Winter tree preparation

Getting trees and shrubs ready for winter is a pleasant autumn activity.

Here's what you do: Move a chair to a sunny spot, get a cup of tea, then sit down and relax. Getting trees and shrubs ready for winter mostly involves doing nothing.

For example, don't prune. Pruning could stimulate stem growth or at least cell growth for wound healing. Let plants alone so that they can slow down and toughen up for the wintry months ahead.

Be careful about fertilizing. Fertilizer also can stimulate growth. Again, plants need to be shutting down for winter.

And finally, don't water, or at least be careful about watering. Especially after a long period of dry weather, watering could get plants growing again.

Rain in autumn is usually sufficient to carry most plants into winter. If rains fail, water newly planted trees and shrubs because their roots cannot yet reach for sufficient water themselves.

Okay, you want to get out of that sun-basked chair and get your blood moving? Perhaps you want to try out your new pruning shears?

Prune, if you must, only plants that are super-hardy, such as rosa rugosa, gooseberry, and witch hazel. Also prune, if you will, plants such as St. John's wort and butterfly bush, which naturally die back, or you'll cut back anyway before spring.

If you really want more to do, you could get a jump on spring and fertilize trees and shrubs in the fall — but only if you choose your fertilizer carefully. What you need now is a fertilizer that is temporarily insoluble, so plants cannot absorb it. Many organic fertilizers fill this bill, their nutrients remaining locked up until released, with the help of microorganisms, by warm, moist spring weather.

If you're going to use chemical fertilizer, wait a few more weeks and then read the fine print and choose one whose nitrogen is in the form of "ammonium." This form of nitrogen clings to soil particles, so will not leach away by spring.

Need more to do outdoors? Paint the trunks of your young trees. A coat of diluted white, latex paint reflects sunlight to prevent winter sunscald of thin bark. If mice or rabbits are a threat, protect the lower trunks with a cylinder of one-quarter inch mesh fencing or other barrier.

Enough, enough. Go back and sit in the sun with your tea. Let your trees and shrubs take care of themselves for winter.

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