Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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With the expense and effort put into landscaping yards and gardens, naturally, gardeners want to do everything they can to protect their investment.
And trees tend to be the biggest investments that gardeners need to protect.
With just a little effort in fall, protect trees and shrubs through the winter so they provide beauty, shade, flowers and/or fruit in spring and summer.
These simple steps will help you protect your investment in trees this winter:
■ If there are dead or diseased branches on trees or shrubs, or branches that cross over each other and rub, now is a good time to prune them since it is easier to see the work when the leaves are gone. Never top a tree. For shrubs that grow from a single stem, don’t cut them down to the ground — instead, trim them, like a small tree. Be sure to cut just outside the collar, not flush with the trunk of the tree. And there is no need to apply any type of coating on the cut end; it will heal faster if left to the fresh air.
■ Protect the trunks of young trees. Northwest Colorados’ intense sun has a tendency to dry and damage the bark on young and newly planted trees. Wrapping the trunk with commercial coverings, or even a plastic drainpipe split the long way, can keep the sun from causing the trunk to split. Around Thanksgiving is a good time to apply tree wrap. Around the time the ski mountain closes is a good time to remove it. Once a tree is established — perhaps, after three to four years — wrap is not needed.
■ Protect young evergreens from sunscald by wrapping the entire tree in burlap or another covering, or by using a commercial tree protector such as Wiltpruf. Sunscald occurs when intense winter sun and wind dry out the needles of trees, causing them to turn yellow and fall off the branches. This isn’t usually noticeable until later into spring.
■ As long as the soil is above freezing, trees can be watered before winter sets in. But gradually reduce the water as temperatures drop, because this induces hardening, the trees’ natural winter protector. When the newest trees go four to six weeks without snow cover to protect the roots, watering will give some moisture to that area, which holds in heat better than dry soil.
■ Mulching the base of the tree is another great way to add protection and minimize moisture loss during winter. Layer about 3 inches of bark chips, gravel or other covering after the first hard frost. Be sure to leave the trunk of the tree exposed, or small animals could be encouraged to make a nest there and cause damage by chewing on the roots and bark. If small animals have caused problems in the past, consider putting rodenticide on the mulch.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.