Things Look Different in Winter.

"Niveous". That's the word that was on the 359th day of my Merriam-Webster New Words Calendar. It was Christmas morning. Accent on the first syllable, niv. adj: of or relating to snow: resembling snow (as in whiteness): snowy. A second niveous event and the landscape took on completely new dimensions. It was snowshoe country.

The nature lover in all of us relishes the opportunity to dive into an aesthetically altered world shrouded in profound silence. This fulfills a deep spiritual need and connection with the earth and its offspring.

Whether you snowshoe or wait for different, more negotiable, conditions, a winter walk around your property can offer wonderful insights and new views of what is familiar three seasons of the year and yet looks so different now. Choose a bright clear day. Carry a notepad. This kind of activity is leisurely, enjoyable, and can even be beneficial if you have fruit trees and/or a woodlot. Seeing a tree leafless allows you to see its structure, its skeleton, and the unanticipated. Not only might you get landscaping design ideas, but you can scout for three very easy to spot (at this time of the year) pests. Early control may save you money and some favorite trees and shrubs.

Almost all of the members of the Prunus family are subject to infection by a fungus commonly known as blackknot. On wild cherry trees as well as plums, peaches, hawthorns, and amelanchiers (aka serviceberries or shadblow) look for black charcoal-like tumors not unlike black knots. This structure can vary in size from barely noticeable to a pronounced clump several inches across, not usually symmetrical. The infection continues to grow and release spores that can infect other family members, and in general spread for as long as it remains present in your landscape. Note in your pad, or tie a ribbon around the tree, or if you prepare ahead of time, prune out knotted twigs and branches within reach using sharp, clean shears or loppers. Cut back a foot below the source of the infection and make sure you carry any excised material out to be burned.

A second pest easy to spot on bare (snow free) winter branches of a few fruit trees is often overlooked and then later noticed in the highly visible form of the tent the caterpillars make. It's the Eastern Tent caterpillar egg mass, and you should look closely at twigs about one-eighth inch thick on wild cherry, crabapple and abandoned or neglected apple trees. The egg masses resemble Styrofoam that is brownish in color, looks shiny as if varnished, and completely encircles the thin twig. Rarely more than three-quarters of an inch long, the egg mass tapers slightly at the ends. Check closely trees you recall as having the tents in previous springs. They are likely candidates. Most of these should be reachable. Prune just below the egg mass to an outward facing bud. Carry these out with you and burn.

We here in the Catskills have been very fortunate these past several years. A pest of significant economic importance is usually well known to almost everyone. We have been spared a gypsy moth infestation for some time now, even though oak, birch, willow, apple, and even linden trees (if caterpillar populations are high) are all at risk. Since much of the moths' egg laying activity is fairly close to the ground (adult female moths can crawl, but cannot fly), egg masses are frequently seen within easy reach. They appear fuzzy in texture, light beige to tan in color, a cluster about the size of a postage stamp. You may see them on tree trunks as well as in more protected areas on rocks and stonewalls, fences, or the underside of patio furniture. Scrape them off into a bucket of soapy water anytime before April. If you spot them on trees where they are not reachable, mark the trees so that in April you can use a second management option. Burlap strip traps or Tanglefoot (super sticky) on bands surrounding the trunk are good ecologically sound alternatives for the capture and disposal of the caterpillars that are programmed to defoliate your tree.

So a winter walk can be satisfying on several levels. The economic one might even be measurable.

Since this is a time of year when many of us travel, I went to only to be reminded that while travel is a consideration, the other reasons why people check the weather forecast were health, sports, recreation and ... guess what? home and garden. Recent surveys indicate 78% or more of all households engage in some form of garden activity. Even though "home and garden" appears last for weather curious inquiries, I suspect it is in the upper echelon of those categories.

And for those of you that travel and take a winter vacation, in my next column, I'll share a few tips for vacation care of your houseplants so that on your return your houseplants will be healthy and happy to see you. (hard to measure)


From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on January 14, 2003

© 2003 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.