We can always count on spring, but we cannot count on how our plants will come through the winter weather. Emails and phone calls coming into our offices are revealing some trends on how our landscape plants faired.

Recent warming temperatures signals the beginning of the pruning season. Gardeners may need to just help nature shape up a shrub that did not read the rule book on how it should look, or they may begin or continue to structure the tree fruits or grapes in backyard.

Note: this is part one of a series on fruit trees

You don’t need space for a full orchard to plant and enjoy fruit trees in the home landscape. However, where you place those fruit trees – whether it’s a whole home orchard or just a few trees – makes a big difference in how they grow and perform. As they say, “location, location, location.” Here’s what to consider:

Firewood is sold in a variety of ways these days, from a small bundle at the local gas station to a truckload dumped on the driveway waiting to be stacked by you later.

Measurements for firewood go back to sometime between 1630 and 1640. Back then, you could still buy firewood by the “cord.” The story goes that the term originated from the materials used to measure the firewood – namely a line, string, rope or “cord.”

I know you are already thinking, “Why is he talking about what to do with the holiday tree while presents are still under it?” Well, I may be rushing the calendar a bit, yet having an expectation of how best to recycle the tree makes the follow-through easier.

We winterize the lawn mower, why not the home orchard and landscape? Now is the time to prevent problems later, by spending some time with your favorite young trees and fruit trees.

The weather can, does, and will influence foliage disease each year, starting in the early weeks of spring. While early spring was a long time ago, many diseases are now quite visible in the home landscape.

By this time of year, woody plants have taken care of business, meaning the foliage already has produced the energy needed to form buds for both foliage and flowers for next year. If there is a fruit or pod containing seeds, that is nearly, if not already completed, as well. In the next few weeks, plants will get the signal that fall is on the way and begin to set up for the eventual color change and leaf drop.

This time of year, many of the messages coming into our local Master Gardener Help Desks are commonly asked questions that track with our seasonal weather. Here are a few:

Q: My lawn has looked pretty good until two weeks ago, what’s up with all the brown spots and patches now?

photo of downed tree

Strong winds and heavy rains have caused damage to our larger, older shade trees. Wind and rain together provide the “right ingredients” to bring down limbs, especially those that have had structural issues like decay or poor crotch angles, creating included bark which weakens the crotch physically. Bad crotch angles will allow the wind to tear out one of the limbs, usually the smaller or weaker one. The rain just adds many pounds of weight, making the job of the wind easier. Broken branches throughout the canopy is better than having lost a large limb, permanently disfiguring the tree.

Gardeners have been seeing lots of lumps, bumps, and blobs on different kinds of leaves throughout the home landscape, or in parks and the forest preserves. It is not uncommon, as this occurs annually. What is uncommon is the generous number we are seeing this year.

The hot, dry weather we have been getting – and will continue to get – changes how we are going to water the home landscape. Best management practices, or BMP, includes more than just watering (but water is so key to plant survival) and more than just your vegetable plants.

Tips for containers and planters

Master Gardener Help Desk emails have really been different this past two weeks. Our early spring challenges have left and along came the first of our summer concerns in the landscape and vegetable beds. The list turned into more than a column’s worth, so going to hit the big ones this week:

Homeowners expect so much from shade trees, but those same trees get little care once they get established in the home landscape. Besides getting watered during stressful times, proper mulching can go a long way in the health of the tree.

Just about now, you can see once-fresh Christmas trees sitting in yards or by curbs, waiting for the assigned pick-up date to be collected and mulched. This is one way to be sure your holiday tree gets recycled to the benefit of the environment. (And, if available in your area, be sure to mark your calendar to later take advantage of the community program and bring home some of the composted tree material for your landscape beds.) As you take the tree outdoors, collect those fallen needles and add them to your own compost pile.

Last week, I shared some tips for selecting a fresh, or “real,” Christmas tree. However, that is just one choice out there. Each year, households across America debate the decision of real vs. artificial for the family Christmas tree. Key points may include tradition, aesthetics, and, more recently, sustainability.

evergreen trees

With Thanksgiving last week, holiday tree shopping – whether you are going to cut your own or visit your favorite lot to purchase your tree – is in full swing now. Some of the common favorites are balsam fir, Fraser fir, Scotch pine and white pine, each having different needle characteristics, fragrance, and color. There are of course many other kinds of trees to pick from at any retailer or lot.

Fall Colors & Leaves: Three weeks ago, there was only a hint of fall color in the home landscape. In the last week or so, fall color has come a long way. All the red maple cultivars have developed good reds and lots of other trees and shrubs are showing strong yellows and golds. Very soon, according weather forecasts, we are expecting a hard freeze and that color show will end.

Fall is for more than planting trees (although it is true that fall is a great time for that – see more below). Fall also is the time to do so many activities in the home landscape. These are not just weekend activities, but things that can be done in small bites, even on weekday evenings.

This season gardeners have been seeing many lumps, bumps and blobs on all kinds of plants throughout the landscape, in parks and forest preserves. It is not uncommon since this occurs annually, what is uncommon is the generous number of these growths we are seeing.