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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Trees will finally drop last year’s leaves as they prepare to leaf out

Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

OK winter, you can go away now. You’ve proved you can run us into the ground with ice, snow and teasers of warming weather. It’s March now so leave us alone. You left us with a lot of work from the fall so let us get to it. Please! See, I even asked nicely.

Winter arrived so quickly that first weekend of last November that the trees hadn’t finished losing their leaves and most of us hadn’t finished raking up fall debris. The trees will be fine. The sudden cold short-circuited the formation of the layer between the leaf and the tree that allows the leaf to fall. As the trees prepare to leaf out in a few weeks, the leaves will be released naturally.

That will lead to the next task as the snow melts. Removing the leaf and needle debris will be a bit more of a challenge after it was packed down by the weight of the snow. Wait for the beds and lawn to dry off a bit before you start raking as it will be easier to move the stuff. In shrub and flower beds, remove debris off of evergreens but consider leaving the debris that has been packed down onto the ground in place. It’s instant mulch that spring plants will come up through with no problem unless they are big maple leaves. Those will need to be removed as they form a dense mat that plants can’t push through. Mulch up what you do pull out and return it to the beds. Shredded pine needles are a great replacement for bark.

Check shrubs and trees that were weighted down by the snow for broken branches and trim them back to the closest branch to the break. Do not treat the cut with tree paint, tree heal or any other concoction as the tree will heal on its own. The paint actually inhibits the healing process. If limbs are not easy to reach with pruners, call in the professionals who have the tools, knowledge and insurance to do the job right.

When it does warm up a bit, the early spring bulbs like snow drops, dwarf iris, winter aconite and crocuses will begin to appear. Some of them like snow drops might even push through the snow to bloom. When the snow drops I have planted along the walk to the front door bloom, I know spring has really come.

Late March is pruning and dormant spraying season for fruit trees and berry bushes. Check out the Spokane Edible Tree Project’s hands-on pruning workshop on March 18 at Dormant spray needs to be applied to fruit trees to smother a host of overwintering insects before the buds break. Peach and nectarine trees need to be sprayed with lime-sulfur spray to prevent peach leaf curl. This is the only time of year this disease can be stopped and it must be done before the buds break. The spray will damage the new leaves.

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