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Winterizing Young Trees and Special Shrubs
November 02, 2009

Welcome new readers.

Please stick around for a spell.

You will find out I'm a real person.

From time to time I mention my family, the fur kids and a few other things that are going on around here.

I also get on my orange crate once in a while just to vent or voice my opinions.

I also hope we can become friends as well.

Issues and topics are brought up every week and I hope you can learn a thing or two as I always learn from you guys.

If nothing else, I hope I can put a smile on your face.

November, the start of another month.

Did you remember to turn your clock back?

Most of us had to do so over the weekend.

This is one of the more difficult times of the year for me.

It was bad enough that the sun was setting around 6:30, but now it is 5:30 and shrinking.

Loosing an instant hour of daylight (night side) is hard on the system.

For you too?

November is here.............

We go from fall tasks to gearing up for the holidays.

Over night.

Just like that.

Or, so it seems.

Here in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, we finished October without a single day at or above 70 degrees for the first time in our recorded history.

This past week did give us a couple of days in the mid 60's and that allowed me to pretty much finish putting gardens to bed for the winter.

Yes, even the yard art is cleaned and tucked away till spring.

The lawn has been cut hopefully for the last time.

I cut it a bit shorter for the winter.

I so enjoy being outside as much as possible.

There is a certain feel and smell that only Autumn provides.

Sunday offered a nice surprise.

Stepping out of church to a sun filled sky.

What a blessing after so many cloudy and rainy days we expereinced.

Evening walks (even in the rain) give Keet (Akita my fur kid) and me a chance to exercise and see and hear nature.

For Keet, that means chasing wind blown leaves and killing them.

She also tugs on her leash wishing she could chase a rabbit or six.

For me, I enjoy the last sounds of birds as they settle down for the night, or a flock heading south during the cover of darkness.

On a clear night, the stars and moon are more vivid.

The warm days also allow me to enjoy the sounds of a late season Katydid.

Look up and you may see a bat or a stealthy owl heading to its hunting perch.

Make the time to enjoy a walk in a park or local nature preserve.

If you live in the north country will wish you had before long.

Enjoy the fall colors while you can, even with the cooler days and most of them cloudy (many rainy), Autumn colors were and are exceptional this year.

The first of the month is always a reminder to clean and sanitize your feeders.

Seed feeders should be sanitized at least once a month and the first of the month is a good reminder to to so.

Mark it on a calendar if you must.


You've cut back what needs to be cut back.

You have left some leaf litter in you beds and under your shrubs.

Your watering and mulching and taking care of your tools.


Are you doing all you can for young and tender trees and shrubs?

Are you offering protection them from the elements as well as the critters?

I understand that many of you a veterans at gardening, but many of you aren't

You may have tree issues and wonder why.

Maybe this weeks topic can help you.

I was asked about this topic a couple of times, so lets do it.

Winter care for young trees and tender shrubs.


For many of us, Fall is winding down.

Still, for some of you fall is kicking into full gear.

For me, there are a few chores left (raking leaves when they fall).

One task you may have forgotten about or may not be aware of, is this.

Helping your new and special trees survive the winter.

Yes, many of our trees need a helping hand the first winter or two.

This can hold true for the middle and southern states as well, where harsh cold isn't a big issue, but the sun can be.

I have been asked to write on this topic, so here I go.

There are a few things you can do to help insure your young trees or evergreens survive the rigors of winter.

Especially if you live in the northern regions where the winds can whip and the thermometer drops below zero.

Normally I would say that nature takes care of the hardy, and that is true to some extent.

When it comes to landscaping and gardening however, The norm quickly flies out the window.

We plant non natives and plants that aren't hardy for our area.

Often you may plant it and forget it, after all, the tag said drought tolerant.

Plants need time to grow a healthy root system and get to established.

No matter what the tag may say.

Though a certain species is typically Zone hardy for a particular region, it may have been grown elsewhere and in fact isn't hardy for your area.

As gardeners and landscapers, we continue to push the Zone hardy window.

We attempt to plant and winter over zone 6 plants in a Zone 5 garden (without protection).

The first few years it works.....................

Then comes that winter where temperatures remain below normal or we experience a record cold spell.

You guessed it..............

There goes your treasured plant or tree.

Here in My Zone 5 part of Michigan, Japanese maples can be one such beast and need some protection.

Around 25 years ago, before I knew better, I lost some Japanese maples to sun scald and have experienced severe die back from winter winds.

So much can depend on a given winter as well.

I no longer mess with Japanese maples for this and natural reasons.

I had a beautiful Lace leaf Japanese maple (a $300 tree).

One winter three or four years later, it split from top to bottom of the trunk.

Sun scald.

Dead by mid summer.

Besides money flushed, it left a gaping hole in that spot of the landscape.

Research should me that we are on the northern extremes for this species of tree. and it needs winter protection.

Most garden centers wont tell you that, but it is true about Japanese maples.

We push the zone envelope.

We ignore better judgement.

Be sure to read tags and ask lots of questions.

When it works, you have a prize..................

More times than not..............................

You end up frustrated.

Okay, lets get to the task at hand.

You are now ready to winterize your trees and new shrubs.

Tree wraps can lessen the risk of southwest injury, southwest disease, sun scald.

Different locations, different names, but all the same issue.

It is a condition that can afflict young trees in winter.

