100_4164This is the time of the year when we begin to become tired of the cold weather and being stuck in our homes all the time.  However, we will be here for a while longer.  One thing you can do in the winter to help reduce your cabin fever and help you begin to realize spring will be here before we know it is plan a windbreak for spring planting.

There have been a lot of problems in our windbreaks recently.

  1. There has been a lot of death in Scotch & Austrian Pines due to Pine Wilt Disease
  2. There has been damage & death in many of our Blue Spruces and Colorado Blue Spruces due to the drought of 2012, spruces still are recommended in windbreaks
  3. Plant diversity hasn’t always been practiced properly in windbreaks

I bring up windbreaks because it is at this time of the year when you can begin to place your orders for trees from the Natural Resources District, NRD.  I am not sponsoring the NRD tree sales, however it is a good choice for trees, especially if you need a lot of trees.  The trees are sold as a very small tree and will take a few years to get to a good size, but when planting trees it is best to start smaller anyway.  The larger trees take a longer time to overcome the transplant shock than the smaller trees so the smaller trees will catch up, if not surpass, the growth of the larger ones within a few years.  Smaller trees are also typically much less costly than larger trees, so for a windbreak they are a good choice.  Nurseries and Garden Centers are also very good locations to purchase trees and will have a large selection of trees that are good for Nebraska environments.

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture
Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

The benefits of a windbreak include:

  • Heat energy savings of up to 40 percent for the home, according to the University of Missouri Extension
  • Serves as a snow barrier
  • Improves winter working conditions for outdoor winter chores on the acreage or property
  • Protects a garden in the summer from strong winds
  • Provides a wildlife habitat
  • Provides materials such as firewood, posts, nuts, fruits and decorative & craft items

I would recommend getting a tree tube or other protection for your trees, especially in a windbreak setting.  These trees are small and windbreaks are typically planted on acreage where there is a lot of wildlife around who like to feed on small trees.  The tree tubes will help protect these trees from deer and rabbit damage.  As the tree grows up, until it is it fairly good size, it will need protection from deer and rabbits, and a fence around the tree is the only effective method, but it needs to be 4 feet tall to protect from deer.

100_4162The NRD tree list is a fairly complete list with many good trees listed.  However, I would avoid Austrian Pines as they are susceptible to pine wilt and may not be a long-term tree for your windbreak.  One thing I always recommend for windbreaks is a row of cedars on the outside as they are a tough native tree.  Within the inside 2 or 3 rows, I would put a mixture of other conifer trees, such as firs, spruces, and other pines.  Deciduous trees, such as cottonwoods, different hickory trees, oaks, and maples can also be placed throughout the windbreak.  Diversity is the key any time to help save some of your windbreak trees left if another disease such as pine wilt comes through.  Do not plant your trees too close together as that can create an environment, as the trees grow, that allows for more disease and insect problems.  Conifer trees should be spaced 14-20 feet apart and deciduous trees should be spaced 16-24 feet apart for proper spacing.


Christmas Lights 2012Christmas will be here before we know it. One of my favorite things to do for the Holidays is decorate my home.  I love to put lights outside on my house and put up a large Christmas Tree in my home, but another great holiday decoration is a Poinsettia.

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture
Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Poinsettias are houseplants in Nebraska as it prefers temperatures of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night, according to the University of Illinois Extension.  This plant is has dark green leaves and due to the fact that this is a member of the spurge family, it has a milky, white sap when the stems or leaves are broken.  The red “flowers” that are seen on poinsettias are actually bracts, which are modified leaves, and the flowers are actually the small, yellow centers to those red bracts.  Poinsettias can be purchased in many different colors including the traditional red, white, pink, or burgundy or varieties that have speckled or marbled colored bracts.

Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture
Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

The care of a poinsettia, can be tricky as these plants tend to be particular about their care.

  • Make sure you do not water this plant until the soil has dried out, poinsettias do not like to set in water
  • Do not waiting until the plant wilts prior to watering again
  • Remove the plastic wrap immediately
  • Place it in an area where the plant will get indirect light for 6 hours a day
  • Keep the plant away from cold drafts
  • Keep it from touching a cold window
  • Do not fertilize poinsettias during the flowering period

If you plan to keep the poinsettia for next year, you have to take special care of it to get it to rebloom next year.

  • Starting in late September or early October, place the plant in a room of complete darkness or closet from 5pm to 8am daily.
  • Once the bracts begin to show color on them, in December, you can bring them out of the darkness period.
Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture
Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture

Poinsettias are commonly considered a poisonous plant, which is not true.  The milky sap can cause an allergic reaction in some people who come into contact with it, as is true with all plants in the spurge family.  Ohio State University did a research project that showed that a 50 pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have a harmful effect, which wouldn’t happen as the leaves have a bad taste.  They still should be kept out of reach of small children, as is the case with all houseplants.  This plant should be kept out of reach of pets though as the ingestion of the leaves can cause vomiting.  Poinsettias are the most common Christmas plant, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Poinsettias can be used to celebrate the holidays, celebrate Poinsettia Day, or to just enjoy as a plant blooming in December.  The care for these plants takes careful consideration from the person keeping it in their home, but with care, it can be beautiful.  It also doesn’t have to be a plant that blooms for the season and then goes in the trash.  If you get a poinsettia for the Holiday season this year, try to keep it around for next year and try to get it to rebloom, it can be done.