12/12/14: In the garden this week

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American hazelnut (Corylus americana) after pruning last winter. Notice the newly cut stems at the bottom center.

It’s just about time to start winter pruning of trees and shrubs. The temperatures have generally gone below freezing overnight, so even through the ground is not completely frozen, most plants are dormant. In horticulture school, we learned to start pruning after Christmas and end sometime in February when the sap starts to run. Last winter that meant pruning in freezing cold temperatures, with snow and ice on the ground. Consequently, I have a lot of pruning to do this winter!

The bird activity continues apace in our front and back yards. We’re still trying to get pictures of the mixed species foraging flocks. Look for a post on them in the near future. In the meantime . . .

stop watering newly installed perennials and woody plants. We’ve had a lot of precipitation lately; my informal rain gauge (an open one-quart yogurt container) is full, and its contents are partly frozen. If we have a prolonged period of warm, dry weather, however, resume watering so that new plantings receive 1 inch of water per week.

begin winter pruning of woody plants. Most trees and shrubs are now completely dormant, so this is a good time to prune. I prune shrubs myself but call a tree company for larger jobs. Don’t go crazy with removing dead wood, however: large dead branches and snags (standing dead trees) are the best possible homes for birds. We have two large Norway maples that are slowly dying of wet rot. We have dead branches removed if they’re over walkways or buildings but leave others alone. Woodpeckers have been living in the trees for years, and now there are nuthatches as well.

– thoroughly clean up the vegetable garden. Do not compost diseased or pest-infested plants. Spread a layer of compost to prepare the soil for next year.

leave seedheads in place on perennials and native grasses and enjoy the bird activity all winter.

save your autumn leaves for compost. Store them to add to the compost pile all year. You may also decide to use your lawnmower to chop them and mulch them into your lawn as fertilizer.

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A male red-headed woodpecker in residence in a dead branch of one of the Norway maples in our front yard. This picture was taken in spring of 2011. There’s been a nest in this branch every year.

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