Prune your trees now before winter storms do it for you. Remove any dead or weak branches. Thin the branches of trees with dense growth such as ‘Bradford’ pear and red maple. Trees maintained with proper pruning are less likely to be damaged by snow, ice, and wind.
Develop a plan to revitalize a portion of your garden when spring comes. Choose an area particularly hard hit by drought, insects, or diseases. Research alternative plant materials that fit the soil and water conditions on the site. You can cover the site with a tarp to keep the soil dry so you can get a jump on amending the soil and planting next spring.
When looking at catalogs be sure to select disease resistant seeds and plants for next year. Resistant plants may still be damaged by insects and diseases, but they usually are not killed or permanently damaged.
It’s natural for some of your evergreens change their foliage color this winter. It’s their way of responding to the falling temperatures. Arborvitae develops a brownish-tan color and some junipers turn purple. When temperatures rise in spring the foliage will return to its normal color.
Don’t be concerned if some insects such as wood-boring beetles, carpenter ants, termites, powderpost beetles, or bark beetles make their way into your home on your firewood this winter. They’re only attracted to wood that is soft and chronically wet and should not damage structural wood or furniture in your home. Termites are social insects that dwell in the ground; when a small part of a colony is moved in a piece of firewood the termites perish. Also, it’s a good idea to restack old wood piles yearly to discourage rodents from making a home in them.
Don’t be alarmed by bulb foliage that is exposed during the winter. Daffodils and tulips begin growing as soon as soil temperatures warm to above 40°F and the foliage is remarkably cold tolerant. Some bulbs, such as grape hyacinth, naturally grow leaves in the fall and winter months.
If you are planning to start seeds inside this winter take steps to avoid ‘damping off’ disease. This disease is caused by water molds and weakens the roots and lower stem causing the seedlings to collapse shortly after germination. Sanitation is the key to preventing this disease. Be sure to use sterilized soil and clean pots. You can reuse old pots by sterilizing them with a one percent bleach solution. Use new soil every time you start seeds.
Diplodia tip blight is a fungal disease that affects Australian, mugo, Scots, and other two-needle pines. The new growth dies as the new needles are emerging from the shoots in spring. Shoots turn dry and brown and may curl up. Symptoms are prevalent during wet spring weather, but winter is a good time to take preventive action. The drought this past summer has made many pines more susceptible to disease and if this winter is followed by a wet spring new infections could be widespread. Prune out all dead and dying branches and remove all cones as well since large numbers of spores overwinter on them. The cones make wonderful fire starters for those cold winter nights. If you’re thinking about planting a new pine choose a resistant species like Japanese black pine or loblolly pine.