Trees turn color in fall

Fall tree color blog

Fall is a great time of the year. The trees start turning colors and everything looks so beautiful, even the green conifer trees. Evergreen trees should maintain their green color all of the time, right? This time of the year I get many calls on a natural process of evergreen trees called Natural Needle Drop.

Natural Needle Drop

Natural Needle Drop

White Pine with Natural Needle Drop

Evergreen trees turning yellow in the fall may not be a problem, in fact it may be completely natural. Evergreen trees do hold onto their needles, but eventually the older needles are shed from the tree in the fall. When this happens, those needles turn yellow before they fall from the tree. As long as the needles that turn yellow are all on the interior of the tree, there is no real concern. The older needles are the needles that are shed, which will be held on the interior of the tree, not on the ends of the branches.

Natural needle drop is very noticeable on white pine trees because they are naturally not a dense tree and they lose their needles every 2 years, making it quite common. Ponderosa pines lose their needles every 3 years, while Austrian pines lose their needles every 4 years. It is not as common to notice the needle drop on these trees due to the infrequency as well as the density of the tree. Spruce trees will also lose their needles, but much less often. Spruce trees will typically hold onto the majority of their needles for up to 10 years

Deciduous Conifers

It is important to know what you tree is supposed to do in the fall and winter months. We have a couple of trees that are classified as ‘Deciduous Conifers’ meaning that they are a conifer due to their needles and how they are arranged but are deciduous because they lose those needles annually. Two deciduous conifers are commonly found in Nebraska, the Larch and Baldcypress. These trees will lose all of their needles in the fall after first turning brown throughout the entire tree. If you don’t know what type of tree you have in your yard or are not familiar with the growth habit of these trees, you might think they died, when they are really just going through their normal lifecycle.

Fall Color for Deciduous Trees

20181023_152033Speaking of deciduous trees, this is the time of the year when our deciduous trees, those with leaves rather than needles, will change color and the leaves will fall from the tree. As the nights gets cooler and the days get shorter, the tree produces a membrane between the branches and the leaves which causes the leaves to be shed from the tree. Prior to leaf drop, this membrane also causes cessation of chlorophyll from the leaves for the year. At this time, the other pigments are allowed to show up in the leaves.

The brightest fall colors are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights. The dry, sunny days are needed to break-down the chlorophyll in the leaves allowing the other pigments to be dominant in the leaves. The cool, dry nights are also necessary for fall color because trees need to avoid freezing temperatures which can injure or kill the leaves causing them to stop producing much sugar at all. The sugar content is what increases the amount of the anthocyanin, or red pigment.

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Yard and Garden: August 3, 2018

Y&G Blog Photo, 2018

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for August 3, 2018. Yard and Garden Live is a call-in radio show I do on KUTT 99.5 FM from 10-11:30 am this was the final episode for 2018. It can be found again next spring on kutt995.com for online listening. If you enjoy reading my Q&A from the show each week, take my quick survey at: go.unl.edu/yardandgarden18 and be entered to win a free tree diagnostic book.

Guest Hosts: Kevin Christiansen, Horticulture Instructor at SCC Beatrice & Evan Alderman, Turfgrass Management and Horticulture Instructor at SCC Beatrice

1. The first caller of the day has a windbreak that has elms growing in it. How can he kill the elms and not harm the windbreak trees?

A. In this situation you need to use a herbicide that will kill the elms but will not be translocated through the roots into the surrounding windbreak trees. Tordon should NOT be used in this location. A good option would be either glyphosate, Roundup, or a 2,4-D product. Use these 2 products as a stump treatment on the tree just after cutting the tree off.

2. A caller has cucumbers that are blooming but are not producing any fruit yet. Why are the cucumber not producing? This caller also wondered how to control puncturevine?

A. The cucumbers could be due to no female flowers, if all the flowers are male, they will not produce any fruits. Sometimes our plants start with just male flowers and the females will come in later. It could also be due to low pollinators around the plants. If not many bees or beetles or other insects are found around the plants, they cannot be pollinated and may need to be hand pollinated. Hand pollination can be done by running a cotton swab through all of the blooms, this would move pollen from male flowers to female flowers. Puncturevine can be controlled with a 2,4-D product in the fall. Apply the 2,4-D in mid-September and in mid-October.

