indoors just for fun. Plant some outdoors again later but getting a head start is always a good practice. And, consider buying heirloom plants or seeds to grow and later contribute to our heirloom seed bank at the Nashville Public Library.