Winter Lawn Care

Every winter, millions of tons of de-icing salts are dumped on roads, driveways, and sidewalks to prevent vehicle and pedestrian accidents.

The Proper Use of Rock Salt

Not only can excessive salt burn the grass, it can cause widespread damage to trees and shrubs, possibly permanent decline and even death. Severe salt damage to trees may not be visible for a few years after it occurs.

Salt Damage

Often, home owners are baffled by the cause of the mysterious damage symptoms to their trees. Salt deposits can translocate to the stems, buds, and roots of trees. This causes disfigured foliage, stunted growth and severe decline in tree health. Salt runoff washes from pavement into the ground, increasing salt levels in the soil and burning grass. Some things you can do to avoid this are:

Shovel Early, Shovel Often – Removing fresh snow before it has a chance to harden into ice is the best method to keep your pavement clear. Deicers work best when there is only a thin layer of snow or ice that needs to be melted, so shovel first, break up any ice patches you can, and then add the salt.

Apply Salt Sparingly – The recommended application rate for sodium chloride or rock salt is one handful per square yard treated. Calcium chloride requires even less salt-one handful for every three square yards treated (about the area of a twin bed). Using more salt than this will not speed up the melting process.

Buy Early and Check Labels – Buy your de-icing product before the big storm. Check the label before you buy. Although slightly more expensive, calcium chloride (CaCl2) requires less product, works at lower temperatures and does not contain cyanide, unlike sodium chloride (NaCl, rock salt) which does.

Do Not Use Products Containing Urea – Urea is a lawn fertilizer. Not only can it burn the lawn edges if it lies concentrated for any length of time. It will be washed into the local stream with the snow melt.

Winter Damage to landscape plants

Traffic across turf: Grasses become very brittle and cell walls actually crack when they are frozen and then stepped on. While the lawn will usually grow out of it in the spring, constant traffic (walking across the lawn to go check the mail, getting out of our vehicle) can do irreparable harm. Sleigh riding on a fine lawn, even in deep snow should be limited to the little ones. All of these can cause brown areas to appear in early spring.

Heavy snow or ice on trees & shrubs: Tree limbs can break easily under the weight of heavy snow or ice. Small shrubs can be literally crushed. If possible, remove heavy snow. When shoveling walks and drives be aware of where you place the snow. Inspect trees and shrubs for broken branches and remove them in the spring.

Mother nature is hard on our lawns and landscapes over the winter months. With a few best management practices you can minimize serious damage.

Pruning Trees & Shrubs

Taken from Plant Health Care for Woody Ornamentals

Pruning is one of the least understood and most abused cultural practices. It is also probably the practice that can do the most harm to tree health if the growth habits of the tree are not taken into consideration. Pruning is more than the indiscriminate cutting of limbs and branches. It requires an understanding of the function of the parts of the tree and their impact on the overall tree structure. If pruning is done properly, it can improve tree vitality, appearance, and fruitfulness, and will preserve structural integrity. Improper pruning often results in poor plant vitality, unnatural or unsightly tree appearance, and hazardous tree conditions. A proper diagnosis is necessary before pruning is initiated.

Pruning and Tree Health

Mature trees in natural stands of deciduous and coniferous forests rarely have low branches. Competition for sunlight among trees limits the light to only the highest branches, resulting in natural dieback and removal of lower, unproductive limbs. A limiting factor on tree vitality in landscape situations (where distances between planting spaces are sufficient to avoid competition between trees) is the shade a tree casts upon itself.

Depending on the species, foliage in the outer canopy may receive a higher light intensity than necessary. Beneath this layer, another layer of foliage may receive adequate light for optimum photosynthesis and, farther into the canopy a third layer may receive insufficient light for photosynthesis. Branches in this interior layer may begin to decline in vitality as the light compensation point is reached.