3. When should you transplant surprise lilies?

A. Surprise lillies can be transplanted or divided just after the flower dies back in the fall.

4. This caller has foxtail in the vegetable garden. Can anything be sprayed in the garden to control the foxtail?

A. There is nothing that can be sprayed over a garden to control foxtail and not harm the garden plants. The best option would be to use preen in the spring and summer to stop the germination of annual weeds such as foxtail. Be sure to use the preen that is labeled for use in a vegetable garden and wait until after all seeds planted have germinated. Mulch would help suppress the weeds in the garden as well. Grass clippings, straw, or other organic mulches will help keep the weeds down to help your vegetable plants grow better.

5. A caller was looking for assistance choosing fruit trees for his acreage. He also has rust on his fruit trees and wants to know how to manage it.

A. There is a great NebGuide on Fruit Tree Cultivars for Nebraska. For rust, this is not the correct time to treat for it. You can spray your trees in the spring with a liquid copper fungicide. For more on care and pest control of your fruit trees, visit: https://food.unl.edu/local-food-production

6. This caller has a windbreak of Red Cedars that are losing limbs. The trees are 100 years old and 30 feet tall. What is wrong with them?

A. This could be due to old age. It may be a good idea to start a new row of trees on the inside of the old row.

7. A caller has nutsedge in his lawn. What can he spray it with and can he still spray it?

A. Sedgehammer is the best control for nutsedge. It can still be sprayed now, however more control will be achieved if applied in the beginning of June, prior to the first day of summer. If sprayed before June 21st, nutlet production will be reduced, thereby reducing the population for the following year.

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Tree planting in the fall

8. This caller wants to know when the best time is to transplant an oak tree?

A. Fall or Spring are both good times to transplant a tree.

9. How do you control cattails and water lilies in a pond?

A. Rodeo is the glyphosate product that is labeled for use in water and it can be used on both of these weeds.

10. How can you control crabgrass and nutsedge in a lawn

A. Quinclorac can be used now for both of these weeds. Or use a pre-emergent herbicide in the spring and again in June for the crabgrass and sedgehammer for the nutsedge in June. Tenacity is another product that should work on both of these weeds.

11. A caller wants to know why we should worry about getting rid of cattails and water lilies in a pond?

A. Weeds in a pond can strangle the waterways or destroy habitat for fish. Some plant life along the edge of the pond can be beneficial, but too much can be a detriment.

12. This caller has lilies with caterpillars in the stem. What are those and how can they be destroyed?

A. This is likely a cutworm. Sevin or eight or Bt applied at the base of the plant can help kill these pests before they damage your plants.

13. When is the proper time to apply a winter fertilizer on a lawn?

A. Fall fertilizer can be applied in late August to mid September and the winter fertilizer can be applied in the middle to late October. It is no longer recommended to apply the winter fertilizer in November as previously recommended.

14. A walk-in listener has a weed they need identified and they need to know how to control it?

A. This is a weed called nimblewill. It is a warm-season grassy weed. It can be treated either with Roundup or Tenacity. If you use Roundup and reseed, apply the roundup now, while the nimblewill is still green and then overseed in a couple of weeks through the end of September.

15. This caller has spaghetti squash that was looking great and then one day it just died. What caused it to die and how can the other plants be protected?

A. This is likely due to squash vine borer. You can use sevin or eight to protect your plants from the squash vine borer. Be sure to apply it at the base of the plant where the plant comes out of the ground. These chemicals will need to be reapplied every 10-14 days throughout the growing season to protect the plants. Otherwise, you can wrap the base of the plant in aluminum foil to prevent the borer from getting into the plant.

16. A caller has watermelons with yellowing leaves. This has happened to his plants 3 years in a row now, he does rotate the crops in the garden. This damage starts at the base of the plants and will eventually kill the whole vine. He has mulch on the garden and waters slowly with a hose for 2 hours at a time. What is causing this problem? Also, when do you transplant iris?

A. This looks to be alternaria leaf spot. He is doing many things to prevent this disease already with mulch and his watering practices. It might be beneficial to try a liquid copper fungicide this year and next year as soon as the symptoms begin. Iris can be transplanted in the fall, September or October would be best.

17. A walk-in listener has a tree they want identified and they want to know why it keeps suckering and what they can do with the suckers?

