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Garden Help Desk: Trimming now helps trees grow straight and resist potential damage

By USU Extension - Special to the Daily Herald | Dec 23, 2023
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Sometimes, trees will develop more than one new leader at the top. These co-dominant leaders can compete with each other to be the tallest and best, creating future problems for the tree. Corrective pruning can eliminate this problem.
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The co-dominant leader problem on this tree was corrected by choosing the best of the competing leaders and reducing the height of all the others.
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It's normal for spring-blooming buds to have green tops during the winter. The bulbs and tops are protected from wither damage by the soil and mulch above them. If the green tops are exposed during winter cleanup, simply replace the soil and mulch before ending the job.

I have a fir tree that is a few years old. This year, the top of the tree has several small, new top shoots where there is usually just one. I think this is going ruin the shape of my tree. What can I do?

From your description, it sounds like your tree could develop co-dominant leaders without some intervention. Most trees have a single central stem or trunk, which also called a leader. Sometimes trees that should naturally have just one leader may develop two or more leaders that compete with each other to be the tallest and largest. This can happen when a branch grows very vigorously and very upright.

Trees with multiple leaders are more prone to splitting between the leaders during windy weather, under a heavy snow load or simply when the two leaders expand in girth and push against each other.

The fix for this problem is pretty simple if you’ll take care of it now while the extra twigs are young. Choose the top shoot that looks like it will be the straightest or best leader and prune back any competing side shoots so they are about half the height of the central stem you’ve chosen as the new leader for your tree. That will leave you with a single dominant leader for the new season. I’ve included an example in today’s photos.

The longer you wait to fix the problem, the more difficult it will be, the less attractive the tree will be after you fix it and the more likely your tree will be to split during windy or snowy weather.

It’s always a good idea to take a few minutes and check all your trees every year. It’s easier to do at this time of year because deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, making it easier to spot any problems and correct them. Look for broken or damaged branches that may need pruning or removal, take care of co-dominant leaders and get tree wrap on the trunks of any thin or dark-barked trees that may have been overlooked.

Last week you suggested some ways I could rescue some bulbs and perennials in my yard. I got started on moving some of them out of the way before a city crew installs a meter for our secondary irrigation water, but when I pulled back the layer of leaf mulch, I found bulbs that look very much awake. Does this mean I can’t safely move them, or do I need to change the way I do it?

Those little green shoots under your mulch aren’t out of the ordinary. Even so, I’m afraid you don’t really have a choice about whether or not to move them. You can’t leave them there, and they’re certainly more likely to survive if you move them instead of trying to find all of them and replant them after the city crew digs them up.

Go ahead and move the bulbs as you were planning to do it. Be as careful as you can to avoid damaging the roots. Keep them someplace cold like a protected place outdoors but with a little extra protection or insulation around any pots, boxes, etc. that you’re keeping them in since the roots will be exposed to colder conditions than they had underground. Get all your bulbs and other perennials replanted as soon as the city crew has finished its work.

When you replant, handle them carefully to avoid further root damage, make sure you cover them with soil to the same level as before (or even just slightly deeper) and add back a layer of mulch once you’re done. Either the original leaf mulch or some other mulch like small bark nuggets or compost will give them some winter protection while they get reestablished.

Remember: These plants won’t be as robust this coming spring as they were last year, but steady growth in 2024 should mean a bounty of blooms the following year.


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