When the bough breaks, prune tree and let it heal

BACKYARD Q&A

January 31, 1999

Q. The ice storm a few weeks ago broke several large branches from pines, maples and elms around my yard. I sawed off the broken limbs that I could reach. Should I apply some type of wound dressing to these open cuts? And should I worry about the broken stubs that I can't reach?

A. All large, broken branches and stubs should be pruned back cleanly to the next largest limb or the trunk. This will improve the appearance of your trees and minimize the chance of subsequent problems with diseases and insects.

Research shows that tree wounds heal better naturally; don't bother with a coating of paint or salve.

As for the small branches, you can ignore them, especially if their removal is dangerous or cost-prohibitive.

Q. The neighborhood kids have selected my steep back yard for sledding this winter. The grass grew poorly last summer, and now the yard looks like an ugly mixture of grass and mud. What's a homeowner to do?

A. First, try to determine the cause of last year's poor growth. Was there too much shade, compacted soil, drought, the wrong type of turf grass? Be sure to use turf-type tall fescue seed if you decide to reseed in the spring.

Establishing thick turf on a hill can be difficult because the seed is easily washed away by rainfall. Rather than grass, you could choose a permanent, low-growing ground cover. There are many types to choose from, including ivy, juniper, bugleweed, phlox, pachysandra and sweet woodruff. Consult gardening books and local nurseries to select a ground cover suitable for your specific backyard conditions.

If you go for ground cover, the kids won't be able to sled on it. If you decide to stick with grass, ask them to find a public sledding area instead of your yard.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Buy seeds for this year's garden. Look for vegetable cultivars that have resistance to the diseases that have caused you trouble in the past.

2. Cut ornamental grasses to within 2 inches of the ground. Use a hedge trimmer or pruning tool.

3. Clean or replace the fluorescent tubes you use for starting flower and vegetable plants indoors. The light emitted from these tubes weakens considerably after a few years of use.

Pub Date: 01/31/99

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