Walden Heights Winter Edition 2023
Winter in our neck of the woods of Northern Vermont has proved pretty uneventful for 2023. Weirdly mild temperatures and even more weirdly low snow cover adds more fodder for global climate change shenanigans. Mercifully we received back to back storms recently to lay a protective 16 inches over plants before the forecasted 30 below. We routinely see temps nearing -40F but not in the past few years. However, those of you out there getting excited at the prospects of planting zone marginal trees and such be warned. Changing climate often means low or erratic snow protection, early (too early) bud break and bloom, and sudden swings in temps or moisture. This may make your area, ironically, LESS hardy. Perhaps it is all natures way of keeping us from getting bored.
The Winter Short List :
- Policing the orchard. Deep snow or not, get out there and look for trouble. Broken branches and stems are often in need of clean pruning to prevent additional tearing. Do such surgery when wood is not frozen if possible- if not go for a saw not clippers which can crack wood. It is a good time to look for animal damage and intrusion (ie footprints) to assess pressure in unfenced areas. Make sure rodent guards are sound, and look for high girdling- common in heavy snow years. On the lighter side, just go look at the beauty in that orchard or planting.
- Pruning in earnest- this should wait until the worst of the cold has ebbed. For those with under 50 trees or under a couple of acres of fruits/nuts you can wait and begin a month or so before budbreak. In the northernmost states that means March, and even bits of April are fine. If you have more to deal with, then you will be going out earlier. Note that you can entice cellular activity about 8 days post pruning so watch the forecast and avoid periods with below zero in the near future. Also, pruning frozen wood is hard on the human body and plants too. Do it when it is pleasant out there and enjoy it.
- Make sure your pruning tools are sharp and in good working order. Clean them. Order parts or replacements now.
- Clean up your mess. That means all those prunings should make a journey far from the orchard. Downwind is good. Burning takes time for them to dry out. Burying them is a good move if you have the room. Some pathogens can re-infect from prunings/debris for YEARS.
- Order supplies. Run of the mill materials will always be around locally, but the fancy stuff means mail order and that can be unpredictable. This also gives time to find a good deal or a nice family operation to source from.
- Planning. Get out the pen and paper and make lists, draw layouts, and come up with ideas. There is always a new plant, plan or concept to get you excited for the spring to come. Read, look at images and talk with folks. Keep it interesting.
Spring Readiness :
Although we will look at most of our spring to do’s in the Spring Edition, there are a few things to think about now in preparation.
One is plant ordering. Local nurseries will have plenty, and so it is possible to wait for that moment to get stock, but if you are particular about something it usually requires ordering from abroad. I will mention that we strongly recommend supporting your local business (even before you order from Walden Heights). Local businesses are being crushed by online sales. That said, there are plenty of small, respectable nurseries that will ship to you. Expect that the popular stuff will sell out fast. Some as quickly as Jan 1. Burning bush will still be in stock (kidding, don’t plant this please) but Ashmead’s Kernal apple won’t. Our advice is to get what you want, and support the company you like. Penny pinching is a poor maneuver. Plants are a good investment- you can get an apple tree for 250 bucks or one for free and they are equally a good deal because each will pay back in spades (my study found roughly 28,000 pounds in its lifetime). Take your time and get exactly the species and variety you want. If you need help, ask the nursery. If you can’t get personal help, go somewhere else. Hopefully that’s us, but there are other awesome nurseries. If you are after organic, make sure they are certified. Note that most offering organic plants may have conventional ones in the mix. This is fine, but make sure it is clear.
The other thing I wanted to mention relates to new spring planting and ordering. That is, what happens when they arrive. The local nurseries will likely sell you a plant in a pot, which is great since as long as you keep it watered and protected from cold snaps you are good. You should however push pots together and mulch around them if you cannot plant right away. Most local operations will hold and care for them provided you have paid up front. The tricky bit is the shipped plant. Strike that…the tricky bit is the shipped plant after arrival. It is (in most cases) in good shape upon arrival, wrapped in damp material and likely pruned fairly hard to deal with dryness, travel, and the box size. You need to get it out of that container pronto, soak it for a half hour or spray it down, and get it heeled into soil, wet sand or damp mulch. Soil allows a longer period of neglect. Temporary potting is ok too. If those roots dry out, you may have trouble. If leaves have emerged it is not the end of the world but you will need to keep the tops watered frequently, not just the roots. Keep all plants shaded and prevent from freezing if possible until planting day. If you take good care in this process you can take your time with prep and planting.
Shameless Advertising : This is the moment to scoop up those hard to find apple varieties. This may be one of our 3 year apple trees (shippable) or for an even wider selection, scionwood and rootstock for those grafters out there. Everything is certified organic. Browse here at Walden Heights.