Question: S. H. Scotch Plains, NJ
I planted an October Glory Maple tree this past spring. Is there anything that I should do to protect the tree for the winter?
First, I would recommend using tree wrap. Maples and other thin barked trees have a greater potential to form cracks on their southern exposure during any rapid change in bark temperature. These harmful cracks often occur in the winter when the sun is more intense in the morning after a cold night. These cracks can be the entry points for disease and insect problems that can cause further harm to the tree. You can prevent these cracks by using a light colored tree wrap that is available at most garden supply stores. Wrap the trees from the ground up to the first primary limb. Some gardeners will even wrap beyond this point while the tree is still young. Apply the tree wrap so that you overlap on the previous wrap and secure the top with string to hold in place.
Second, I would recommend staking the tree for the first year until the roots are firmly established. By using stakes and rope, you can prevent excessive movement and damage to newly planted trees. You can pick up tree stake kits at most garden stores and simply follow the directions on the package. If you have planted large trees, you may need to make your own tree staking system. To make your own staking system, use at least three sturdy stakes in a triangular pattern and a strong rope to prevent the tree from excessive movement during establishment. When securing the rope to the mid section of the young tree, use a soft but sturdy rope or other materials that will not cut into the bark of the tree. Do not use wire directly around the bark as it may cut into the tree and cause damage. Some gardeners will cover wire that comes in contact with the tree bark with a section of rubber hose to prevent bark damage. When staking, allow the tree to move several inches in each direction. A little movement actually helps to strengthen the tree. Remember to remove the stakes after the first 12 to 18 months. Stakes that are left on too long or ones that do not allow slight movement of the tree can lead to other problems.
Third, I would recommend mulching around the newly planted tree with no more than two or three inches of organic mulch such as bark mulch or wood chips. Pull the mulch back away from the base of the tree trunk by two to three inches. Mulches help to conserve moisture, reduce weeds and provide a protective layer for surface roots exposed to excessive low or high temperatures.
It is also important to periodically water newly planted trees during the fall and winter, especially during extended unseasonable warm spells when there has been very little rain or snowfall.
Question: D. S. Milltown, NJ.
My lilac bushes had very few flowers this year. I planted them about seven years ago and I’ve had more flowers each year up until this year. I pruned the plants back last summer and I’m not sure if I overdid it with the pruning shears. I also noticed a lot of white coloration on the leaves. Is there something wrong with my lilacs? Should I fertilize them to help them flower?
Spring flowering bushes like lilacs should be pruned immediately after flowers have faded in the spring. By pruning later in the summer, the flower buds for the following spring were removed and that’s why your plants had few flowers. As long as the plant has good green color and is growing adequately, it is not necessary to apply fertilizer. Many landscape plants are getting adequate and sometimes excessive fertilization from lawn fertilizer applications. It may be wise to add an inch of compost around the base of the lilacs before you apply any mulch. Compost is great for many of our landscape plants and provides a slow release of nutrients and adds organic matter to improve soils.
The white growth on the leaves of the lilacs is called powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a very common fungal disease on lilacs that can appear during the hot and humid part of the growing season, normally in August. I would not recommend spraying any fungicides to control powdery mildew. The fungus is more of an aesthetic problem and will not harm the plant.
Question: T. R. Edison
My neighbor suggested that I cut the lawn very short in the fall to prevent diseases. Is this necessary? I thought that keeping the lawn at a higher cut was the best thing for grass. Who is right?
You are actually both correct. For the last cut of the fall season, mow the lawn shorter to reduce the potential for fungal diseases called snow molds that can infect turf in the fall and winter. Longer cuts in the fall and winter can enhance the incidence of snow molds by providing an ideal environment for these winter diseases.
During the growing season however, it is best to cut the lawn higher at 2 to 3 inches. Close mowing in the spring and summer actually increases stress on most cool season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescues and ryegrass. Close mowing also encourages weed growth and research has shown significant reductions in weed infestations by increasing mowing height over one to two years. It is especially important to keep grasses cut higher during the hottest part of the season.
Go to www.ifplantscouldtalk.rutgers.edu for more information on tree care. There you will find videos and slide shows on the proper techniques for planting, wrapping, staking and mulching of trees.
For more information on gardening, environmental stewardship and pest management classes and information go to www.rce.rutgers.edu/ . Our EARTH Center will be hosting a workshop on “Caring for Holiday Plants” on November 29, 2006. Pre-registration is required. Contact Denise at 732-398-5262 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details