A. This is a silver maple tree, they are prone to suckering. Suckers should be just cut off as they grow to reduce the amount of energy they take from the main tree. Do not treat the suckers with anything as that could injure or kill the main tree because the suckers are growing off the main tree roots.

18. This caller wants to know why their pepper plants are not growing well?

A.The peppers are planted too closely to a black walnut tree and will not grow well in that location. Black walnut trees produce juglone, which is basically a naturally produced weed killer. Certain plants are more sensitive to juglone, tomatoes and peppers are quite sensitive. The garden should be moved to at least 50 feet from the black walnut of the plants should be grown in a container or raised bed to avoid problems with the juglone.

19. The final caller of the year has hostas planted in a rock garden and they are not growing, they are still small like they were just planted there.

A. The rock garden may be too hot for the hostas and the rocks do not provide any nutrients back to the plants. It might be best to switch to a wood chip mulch to help reduce the heat and add some nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

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Bindweed

This caller also wanted to know what to do to kill the bindweed growing in her Iris beds?

A. Among other plants it is best to use the “glove of death” which is when you wear a chemical-resistant glove and then put a cloth glove over that. Then, dip a few fingers of the gloved hand into Glyphosate and rub those fingers along the stem and leaves of the bindweed to kill it. Basically, the idea is to keep it from flowering and producing more seed, hand pulling will help keep new seed from being deposited into the garden which can be viable for up to 60 years.

Yard and Garden: June 8, 2018

Y&G Blog Photo, 2018

This is the Q&A for the Yard and Garden show for June 8, 2018. Yard and Garden Live is a call-in radio show I do on KUTT 99.5 FM from 10-11:30 am and it will run through August 3, 2018. It can also be found on kutt995.com for online listening. If you missed a show or just want to read through the questions, I have written them all in my blog and will continue to do so throughout the season.

Guest Host: Donnie Engelhardt, Assistant Water Resources Director, Little Blue NRD

1.The first caller of the show heard of a chemical that can be used to treat bindweed that started with a Q. What is that product?

A. Quinclorac is the active ingredient in a product called Drive. It is effective at controlling bindweed. However, this product is only labeled for use in lawns and cannot be legally or safely used in landscape beds or vegetable gardens.

He also is having a problem with his peach tree, it didn’t leaf out on the one side. The damage is also seen in some hydrangeas planted nearby. What is causing this?

A. This could be due to herbicide damage. If multiple types of plants in different families, genus’, and species are all affected the same it is often due to herbicide drift. There is nothing that can be done now to fix the problem, leave them to see if they grow out of the damage.

This first caller’s final question is that he has 3 pear trees that he ordered from a mail order catalog and one has not leafed out still. Is it dead?

A. This one that died could have dried out during transport. I would assume by now it would have leafed out if it was still alive. Scrape the bark off some of the smaller branches, if they are green there is still life in the tree, if it is brown, the tree is dead. Also, if the branches bend rather than break they are still alive.

2. A caller is looking to plant some new trees for shade, preferably something fast growing. When should they buy and plant these new trees?

A. Purchase your plant material when you are ready to plant. If the plant has to sit in the pot longer, it can lead to more problems with it drying out. The best times to plant a tree would be either in the spring or fall. At this point, it would be best to wait until fall, like September – later October. Planting now would be difficult to keep the tree watered through the heat/drought of the summer. Fast growth is not always the best option. Fast growing trees are not as strong as the slower growing trees and tend to break more in storms. Slower growing trees can actually put on quite a bit of growth in a few short years if they are kept with a 2-3 inch mulch ring and kept well watered. For good tree choices, view this guide from the Nebraska Forest Service.

3. This caller has Iris’ that have finished blooming, can they be cut back now? They also have some mums that died over the winter, why is that?

A. Once Iris’ and peonies’ have finished blooming for the year, the flower stalk can be cut off at the ground level. However, the leaves need to be left there to build energy in the roots for next spring. Some mums are just not as hardy as believed. Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

4. Should the blooms of small tomato plants be pinched off?

A. Removing those blossoms until the plants get a little more growth on them will help the plants develop more roots and more shoot growth before pushing so much energy into producing the fruits. Wait until they get a little bigger before allowing those flowers to develop into fruits.

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Redbud Tree

5. A caller has a redbud tree that was planted last year and has not leafed out yet this year. It is, however, producing suckers at the base of the tree. Can those suckers be grown into a new tree? Also, how should trees be fertilized?

