As winter subsides, and warmer temperatures prevail, plants begin to break dormancy, signaling a changing of the seasons. Spring arrives, and landscapes are renewed, as leaves expand and flowers blossom. But to truly thrive, landscapes and plants require maintenance. The following describes some of the best practices for establishing or sustaining a healthy landscape.
Perform General Yard Maintenance
Before tending to your plants, remove any decorative holiday lights that may be attached to them. As plants resume growth, they gradually expand in size. Holiday lights can girdle branches as they develop, resulting in foliar dieback. Once temperatures have increased, burlap strips or wraps may be removed from around plants. Leaves, fruit, and twigs that have been shed from plants may harbor disease pathogens. As such, rake and dispose of debris that has collected beneath or around plants to reduce the potential for infection.
Once the soil has thawed, ensure that plants are sufficiently watered, especially those that are rooted in areas where de-icing materials were used. Once leaf expansion has begun, apply an inch or more of water per week over the root zone of plants. The water should be plentiful enough to penetrate into at least the first eight inches of the soil. This will allow for optimal exposure of the water to the plant roots. If an irrigation system is present, activate it to help shift de-icing materials out of the soil, and away from plant roots. Watering your plants will also keep plants hydrated as temperatures increase. Prior to activating an irrigation system, inspect the sprinkler’s components for leaks, cracks, or clogs. Adjust sprinkler heads to avoid splashing water onto the foliage of plants that are susceptible to fungal diseases.
Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of plants. This practice will improve the quality of the soil, while helping to moderate the soil temperature, and retain soil moisture. Mulch also assists in nutrient absorption, and acts as a deterrent to weeds and invasive grasses. When applied, mulch should not exceed more than three inches in depth. Spread the mulch widely, and avoid creating dense mounds, or piling mulch up against the trunk of plants. When mulch is allowed to make contact with the trunk of a plant, it accumulates moisture, which can attract disease pathogens. Extract weeds or grasses that are rooted near or around plants to prevent them from sapping the plant of vital nutrients.
Inspect Plants for Health Concerns
Assess your plants in early spring to determine the state of their health. Identify diseased or damaged branches that require removal. Inspect the trunks of plants for cavities, holes, splits, or cracks that have formed in the wood. If insects are present, exit holes may be apparent on infested parts of the plant. Depending on the insect, frass and honeydew may have collected at the base of the trunk. The eggs of various insects may also be observed on the branches of plants during this period.
Wet spots and cracked or loose bark can be indicative of infection. Once leaf expansion has commenced, examine the surface of the developing leaves for lesions. Lesions will appear on the tender growth as small dark spots encircled by yellow halos. Premature leaf drop and delayed leaf expansion are also symptoms of infection. If a plant is leaning considerably to one side, it may denote that the plant has become unstable, necessitating its removal.
Pruning can be performed on a multitude of plants in early spring. On flowering trees, pruning is essential to maintaining plant vigor, and encouraging healthy growth. To preserve the blossoms on a flowering plant, pruning should be delayed until after the blooming period has concluded.
When pruning, remove any dead, diseased, or broken branches. To determine if a branch is dead, wait to prune until leaf expansion has begun. Dead branches will become conspicuous as the leaves unfurl. If a plant has become overly vigorous, thin out the interior to increase light penetration and promote air circulation throughout the crown.
Administer pruning cuts at the branch collar. This will enable the pruning wounds to effectively callus over. Avoid slicing into the branch bark ridge or branch collar. This creates gashes in the wood that can be invaded by disease pathogens and insects. Do not remove more than 1/3 of a tree’s crown at any one time. If additional pruning is required, it should be performed at regular intervals over several years. Tree topping is not an advisable method of pruning. It cripples the tree’s branch architecture, and often results in the formation of numerous defects.