Southwest injury, or sun scald, occurs on the lower portion of the trunk and usually on the southwest side of the young and tender tree.

Low-angle winter sunlight warms trunk tissue during the day.

This warming can activate dormant cells that become vulnerable to injury as temperatures plunge in the evening.

Trunk cracking or splitting on the south or southwest side of the tree are common symptoms (thus the name of southwest injury or disease)

You will also spot sunken areas in the bark as well.

You will discover that certain insects will find your trees.

Insects like the flatheaded apple tree borer can gain access to the trunk, worsening the injury.

Fall is a good time to wrap the trunks of recently planted trees and trees with a thin bark, to lessen or prevent sun scald.

Thin-barked ornamental trees such as red maple, Japanese maples and ornamental cherry are particularly at risk.

Especially in more temperate climates where you get freeze and thaws, not to mention a cold, but sunny day.

The bark warms up on the south to southwest side of trees, In young trees, juices begin to flow from the warmth of the sun along the south side.

The sun goes down.

Tree juices that were flowing, freeze again.

When liquid freezes, it expands.

When it expands, it tears apart, splits and kills plant cells.

Often splitting the bark up the southwest side of a young or tender tree.

Do you get the idea?

You can protect the lower trunk by covering it with a light-colored material that will reflect sunlight, such as waterproof kraft paper, tree wrap or vinyl tree guards.

I prefer and use vinyl tree guards.

Vinyl guards are more expensive but can be reused for several years.

Never use a dark wrap, since this can actually increase trunk scald damage.

When you wrap the trunk, begin at the soil line and spiral the paper or vinyl wrap around the trunk up to the first branches, overlapping the edges of each layer.

(Three examples used from my yard.)

Remove wraps and guards in early spring.

Materials left on too long can restrict tree growth and provide a protected environment for insects and disease organisms.

Wraps and guards also limit coverage of pest-control products.

Removing the wrap in spring promotes bark thickening during the growing season, making trees less vulnerable to trunk scald the following winter.

In most cases, wrapping the trunk during the first winter after planting should be sufficient, but I wrap them for the first three years to play it safe.

Vinyl wraps also work best at deterring hungry rodents from chewing away the bark on your prized specimens.

Now for animal problems, I wrap small trunks or special trees for years or protect them with hardware cloth.

A hungry rabbit or vole can kill a tree, by chewing off the bark through the cambium layer all around the tree.

You can also deter chewers by using chicken wire or hardware cloth for more established trees

Most winter damage to evergreens doesn't actually come from cold but from the drying effects of the cold winter winds and sometimes the sun.

With the soil frozen rock solid, plant roots can't take up water to make up for moisture losses from transpiration and, as a result, dehydration can cause browning or burning of foliage.


I don't go crazy with burlap wrap, in fact I rarely use it anymore.

It's extra work and doesn't look great.

And, one of the main points of evergreens is to give you something green to look at in the winter.

Isn't it?

New plants haven't had time grow extensive roots that help them take up enough moisture to prevent excessive water losses.

To make a windbreak around vulnerable plants(like Japanese maples), hammer four wooden stakes into the ground and staple on a burlap covering.

If you are simply blocking out the harsh winter winds, create a wind break for the north and west sides of your plants.

Never use plastic, or your plants could "cook" on sunny days.

Protect upright evergreens like arborvitae from breakage due to ice and snow by wrapping branches with heavy string or mesh covers sold for this purpose.

Once fastened into place, you'll hardly see the string or mesh.

This also allows your birds to roost and offers protection from the elements.

Trees wrapped in burlap don't really allow for this.

To Protect broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendron and holly from the drying effects of winter sun and wind with an anti-desiccant spray such as 'Wilt-Pruf', which coats foliage with a protective waxy film and keeps moisture in.

Be sure to do this before freezing temperatures persist.

You can also wrap with burlap, if you must.


A good three inch layer of mulch will help your plants retain moisture.

In theory, wait till the ground freezes before you mulch.

In reality, most of us know it doesn't work that way.

Mulch as late in the year as you feel safe doing.

Other regions, mulch as the season cools and you have time to place a moisture retaining layer around your trees and shrubs.

Be sure to leave a bare ring, at least three inches from the trunk.

Lastly, one of the best or most important things you can do for all your plants and young trees is to keep them watered.

If you are having a dry Autumn, give your plants at least one inch of water a week until the ground freezes.

This is especially important for trees and shrubs planted anytime within the last calender year.

Even more important for any and all evergreens in your landscape.

Evergreens continue to use and release moisture throughout the year and a well hydrated plant has an advantage.

If you live where the ground doesn't freeze, continue to offer your plants a drink.

Plants...... evergreen and dormant still need a drink for survival.

I think I touched on the important issues, if you have a question, feel free to contact me.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

The game of life is the game of boomerangs. Our thoughts, deeds and words return to us sooner or later, with astounding accuracy.

Florence Shinn

Life isn't a game, but I'm sure you see where this is going.

What goes around comes around.

Sooner or later it seems to happen.

So does pay up front first.

Another one of those universal laws.

If you treat others well, help the needy, you are honest, live with integrity and follow the golden rule.................

It will in time come back to you.

With acuraccy

Do the opposite and it too, will come back to you.

With astounding accuarcy.

Your boomerangs.......

Your choice.................

Pretty simple.

Now that is something to smile about.

A smile is another thing that will boomerang back to you.

God is just and fair, no question about it.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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