A. This could be a winterkill issue. Be sure to purchase redbuds from a local source. Often box stores purchase redbud trees from a Southern source and send them to all stores in the United States. If a tree was started further south than where it will be planted, it will not adjust well to the change in climate from the south to here. The sucker will grow into a new tree. Redbuds will do better with this than some. Often the suckers from a tree may not be as strong as the main tree and will not do as well, but with a redbud it should be fine. Fertilizer is rarely needed for trees in Southeast Nebraska. I would especially avoid fertilizer on a stressed tree, such as this redbud. Fertilizing a stressed tree will lead to further stress.

6. When is the best time to prune suckers from the maple trees and when is the best time to prune the lower branches from a spruce tree so the mower can fit below it?

A. Anytime is a good time to prune suckers from a tree. It is best to just continually prune them off as they form. If you leave them, they take energy from the tree. You can prune spruce trees most anytime of the year. However, if you are just looking to prune them so you can mow under the tree, if you leave them the tree will provide it’s own mulch and the grass will not grow under the high shade of the tree.

7. This caller wants to know what to do with peonies now and if ants are needed for the flowers to open on a peony?

A. At this point with a peony, cut off the stalks of the flowers and leave the leaves there. The leaves should be left to grow and produce energy for the plant so it can come out and flower early next spring. Leaves of peony plants can be removed in the fall when they turn brown and die back naturally. No, ants are not necessary for the buds of peony flowers to open. That is just a myth because ants are commonly found on the flowers, but they just like the sweet nectar.

8. A caller planted mums last year, they looked great through the season. This year only 2 came back. What is wrong with them?

A. Some mums are just not as hardy as believed and they often die due to winterkill. Many gardeners struggle with maintaining their mum plants over the winter due to repeated freezing and thawing cycles through the growing season as well as wet, heavy soil or lack or snow cover. Longevity of the plants can be enhanced by planting them in a location that is more protected from north winds, discontinuing fertilization by the end of July to reduce new growth at the end of the season, adding several inches of mulch to the soil around the plants through the winter months, and cutting the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall.

9. The last caller of the day has peppers planted in a mineral tub that are looking wilted. They are green and growing well but have droopy leaves. What is wrong with them?

A. Through discussion, it was noted that these peppers are planted in a container with soil from the backyard, not potting soil. It would be best to use a soil mix rather than soil from the ground. Potting soil has more nutrients available and is more porous for better plant growth. Adding fertilizer to his plants may help.

Plant a Tree for Arbor Day

Plant a Tree blog, 2018

One of my favorite holidays is coming up, Arbor Day. As a tree enthusiast, I appreciate any holiday that urges people to plant trees. Arbor Day is always celebrated on the last Friday of April in Nebraska, this year that is April 27th. This holiday is not the same throughout the United States, it is moved around for other states to be in the best planting time for the year.

Deciding what tree to plant is very important and sometimes difficult. Diversity is key when choosing your tree. The general rule is to plant no more than 10% of a tree species, no more than 20% of a tree genus, and no more than 30% of a tree family in a respective urban area. Look around at what types of trees you have and what types of trees your neighbors have before deciding on a new tree, try to avoid everyone planting the same few trees throughout the neighborhood. Look for some unique, underutilized trees such as gingko, Kentucky coffeetree, Ohio buckeye, hornbeam, paw paw, sweetgum, or tulip tree for deciduous trees that do well in southeast Nebraska.

The most important factor to keep in mind when planting trees is how to plant a tree correctly to ensure healthy growth. First of all, remove all of the burlap and any other materials from the root ball before planting. Also remove any tags, twine, or wire from the tree. Remember to remove all the grass and weeds that are within the area you will be planting the tree. Dig a hole that is 2-3 times wider and no deeper than the root ball and loosen up the sides of the hole. Plant the tree so that root flare is at the soil surface. Do not amend the soil that is in the hole, backfill with the existing soil. Make sure that the entire root ball is covered with soil to avoid drying out.

Keep newly planted trees well-watered. Always water newly planted trees, shrubs, or any other plant immediately after planting. Trees should be watered every 10-14 days throughout the growing season and even some during the winter on warmer days. Each watering should give the tree 1-2 inches of water. The best way to determine if a tree needs to be watered is to insert a soil probe or 12-inch-long screwdriver into the ground around the tree. If it goes in easily there is no need to water, if it is difficult at any point then water is necessary for the tree.

