Q: The branches on the shrub in the photo were bent and buried in snow after the wet and heavy snowstorm last fall. As you can see, it has split. What should I do, saw it off below the split? Should I also cut back the branches that spent most of the winter laying on the ground? — Julie Henderson.
A: I love a good mystery, and I wasn’t certain what type of shrub this was until I saw a few remnants of past arborvitae foliage, and a little sprig of arborvitae’s evergreen foliage in the photo’s corner. And the bark fits globe arborvitae.
Identification is the first step in knowing what to do, because deciduous (leafy) shrubs are handled differently than evergreen shrubs when damage happens. If the splitting and collapsed branches in the photo happened to a deciduous shrub, the remedy is straightforward and successful: prune the shrub all the way back to 6 inches above ground level, and it will regenerate nicely.
Evergreens, however, don’t have the same ability to sprout from bare lower branches. Pruning should be limited to cutting back to areas that still have healthy evergreen foliage.
If you’d like to see what happens, cut the split branch below the damage, and lightly trim the other branches, hoping the reduction in weight might encourage the other branches to return to position. I’m normally optimistic, but I believe a replacement might be the end result in this case.
Q: As the snow is receding, I’m noticing gray, cottony mold on the grass. Is it too early to start raking it off? — Linda M., Fargo.
A: Snow mold on lawns is most prevalent when snow arrives early in the fall and leaves late, which are the conditions of the past several years. Snow mold can be mitigated easily by gently fluffing up the matted, moldy grass with a leaf rake. The mold usually disappears with this aeration without permanent damage.
Rake lightly as soon as possible. Vigorous raking of lawns should wait until you can kneel on the grass without getting a wet spot on your jeans. Raking too early while the lawn is moist can damage grass shoots.
Q: I recently read an online post saying we should resist the urge to clean up flower gardens until temperatures are consistently warm, because many butterflies and bees are currently overwintering in the hollowed stems of last year’s plants and if we clean the gardens now, we are throwing away this year’s beneficial pollinators. Is this true? — Cindy Klapperich, Oakes, N.D.
A: Several of us here at North Dakota State University Extension collaborated on an answer, and yes, this is true.
Extension Entomologist Janet Knodel says you can still clean up gardens but instead of putting the stems into the trash, she puts them on a new compost pile and leaves them for a year or more before starting the composting process of decomposition.
Extension Horticulturist Esther McGinnis likewise recommends waiting to cut down perennials until you start seeing native pollinators active in spring. Concern for pollinator nesting coincides well with our past recommendations to leave the tops of perennial flowers intact over winter, instead of clear-cutting in fall.
In the past, the main reason for delaying cleanup until spring was because perennials tend to survive winter better if tops are left on. Now we realize that the hollow stems of perennials are also important for winter survival of pollinating bees and butterflies.
When is the safe time to clean up the perennial bed in spring? The old tops generally need to be removed before new growth emerges from the base.
To save pollinators that might be nesting, remove the tops when needed, but instead of disposing of them, leave them in the vicinity. Most of us have areas around or to the rear of a perennial bed where a layer of perennial tops could be laid on the ground in a small pile and left until midsummer.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 701-241-5707. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.