JULIE FINUCANE

Mild weather is forecast for the upcoming weeks. Use the opportunity to take care of some early spring gardening tasks.

Get a jump start on pest control on woody plants with dormant oil spray.

This refined, horticultural oil coats and smothers insect eggs, scale type insects, and critters such as caterpillars, mites and aphids that have crawled into nooks and crannies for the winter. They will never have a chance to waken and begin their summer’s life cycle of feeding on your shrubs, trees or fruit crop. Thorough coverage is needed for good results.

Ideal conditions for spraying dormant oil are when temperatures are between 50 and 70 degrees and when the temperature will remain above 40 degrees for the following 24 hours. For best results, it also shouldn’t rain during those 24 hours. Dormant oil cannot be applied when trees are leafing out or flowering, so it’s best to take advantage of one of the earlier opportunities, rather than risk waiting.

Take a preventive step against fungus diseases like leaf spot, rust and powdery mildew by applying lime sulfur to kill their dormant spores.

These problems can be chronic on roses, but can also affect other woody plants. It is generally not recommended to apply Lime sulfur in combination with oils, but if you want to use both in one step, specially formulated blended products are available.

Dormant applications of oil and lime sulfur are generally considered organic controls. Always choose products that are recommended for the specific plants on which you intend to use them, and follow package directions carefully to ensure both safety and effectiveness.

Winter or dormant pruning can safely be done any time it’s pleasant enough to wander outdoors and tackle the job. At this point, the worst of the harsh, tissue-damaging weather has passed, but growth hasn’t started. Useful tools include bypass pruning shears, loppers, a hand pruning saw and a pole pruner.

Pruning serves several purposes, from the simple aesthetics of shaping for a more pleasing form to practical trimming of low-hanging branches over walkways or scraping against buildings, or general maintenance pruning for the health of the plant.

It is most critical for the home orchard, since a fruit crop is also at stake, but many of the benefits and techniques are universal. Be judicious when pruning ornamental spring-blooming shrubs and trees, as you’ll also be removing some flowers.

The overall branching structure is easy to evaluate this time of year before trees leaf out. Look for branches that are rubbing against each other, and cut out the weaker of the two. Remove dead or damaged branches and slender ones that are crowding the interior of the crown. Keep sturdy, healthy branches that are growing out and slightly upward. Branches that shoot straight upward from horizontal branches are called water sprouts, and these should be removed also. Trees will develop these shoots in response to pruning, and those with smaller diameters may be snapped off or cut anytime during the growing season.

If shortening a branch, cut just past a side branch or bud. Consider the direction that branch or bud is pointing, as this will become a new branch in the structure of your tree. Avoid leaving a long stub beyond the side branch because this will die back, leaving a vulnerable entry point for disease or insects. Cut close, leaving a short collar at the base of the removed branch.

Take care of general cleanup, such as collecting fallen branches and picking up trash brought in by winter winds. Rake matted fall leaves left on lawn areas, but avoid stepping into planting beds.

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