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Tree Damaged from Lawn mower blight

A mulch ring should be established and maintained around every tree. Mulch helps to keep the roots cool in the summer and regulated to a uniform temperature through the winter. Mulch will also help keep weeds down and reduce competition from those weeds for water and nutrients. Mulch also reduces damage to the trunk of trees from lawn mowers and trimmers. Finally, organic mulch is a way to hold moisture for use later by the tree. Mulch rings should be only 2-3 inches deep and in a circle around the tree at least 2-3 feet out. Organic mulches are a better choice than inorganic mulches. This mulch will need to be renewed every year to maintain an effective layer because it will break down over the growing season which will improve the soil.

Tree Planting, 2017 (3)Staking a tree is not a mandatory practice. If you do have to stake the tree due to high winds, make sure that the tree has plenty of movement to allow it to build stronger roots. Also be sure that the staking material is removed after the first year to avoid the tree being damaged by the staking materials.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Thanksgiving blog 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season for many of us. I know many families go pick out their Christmas Trees on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a great time to do that and it really begins to get you into the Holiday Spirit.

The biggest decoration in size and in use is the Christmas tree. Christmas trees have been used for centuries for many different reasons. According to Alabama Cooperative Extension, Christmas trees are believed to symbolize immortality. The Germanic people used evergreen boughs in their homes during winter for protection of their home and to return life to the snow-covered forest. There have been many different civilizations throughout history that have used evergreens in their homes, decorated or not, to celebrate the holidays, according to the University of Illinois Extension. The ancient Romans used decorated trees during their winter festival to honor their god of agriculture. Trees were sold in Germany in the 1500’s to be put in homes, undecorated.

Christmas Trees came to the United States in 1747, when people in Pennsylvania decorated wooded pyramids with evergreen branches and candles. By 1850, decorated Christmas trees were a widely used tradition in America.  The first retail tree market was in New York in 1851 and the first President of the United States to put up a Christmas tree in the White House was Franklin Pierce in 1856.  The first national Christmas tree was put up in 1923 on the lawn of the White House by President Calvin Coolidge.

There are many different tree species you can choose from for your family’s enjoyment through the Holiday season. The most common tree species used for Christmas trees in Nebraska include: Balsam Fir, Douglas-Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine and White Pine. Before leaving to go pick out your tree, it might be a good idea to measure the area of the room where the tree will be placed to ensure you get a tree that fits in the room.

Christmas tree farm, flickr, UGA College of Ag & Env

When choosing your tree, assess the tree to learn the condition it is in. Walk around the tree to look for holes in the branching. Slightly tug on the needles that are on the tree to ensure they are tightly attached to the tree. Also, give the tree a good shake, if green needles fall off this is not as fresh of a tree, choose another. Brown needles can fall from the tree and not indicate a problem with the tree.

When you take your tree home, cut a fresh cut on the stump of the tree and place it immediately into the tree stand with plenty of water. Ensure that the stand maintains an adequate amount of water through the Holiday season. A fresh tree can use one quart of water or more per day. If you allow the water to drop below the fresh cut, a seal will form. A new cut would then be necessary to keep the tree fresh, use hot water the first time you water the tree after the new cut to dissolve any sap that would clog the water conducting tissues. The use of additives in the water will not help the tree stay fresh longer, just use fresh water and make sure the tree has enough.

A few fun Christmas tree facts from the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association:

  • When one tree is removed for a Christmas tree, 2-3 seedlings are planted in its place
  • It takes 7-15 years to get a mature tree height of 6 feet tall for Christmas trees
  • Christmas trees are grown and harvested in all 50 states, including at 15 choose and harvest farms in Nebraska
  • There are approximately 1 million acres in production for growing Christmas trees

Where to plant a tree this fall…

Tree Siting Blog Article

It’s hard to believe that September is here already! With that, brings tree planting season. Fall is a great time to plant tree.

When planting your trees, remember to pay close attention to where you plant it to ensure that the tree can have a long, happy life in this new location. Often when we plant a tree, it is hard to visualize the full size of a tree, but remember, that small tree will grow into a much larger version. Plant the tree where it can spread its branches and live happily for many years to come.

When planting a new tree, think about what is all around the tree. Consider overhead powerlines, underground utilities, current buildings, any future construction that is planned, sidewalks, and the mature size of the tree.

