Gardening Tips: Protecting Trees and Shrubs

Editor’s note: We are reaching into Michelle Smith’s archives for tips that remain as timely now as when they were first published — which, in the case of today’s item, was 17 October 2017.


What to do this week

This week is a good time to care for your fruit trees and shrubs before winter.

The first thing to do is to clip the grass short around them. If you leave the grass long, the snow cover will leave little tunnels for mice. They will end up actually living right around the base of your fruit trees, taking a nibble now and then. If a mouse nibbles just part of the bark of a fruit tree, the tree will survive, although it will not be happy. But if mice manage to nibble all the way around the trunk, there is nothing the tree can do to feed itself in the spring. It will die, unless you are a very talented grafter. I have never been able to do bridge grafting well, so I pay attention to tree guards.

Coyote (Photo via Parks Canada)

Coyote. (Photo via Parks Canada)

Put plastic tree guards around the base of each young tree. That will discourage mice from girdling your fruit trees. In past winters, when we had heavy snow, I have had mice girdle my fruit trees up to three feet above the ground. So, the deeper the snow, the higher the tree guard has to be. I protect most of my trees, even the mature ones, with wire mesh or something to prevent them from being girdled by mice. Some of my trees are very rare. If you have common varieties, you may want to relax a bit about it, but it would be a shame to lose even your common variety tree once you have watched it take root and decide to stay.

Mice may not be so much of a problem in the city, compared to the country, but you will know your neighbourhood. They do love to snack on that lovely green bark during winter. I hate to admit it, but there are a lot of mice in the country, and that is why I like eagles and coyotes so much. They live off mice, and I like that a lot. I know that coyotes are not everyone’s favorite animal, especially if you have a small dog or small livestock, but for many farmers, coyotes are a friend. They are a really important part of the pest control strategy in the country.

Don’t prune in the fall if you can help it. You may have some damage you have to tidy up, but otherwise, wait until spring. We have freeze and thaw cycles during the winter that could damage that exposed wood. If you must cut in the fall, be sure to seal the cuts with tree wound dressing. You can get that at a good garden centre.

You may have specialty evergreens such as the conifers that people like to have as ornamentals in their yards. Here in Cape Breton, they are at the limit of their happy growing region, and could use some help getting through the winter. The biggest threat to your evergreens is our strong Cape Breton winter winds which can dessicate trees and cause them to die back. There are a couple of things you can do to shelter them from that: one is to give them a good, deep watering in the fall. This fall has been a bit dry, it seems to me, so it may be even more important this year. Once the ground freezes, they won’t take up any more water, so watering in the winter will not help. It will actually hurt. Another thing you could do is to put a little burlap tent around the tree.

Juniper trees are evergreens that grow wild in Cape Breton. You often see them growing near beeches. Juniper berries are the principle spice of gin. (I don’t drink gin, but only because I don’t drink.) I do love the berries as a spice in tomato chowder, though. I wrap my juniper trees in burlap to protect the berries (and guarantee my chowder). There is nothing like a good winter coat, even if it is just burlap.

Featured image: Wire mesh protecting tree from rodents via Preparedness Advice.



Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.





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