The first day of spring this year was March 20th. March is usually one of the heavier months for snow and this year was no exception. As the days continue to warm up and the snow melts, the trees and shrubs would benefit from some early care and clean up.
If you decorated any of your trees or shrubs for Christmas, now is the time to make sure all of the decorations and lights are removed. Rapid spring growth can hide any remaining decorations and light cords and the hidden cords wrapped around branches have the potential to damage the branches by cutting into them as branches get larger during the spring growth flush. This ‘girdling’ can cause the branch (or even the trunk of a tree) to die back beyond the point of girdling. If you use lights on your trees during the summer then put them back up the first day of summer, taking advantage of the longest day of the year to get that job done.
Winter can be hard on trees and shrubs so check for broken or damaged branches due to snow load or wind. Also check for any crossing, rubbing or inward growing branches that may have developed over the last season. These problems should be taken care of sooner than later and it is still early enough in the season that there are not a lot of insects or pathogens around to infect the pruning cuts. If there is damage beyond what you can handle then it’s time to call an arborist.
Now is a good time to remove any grass or weeds that have grown too close to the trees and shrubs. There are a couple reasons for doing this. First, the weeds and grass will compete with the desired plants for water and nutrients. Second, the grass and weeds will be harder to remove the longer they grow and if you use a mower or trimmer too closely around the tree or shrub there is a potential for damage to the trunks. Once the grass and weeds are dealt with then you can replace any mulch that may have disappeared or been relocated during the winter. Apply a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch around the tree or shrub, leaving the 6 inches around the trunk clear of any mulch. The larger the mulched area the better. If the mulched area has a border make sure it is in good shape and expand it as needed.
Younger and thin barked trees should have been wrapped during the winter to prevent ‘sun scald’ or ‘freeze cracking’. This is damage caused by sap liquefying during a warm period and then freezing as the temperature rapidly drops. The rule of thumb is to put the wrap on around Thanksgiving and remove it around Easter so you should have it all removed by now. Spring fertilization for trees and shrubs is usually done around the late April/early May time frame. As that time approaches we’ll go into more detail.
With our up and down spring temperatures you may notice the buds on trees and shrubs getting larger, swelling. These buds formed last summer because when the plants are dormant during the winter they don’t have the energy to develop the complexities of bud growth and there’s too much else going on to do it in the spring to do it then. This accelerated bud swell is more noticeable in early spring bloomers such as lilac shrubs, pear trees, apple trees and maple trees (yes, maples have flowers but they’re not very noticeable). These buds will open to flowers first and then the leaves come out later. If they open too early the flowers and leaves will damaged and/or killed if the temperature is too low. The flowers are a once a season occurrence and if they are frozen then the plant will not produce fruit or seeds that year. Plants can produce a second, or even a third set of leaves if the first set is destroyed. This allows the plants to grow, store energy and come back next year. This is the reason most orchards and vineyards are on the Western Slope.
Happy Spring, but keep the snow shovels handy for April.