When planting a tree, call the Digger’s Hotline at 811 to ensure there are no underground utilities near the location of tree planting. Remember, that the tree roots will grow, it would be best to give your tree plenty of space to grow without becoming too close to the powerlines to avoid future problems with the roots and the lines. If the utility company has to come in at any time to put in new lines this can damage the tree as well. Calling the Digger’s Hotline will also help so you don’t run into underground utility lines while you are planting. Never assume that the utility lines are deeper than you plan to dig.

Also, look at the above ground structures when you plant a new tree. Plant large trees at least 20 feet from a building to avoid damage to the building as the plant grows. Often, trees damage roofs, windows, and siding when the branches of the tree run into the building. If the tree won’t fit beside your home in the location you have picked, pick a different tree or a different planting location.

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Trees growing in powerlines, Photos from John Fech, Nebraska Extension

Pay close attention to the location of power lines when planting a new tree. Plant your trees 25 feet away from overhead power lines to avoid damage to the lines or to help the crews of our electrical companies from having to send a crew out to prune the trees in the lines. This doesn’t help them to have to do this pruning all the time and it is a detriment to the overall quality of the tree to have a “V” cut through the middle of the canopy to allow for the powerlines. Smaller, understory trees should be used under powerlines to help the men and women who work for our electric company.

Once you have completed this evaluation of the landscape, you can determine the size of the tree that can be planted and from that, you can decide what tree you would like to plant. Don’t forget to look around your yard and the yards of all of your neighbors. Don’t plant a Maple if everyone else on the street has one in their front yard, pick something else. There are a lot of great trees that do very well in Nebraska environments but are not used enough such as Shagbark Hickory, Sweetgum, Pawpaw, and even a Linden.

This information came from the Nebraska Forest Service.

Ice Storm Damage to Plants

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Many people do not like winter due to cold weather and the bad driving conditions such as snow and ice. Our plants are not much different in this respect, snow and ice can cause problems to our plants. The recent ice storm we saw covered our trees and shrubs in a thick layer of ice.

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Lawn covered in ice from winter storm Jupiter

As trees become covered with ice, problems can occur. The best way to avoid any problems from a heavy layer of snow or ice would be to let it melt naturally. Heavy snow or ice loads look damaging to the tree which makes people want to knock the ice off of the trees to help the plant. However, it is really better to leave it alone. The snow and ice will eventually melt off of the plants and they will spring back up to their normal form after a while. If you try to break ice off of a tree or shrub, it can break the branches or crack them, leaving them vulnerable to other problems.  Again, the ice will eventually melt off of the tree or shrub and it will be fine.

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Shrub covered in ice by 2017 winter storm

Many tree branches broke after the weight of the ice from the last storm proved to be too much. The best management practice for helping a tree that has broken branches due to snow and ice would be to go out and trim those branches to make them a clean cut rather than a jagged cut. Leaving a break rather than having a clean cut will prevent the tree from naturally healing the wound and this opening will lead to decay in the tree. This is much more damaging to the tree so it is best to prune the tree between the break and the bark collar or hire a professional to do this for you. If your tree split down the middle or lost a great number of branches, it may be time to to think about replacing this tree. It would be best to call a Certified Arborist in this case to assess the damage and give recommendations on the next steps for your tree.

 

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Broken branches due to ice storm, photo by Karen Rahe

Deicers are another plant consideration in the winter. They can cause damage to concrete sidewalks and to plants growing beside them. Many deicing agents contain salt substances, such as sodium chloride and potassium chloride. Because of the salt content found in these products, it can cause severe damage to our plants if too much is piled on them too often. Typical plant symptoms of salt damage include:

  • Desiccation (drying out)
  • Stunting
  • Dieback
  • Leaf margin and tip damage similar to chemical burns on the leaves

To avoid damage to concrete, remove the salt as soon as you can. Deicers are meant to make shoveling easier, not to completely melt away snow and ice. As soon as the salt melts through the ice and snow enough that it can be removed, go out and shovel it off of the concrete. When removing the snow, do it in a manner that protects the landscape plants growing in the yard. Do not pile the snow onto trees, shrubs, or flower gardens. If it has to be piled onto your landscape, move the salt onto the grass and try to do it in a manner that makes it more uniform on the grass surface. If too much salt continually gets piled up on the grass in one location, the turf can be harmed. If you are very concerned with the effect the deicers have on your plants, you can use alternate products for melting the ice, such as calcium magnesium acetate which contains no salt.

