Winter chores

The driest December in 130 years was just recorded. Gardeners, this means you need to water your trees, shrubs and grass. I have seen the golf course near my house watering the turf, so you might consider giving your entire yard a drink, particularly anything planted in 2011.

Other gardening chores await you too. In addition to watering, you may want to prune your trees, especially your fruit trees. As a rule, growth is maximized and wound closure is fastest if pruning takes place before the spring growth flush. As always, do not remove more than one-third of the branches to minimize stress to the tree. Pruning during the dormant season reduces the possibility of diseases such as fireblight in apples, crabapples, pears and hawthorns or cytosphora canker and wetwood in elm, poplar, aspen, maple, birch and beech. Don’t prune spring blooming shrubs now or you will lose your flowers.

Master Gardener and fruit tree specialist Michael Janik suggests, “If we get a warm spell in January or February, we can make our first attack on overwintering aphid eggs by applying a dormant oil spray.” Michael uses a 2.5-gallon pump sprayer for his many fruit trees, but says a ½-gallon sprayer works well for just two or three trees. He strongly states, “Do not use a sprayer or container that has ever been used for an herbicide such as 2-4-D, Roundup, etc, because residual herbicide may damage or kill your tree.” If you do spray an oil, be sure to read and follow the label and wear appropriate protective gear, even for organic certified products.

Michael points out that dormant, summer or superior oils are all terms for similar but different products. Some may burn leaves and may only be used when the tree is completely dormant. Michael buys one that can be used on leaves, then he doesn’t have to buy two products for the different times of the year. He can follow the label directions for the winter application rate and then in summer can use the concentration that won’t damage leaves.

He sprays in the morning before the wind comes up and aims at the plant from three to four different directions to get complete coverage. He wants the trunk and lower limbs thoroughly covered because most of the eggs are in the cracks and crevices of the bark where the limbs join the trunk.

Take advantage of the sunny mild days and tackle some gardening chores!