Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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Another Steamboat winter has passed. How did your trees fare and what, if anything, should you do right now to ensure their health and well-being?
First, remove any tree trunk wrapping you may have put on last fall and inspect the trunk for any damage that may have occurred. If you have trees with guy wires that have been staked for more than a year, remove the wires and stakes to avoid any damage to the trunk as the tree grows this spring.
Push back any mulch around the tree and inspect the trunk for any damage from insects or rodents who may have wintered there. If any infestation or disease is present, use a proper insecticide or fungicide. Please follow label directions carefully.
If your tree has any wind-damaged branches or branches that are rubbing against other branches, now is a good time to remove them, taking care not to cut flush to the trunk, leaving the small collar at the base of the branch attached to the tree. There's no need to treat the cut end of the branch as it will heal itself during the summer. It's much easier to prune before leaves pop out, however if you have a flowering shrub such as lilac or serviceberry, wait until it's done flowering to do your pruning so you can enjoy the color and aroma.
A soil test will tell you if your tree needs fertilization, and if so, springtime fertilization should take place before the leaves start popping out. However, because of the cycle trees follow to create, store and use their energy, a fertilizer applied in the fall - about a month after the first frost - will be more effective in promoting plant growth than fertilizer applied now. Once the leaves are out, the tree begins creating its own nutrients through photosynthesis as well as through the roots taking up nutrients from the soil. Don't fertilize in late summer as you may promote growth in your trees that will not harden off before winter sets in, damaging your tree.
If a tree is damaged by sunscald, you will probably notice dead leaves or needles on the south and southwest side of the trees. Remove any damaged bark in the spring by cutting it back to the healthy tissue. For an evergreen, you should prune out any injured foliage in mid-spring. Chances are - if the foliage is brown or discolored - it will not green up, but the buds that are more cold-hardy than foliage may grow and fill in the bare area.
If you've been an attentive gardener, your trees probably made it through this past winter in great shape, and all you need to do is sit back and enjoy them leaf out this spring.
Deb Babcock is a naster gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.