Windbreaks

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Photo by Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Department of Agronomy & Horticulture

In the winter months you might begin to realize that your existing windbreak is not as efficient as it once was. This would be a good time to assess whether you need to replace some of these trees and start to think about planting new trees in the spring. Or maybe you just moved to a new home or are building a new home and this winter will help you assess the need for a windbreak at your new build.

A windbreak can be used for many different reasons. Obviously, the main purpose is to block wind, but it can provide many other benefits. Windbreaks can help protect a homestead from wind and snow, protect cattle from winter winds, reduce soil erosion on fields, provide food and habitat for wildlife and birds, reduce sound from busy highways to a home, and they can be planted for beautification of the landscape. The size and design of a windbreak depends on the purpose of the windbreak.

Most windbreaks should be at least two rows deep, but the number of rows depends on the purpose of the windbreak. For most acreages our windbreaks are only two rows, but they should be four to ten rows. According to the Nebraska Forest Service, a standard multiple-row windbreak should have windward rows of dense conifer trees or shrubs, interior rows of tall broadleaf trees and leeward rows of shrubs or conifers. The windward side is toward the wind, or on the outside of the windbreak and the leeward side would be on the inside of the windbreak.

Diversify the plant material in a windbreak. Many people are having to replace rows or entire windbreaks from where Pine Wilt came through and killed the scotch or Austrian pines in their windbreak. It is always best to use multiple species from multiple plant families within a windbreak so that you don’t lose the entire windbreak if something else comes in to kill a certain species of trees. Windbreaks don’t have to be made entirely out of conifers, shrubs and deciduous trees can be used in a windbreak to help increase diversity, help block wind, and increase food and habitat for wildlife. If using multiple types of plants and multiple rows, the typical windbreak should consist of a dense shrub in row one of the windward side, followed by two rows of dense conifers, two rows of tall broadleaves or conifers, and finally a dense shrub on the leeward side.

windbreak-design-nfs

Photo of a typical windbreak profile is from Windbreak Design NebGuide, Authors: Jon S. Wilson & Scott J. Josiah Extension Foresters with the Nebraska Forest Service.

Spacing is important to remember when planting your trees. The spacing requirements have changed quite a bit over time because many of the old windbreaks were planted too close together causing disease and shade issues to the plants. Plant your trees at least to the minimum requirements for within the row and between the rows.

  • Deciduous shrubs:4-6 feet between plants in a row and 15-20 feet between rows
  • Deciduous trees: 12-20 feet between trees in a row and 20-30 feet between rows
  • Conifer trees: 14-20 feet between trees in a row and 20-30 feet between rows

Now is a good time to begin thinking about your tree needs for your windbreak because the local NRD is selling trees from now until March 1. This is a good way to start a windbreak because you can get a large quantity of trees for a low cost. These trees will start small and are suited for Nebraska environmental conditions. They have a good selection of tree and shrub choices for your windbreak, but you do have to order in a quantity of 25. The local NRD’s vary in tree and shrub species available, but they have a good choice of many different species that will do well in Nebraska.

Do I really need to rake?

fall landscape

November means fall is in full swing. The leaves of our trees begin to turn color and then fall to the ground making the ground colorful and giving it that characteristic “crunch” when you walk on the lawn. Why do some trees take so long to drop their leaves in the fall? And why do some hold onto the leaves throughout the entire winter? Finally, what do you do with the leaves when they fall to the ground?

Leaves fall to the ground in the fall to remove living material for the winter months. During the winter evergreen trees continue to transpire which can sometimes cause winter desiccation and browning on the needles if they lose more water than they take in. Deciduous trees lose their leaves to reduce the amount of living material necessary to support during the winter months and to reduce winter desiccation.

Each tree differs on how fast they lose their leaves. This is dependent on both the genetics of the tree and the environmental conditions they have faced this year. Two trees of the same species can lose their leaves at different times of the year based on the environment that is specifically surrounding that tree, or the microclimate. The environmental factors that affect when trees lose their leaves include prolonged drought, disease and insect pests, sunlight exposure, day length, colder air temperatures, frost timing, winds, soil, and water differences, according to Ted Griess, UNL Extension Horticulture Assistant. On years with extraordinarily hot and dry summers, the leaves tend to turn to fall color and drop off the tree much earlier than years of normal or cooler and wetter conditions throughout the summer.

