Nancy Brachey

Check for hazardous branches in bare trees

What looks good in the landscape this time of year?

Many things. Some are bold, others subtle.

You might think a tree shed of all its leaves is not worth a second look.

But when that tree is a mature oak, its canopy spread broadly against a clear, blue sky or a late afternoon sunset, it is a silhouette worth absorbing.

I find such silhouettes very enjoyable, not just for the surprise when you stumble upon one in midwinter, but for what they reveal about the plant, which is typically a shade tree or large shrub.

For example, much of the year, an oak tree is clothed densely in leaves, its framework of large limbs and smaller branches concealed, along with a squirrel nest or two. But all is revealed now and it is quite a spectacle, especially when the sky is right.

Yet, while admiring this beauty, it pays to look for anything amiss. I mean cracked or broken limbs and branches that could pose a hazard in windy weather. Look for them and get a certified arborist to take action. When they fall, broken limbs are hazardous to people and property. So this is not something to ignore, especially now when you can get a clear view of the branch structure. You will see the obvious ones, and an arborist up in the tree may find more to deal with.

Down on the ground, you may find something less appealing to deal with yourself. English ivy is a very invasive plant that spreads across lawns and even up trees. I prefer not to use chemical weed killers, so that means the stuff must be attacked by hand. Fortunately, at this time of year, the ground is soft and even ivy can be pulled out easily. Sure, there will be some tangles and tough spots that require greater effort. But compared to trying this in July, it’s a breeze.

Ivy winding around trees can also be attacked in a reasonably easy way. If the ivy has grown high up the trunk and resists pulling because roots are embedded in the trunk, get out your small pruning shears.

Pick a spot that is convenient for your height and cut the stems all the way around the trunk. The stems above the cuts will die slowly and then can be pulled down. The stems below the cut can be pulled away from the tree, though you may have to use the pruning shears on roots that resist.

These are good jobs for a pleasant winter afternoon when the temperature is mild. It will bring you outdoors, where you can study the silhouettes and look for signs of fresh growth in flower beds.

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