Firewood that has been stacked outside for a long period of time is an ideal habitat for animals. Restack your wood periodically to discourage nesting. Don’t be alarmed if you discover small insects such as carpenter ants, termites, and bark beetles. None of these insects can survive the trip indoors to damage wood in your home. Termites cannot survive when taken away from their colony; wood eating beetles and carpenter ants cannot use wood unless it has a high moisture content.
When purchasing seeds or plant material, select varieties that are known for their resistance to insects and diseases. Resistance does not guarantee a plant’s immunity to pests or diseases, but the plant is usually able to survive pest attacks without any long-term damage.
Cold winter temperatures can cause color changes in the foliage of evergreens, producing showy tans to browns on arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis; bronze on Siberian cypress, Microbiata decussata; and purples on some junipers like ‘Bar Harbor’, ‘Wiltonii’, and ‘Andorra’. This is a natural, seasonal occurrence, and when spring temperatures warm up, the normal colors of evergreens will return.
Pine tip blight, caused by Sphaeropsis sapinea, is a fungal disease which affects the new growth of more than 20 species of two and three-needled pines including Austrian, mugo, ponderosa, Monterey, and Scots pines. It takes advantage of older trees that are under stress from various factors including drought, insects, mechanical injury, hail, or strong winds. Damage is usually first evident on the lower crown and can kill current-year shoots, major branches, and eventually entire trees. Conspicuous symptoms on the new growth include stunted shoots, brown needles, and small black fungal fruiting structures at the base of needles or on the scales of the second-year cones. Pine tip blight thrives in wet spring weather; winter is a good time to take some preventative measures against the spread of this fungus. Prune out all dying and dead branches and remove infected cones since the spores of this fungus overwinter on them. The dry cones can be used as kindling in your fireplace. Also, consider planting pines that are resistant to tip blight such as Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergiana; white pine, Pinus strobus; or loblolly pine, Pinus taeda.
Give our environment a helping hand by recycling your holiday tree. By removing the boughs and cutting them into smaller branches, you can provide your perennial garden with a natural, biodegradable mulch that will in turn help prevent injury to dormant plants during the freezing and thawing of the winter months. The trunk can be used as a trellis for annual vines next spring.
When starting seeds indoors for spring plantings, you may want to follow a few simple steps to help prevent damping-off, a term used to describe a number of soil borne diseases of plants and seed borne fungi. Pythium and Phytophthora are two common causes of damping-off. Seeds, roots, and stems can rot quickly after sprouting as a result of overwatering and from cool, wet, soil conditions. The best defense against damping-off is good sanitation. Before reusing old containers, wash them in a 1% bleach solution and use a sterile, porous soil mix for planting. Good cultural practices will help as well. Make sure to use containers with drainage holes, avoid overcrowding plants and overcovering seeds, and allow the soil surface to dry between waterings