When it’s too early to plant, you can still ungarden

Vine-bound trees and invasive shrubs destroy trees and the native habitat.

Dee Salomon

When it’s too early to plant, you can still ungarden

These recent cool, sunny days are such a gift.

I have been outside with loppers and a Buckthorn Blaster (from NAISMA.org) tackling bittersweet and barberry. The woods in the winter can seem foreboding, but a sunny, windless day is perfect for a walk and there is a lot you can do while enjoying the company of trees. Be sure to look up to avoid dangling branches. You will likely find that a few trees have fallen, as have some branches. When a small tree or branch falls on a young tree, I pry or cut it out from under, taking care that none of its small branches will whip me in the face on the way to being righted. I then prune any torn branches from the rescued tree. Usually the tree will recover, but sometimes will retain a newly acquired bent shape.

As we lose entire tree species and watch others struggle against disease and pests (sassafras, hemlock, beech, sugar maple and oak are victims), it is up to us to step up our work to restore areas of our beautiful countryside. And what if we don’t? Already you can see examples in the Northwest Corner where lack of action has resulted in monocultures of invasive plants such as phragmites, barberry and garlic mustard. Native trees and plants simply cannot grow in soil altered by these invasives. Also easily spotted in winter is bittersweet vine and, as seen on Route 112 in Lime Rock, hardy kiwi vine, draping over the dead or compromised tree branches it covers. When these trees fall, and they will, the vine, still alive, moves to take hold of the next row of trees that are newly exposed to the sunlight.

This light also encourages growth of other invasives, which, in turn, inhibits native tree growth. It is a vicious cycle that requires human intervention to stop. If you have property that has been impacted by dead and dying trees, now is still a good time to remove invasives. The plants are easy to see in the winter, and easy to cut and poison while the plant is still dormant. As I put the finishing touches on this article, I must now note that some plants may already be out of dormancy; you can tell if cutting a branch or stem produces liquid oozing out of the cut. If this is the case, hold off for the time being.

I use Pathfinder II in the Buckthorn Blaster as recommended on the UConn Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group website, which offers comprehensive and authoritative advice on identifying and eradicating invasive plants.

Remember gloves, protective eyewear and loppers.

February used to be deep winter but that seems to have changed, as our region’s USDA zone has moved up a notch from 5b to 6a. It is hard not to allow one’s mind to wander into spring­­ — an optimistic place to be. The temptation to preorder of plants is strong; may I suggest instead that you consider a class or a lecture to bring you up to speed on the evolving realities and trends in gardening? Hearing from others, experts and practitioners alike, invigorates creativity and can enhance both your garden aesthetics and its well-being for creatures great and small. It may even allow you to rethink the kind of plants and planting arrangements you want this spring. Here are a few upcoming learning opportunities:

— “Misunderstood Native Plants,” hosted by Mt. Cuba Center. This is an online class that takes place Wednesday, Feb. 21, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and costs $19 to participate.

— “In the Weeds: A Discussion of the Role of the Human Hand in Natural Landscapes” with Leslie Needham, Dee Salomon and Matt Sheehan, hosted by Silva et Pratum. This is an in-person event, at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, Connecticut, on Thursday, Feb. 29, at 5:30 p.m. It costs $25, which goes to fund the pollinator pathway project at the Hunt Library.

— “How the Pros Select Plants,” hosted by the Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College. This is an in-person event in Valhalla, New York, that features Edwina von Gal and other experts Monday, March 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and costs $85 for members and $125 for nonmembers.

Dee Salomon ungardens in Litchfield County.

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