By Bev Johnson, Otter Tail County Master Gardner

It’s Minnesota, what do you expect? That heavy wet snow is normal, but it can raise heck with your trees.  DO NOT bat the snow off evergreen branches.  Instead, lift the branch gently and bounce it up and down.  If the tree is small, grab the trunk and give it a good shake.  This works for deciduous trees and shrubs.  Those tall skinny conifers have a tendency to split right down the middle or just flop over.  If, after the snow is removed you see damage, well, they really are an ugly tree when they get too tall.  It will give you a good excuse to chop them down.  The use of 2 tall skinny trees on each side of the house or door is very outdated and doesn’t do anything to enhance the front of your house except to cover it up.

Have you ever wondered why oaks keep their leaves all winter?  The scientists call these leaves “marcescent” leaves.  On a typical deciduous tree, cells at the base of the leaf stem get the signal to secrete a digestive enzyme, which cuts off the leaf in the fall when it is no longer producing food for the tree.  When the leaf falls off a separation layer forms, protecting the tree from infection.  Marcescent leaf stems don’t have this separation layer so the leaves stay on the tree unless broken off by the wind.  In the spring, swelling leaf buds push the old leaves off.   This is more common on younger trees or the juvenile pars of older trees.  Old Ma’ nature does this to protect the young juicy buds from being eaten by hungry deer and moose.

Since we are talking about trees, don’t plant Norway Maple.  In some states it is illegal to buy this tree.  It is considered “biological pollution”.  This is one of those plants that are listed as “fast growing” or “vigorous”.  In other words, the darn thing grows like mad and shades out native plants.  It Is also a “soft” tree, throwing branches around in every strong wind and apt to fall over just about the time it’s big enough to give shade.  The state prints a booklet with a list of plants they don’t want you to plant because they are either invasive or not suited for our climate.

This time of year the seed catalogs are filling our mailboxes.  They are a great resource for gardeners.  They have descriptions of the flowers and vegetables as to size, spread, color and for melons, how many you can expect per vine.  However, if you are looking for a special color bloom, the print color may not be the color you will get in your garden.  In choosing vegetable seeds, look for words like delicious, excellent taste or some other description of flavor.  You also need to know how long to ripeness.  Never get a seed that takes longer than 120 days.  90 are better.  We do have early frosts on occasion.  Look at the address on the catalog.  If it is below the upper tier of states, chuck it.  Don’t buy plants, trees or shrubs from a catalog because then need to be shipped.  They are usually bare root and quite small, and you don’t know the growing conditions.  An apple tree grown in Illinois may just say, “I’m freezing to death”, and give up the ghost next spring.  This is a case for buying locally.  Local nurseries not only sell hardy plants, they are a repository of planting hints; how to, where and when.  You can’t get that from Gurney.