Additionally, high humidity and low light conditions caused by a dense canopy are favorable to the growth of fungi and bacteria that are causal agents of many biotic tree diseases. Pruning practices that result in a less dense canopy will provide increased light and airflow through the canopy. These improvements release some of the branches from competition and provide less favorable conditions for microorganism growth and development.

Trees are healthiest and most beautiful when planted in favorable site conditions and allowed to develop their natural habit. Limited space and poor landscape design often result in plants that are too large or otherwise out of scale for the planting site. Pruning is too often used to solve problems created by poor planning. The best solution is proper plant selection, not pruning. Nevertheless, even good trees that are properly sited will require occasional pruning. In these situations, trees should be selectively pruned, when necessary to maintain their natural form or habit.

Why Prune?

A tree may need pruning for a variety of reasons:

  • Remove diseased or storm-damaged branches
  • Thin the crown to permit new growth and better air circulation
  • Reduce the height of a tree
  • Remove obstructing lower branches
  • Shape a tree for design purposes

Once the decision has been made to prune, your next decision is whether or not to tackle the job yourself. In the case of a large tree where you want to remove big branches in the upper area of the crown, it may be best to hire experts. Large tree pruning, in particular, can require climbing and heavy saws or even cherry-pickers and chain saws.

How to Prune

Whether the tree is large or small, the key is to prune the unwanted branch while protecting the stem or trunk wood of the tree. Tree branches grow from stems at nodes and pruning always takes place on the branch side of a stem-branch node.

Branches and stems are separated by a lip of tissue called a stem collar, which grows out from the stem at the base of the branch. All pruning cuts should be made on the branch side of this stem collar. This protects the stem and the other branches that might be growing from it. It also allows the tree to heal more effectively after the prune. To prevent tearing of the bark and stem wood, particularly in the case of larger branches, use the following procedure:

Tearing of the Bark and Stem Wood Tips

  • Make a small wedge shaped cut on the underside of the branch just on the branch side of the stem collar. This will break the bark at that point and prevent a tear from running along the bark and stem tissue.
  • Somewhat farther along the branch, starting at the top of the branch cut all the way through the branch leaving a stub end.
  • Finally, make a third cut parallel to and just on the branch side of the of the stem collar to reduce the length of the stub as much as possible.

A similar procedure is used in pruning one of two branches (or one large branch and a stem) joined together in a ‘u’ or ‘v’ crotch. This is known as a drop crotch cut. Make the first notch cut on the underside of the branch you’re pruning well up from the crotch. For the second cut, cut completely through the branch from inside the crotch well up from the ridge of bark joining the two branches. Finally, to shorten the remaining stub, make the third cut just to one side of the branch bark ridge and roughly parallel to it.

When to Prune

For most trees, the dormant season, late fall or winter, is the best time to prune although dead branches can and should be removed at any time. Pruning during the dormant period minimizes sap loss and subsequent stress to the tree. It also minimizes the risk of fungus infection or insect infestation as both fungi and insects are likely to be in dormancy at the same time as the tree. Finally, in the case of deciduous trees, pruning when the leaves are off will give you a better idea of how your pruning will affect the shape of the tree. Some fruiting and flowering trees should be pruned at other times of the year, depending on whether they flower on the previous year’s growth or not.

How Much to Prune

When deciding how much to prune a tree, as little as possible is often the best rule of thumb. All prunes place stress on a tree and increase its vulnerability to disease and insects. Never prune more than 25% of the crown and ensure that living branches compose at least 2/3 of the height of the tree. Pruning more risks fatally damaging your tree. In some cases, storm damage, height reduction to avoid crowding utility lines or even raising the crown to meet municipal bylaws, your pruning choices are made for you. But even in these instances, prune as little as you can get away with.

Pruning is an important maintenance practice for your trees, and should be done regularly to keep your trees healthy. Proper pruning can increase the vitality and beauty of your trees. Improper pruning (without the understanding of the physiological and physical requirement of the tree) can result in unsightly and unhealthy trees, as well as dangerous conditions for the surrounding area.

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