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Master Gardeners of Douglas County

Master Gardeners of Douglas County

Browning Evergreens

In the Garden with Extension Educator Larry Zilliox

April 28, 2008

Now that it has dried up and warmed up people are getting out and assessing winters damage to their plants. One of the first things they are noticing is the browning of foundation evergreens. The severe cold along with the strong winds last winter caused the needles to dry out and in some cases die. People are saying that the plants look orange and the needles are dry.

Fortunately, the Yews, Junipers and Arborvitae grow continuously during the growing season. Therefore they can be pruned back to green growth and new buds will develop. While you are pruning the dead material out, step back and take a look at the plant and its shape. You may need to do a little more pruning to have a good looking plant. However, if the plant is misshapen and can't be corrected then replace it.

One of the questions I often get is pruning the columnar arborvitae that is pushing the eve off the house. These plants should be removed as they are over grown and can not be brought back into shape. Cutting the top off will cause you to have a flat top shrub that does not recover its pyramidal shape. Purchase a plant that will not grow so tall or plant the new one out further from the house to prevent this problem in the future.

The other plant that gets out of hand around the foundation is the Mugho Pine. This plant needs constant attention or it grows too big for it space around the house. Because it is a pine it only has a terminal bud at the growing tip. If this is removed that branch stops growing and you end up with a stub. The only time you can prune the Mugho and pine trees is when the new growth emerges, which we call a candle. This can be trimmed up to two -thirds while it is soft and pliable, usually around the end of June. Then a new bud will form at the base of the candle and growth will develop the following year.

The spruce trees only grow in the spring, but they do have lateral buds that will develop if the terminal bud is removed. Therefore you can prune them throughout the season, but make sure you cut back to a side bud or there will be a short stub. Spruce generally need very little pruning. They do go through a gangly stage like teenagers, but will usually grow out of it to form that Christmas tree look.

Some individuals like to trim off the lower branches of spruce and pine trees to be able to mow around them. It is not my preferred look for the tree, besides it keeps the mower away from the trunk of the tree which has caused as much damage to trees as weed whips. Trimming can be done any time of the year, because no branches will grow back in that area once they are removed. Make sure the cut is flush with the trunk so that we get a wound that can heal quickly.