Some trees, especially pin oak trees, hold onto their dead leaves throughout the entire winter and don’t lose the leaves produced this year until new leaves begin next spring. There is nothing wrong with this, it is a natural occurrence for some tree species.

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Photo of Shagbark Hickory courtesy of Nicholas A. Tonelli, via Flickr creative commons license

Now that the leaves are falling, what do we do with them? It is not good for the lawn to leave the fallen leaves on the turf for the winter months. The leaves that fall can become matted on the grass and suffocate the lawn underneath. So, it is important to remove leaves from the lawn in the fall. This can be done with a rake or with a lawnmower. You can use the lawnmower to break up the leaves so that they go down into the turf and won’t suffocate it. You can also use the lawn mower to bag up all of the leaves as they fall. Mulching the leaves into the lawn will not add a thatch layer to your lawn. The leaves break down quickly and will not be a problem. Either way you do it, with a rake or a lawnmower, make sure that you get the leaves off of the lawn before winter.

After you have finished mowing the last time for the season, and have mowed up all your tree leaves, you should prepare your lawn mower for winter. Clean up the lawn mower and be sure to get all the grass off the blades and off of the underside of the deck. It may also be a good idea to sharpen the blades before you put it away for the winter so you don’t have to do that in the spring before you get started mowing.

Planting for Fall Color

Planting for Fall Color

Fall will soon be here, with it comes cooler weather, football, and the changing of color of many of our plants. For fall, there are a few plants that I always look to for a great show of color, this is a short list but there are many more plants for fall color.

Fall color is one of the reasons we all enjoy the season. The leaves turn from green to red, yellow, or orange in the fall due to the pigments present in the leaves. During the spring and summer months, green chlorophyll is the dominant pigment in leaves and this hides the other pigments from view. In the fall, the production of chlorophyll slows down and eventually stops altogether to allow the other pigments to show up in our leaves. The different conditions we see each fall affects the how much and how vivid the colors are in the fall, which is why some years we have better fall color than others. Clear days, cool nights, and dry conditions in the fall promote high quality fall color, according to Iowa State University.

Garden mums or Chrysanthemums are wonderful for fall color. They bloom in August and September in colors such as purple, pink, orange, yellow, white, coral, and deep burgundy or red. They need to be pinched back 2-3 times in June until Independence Day to ensure that they bloom properly in the fall. Some mums have low winter hardiness due to repeated freezing and thawing throughout our winters. If this occurs, add extra mulch around the plants before winter, cut the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall, and discontinue fertilization by the end of July.

Shagbark hickory, flickr, Nicholas A. Tonelli

Shagbark Hickory photo from Nicholas A. Tonelli via Flickr Creative Commons License

Shagbark Hickory is one of my favorite trees that are underutilized in Nebraska. In the fall this tree turns a brilliant golden-yellow color to help enrich your fall landscape color. The shaggy bark appearance that the older trees grow into is another unique characteristic of this tree. This is a native plant to the region so it will withstand the constantly changing weather that is typical of Nebraska. Also, because it is a hickory tree, it produces a tasty, edible nut that is similar to hickory nuts, making it a great tree choice for nut production and for wildlife.

Burning Bush- 4

Burning Bush in Fall Color

Burning Bush is a terrific large shrub choice for most any landscape. This is a type of shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall, but there is a compact version that grows up to 10 feet tall. It has a deep glossy green leaf throughout the spring and summer but in the fall it turns a bright red color or pink in shady locations. One problem with Burning Bush, however, is that it is a plant that is susceptible to scale insect. Scale can be controlled when in the crawler stage, typically in the early spring, with an insecticidal soap or Horticulture oil.

There are also a lot of great oak trees that can be planted for great fall color. Red and white oaks turn red in the fall. Bur Oaks turn a yellow color in the fall. Shumard oak is another great oak tree that has reliable red fall color. Oak trees are a great tree choice for Nebraska and their fall color just makes them that much better. They are well adapted for most of the conditions we face in Nebraska and can typically withstand drought conditions fairly well. Plus, their acorns are a huge draw for wildlife for those who enjoy to view deer, squirrels, and other wildlife.