Time for winter maintenance

When tending to young trees, use a sharp pruning device and then treat the cut with latex paint.


Over the course of this month and next, my travels will take me to a secluded hollow free from interruptions. A place to unwind some may say, yet while there I will remain busy. To my way of thinking, it will be a working visit.

The task at hand, some will say, is merely “busy work”. From my viewpoint what I intend to accomplish is a down payment on the future.

My time will be invested in trimming and pruning trees planted nearly ten years ago. By doing so the trees will be provided a jumpstart helping them to flourish, grow, and ultimately provide food for wildlife. It’s a process of looking ahead, and I like that. I view my efforts as doing a bit of winter maintenance.

This particular tree planting effort is one component of the habitat improvement on our camp property.

In early 2000 we engaged a forest professional to inventory our forested land. As a result, in stages a number of timber harvests were conducted to improve the stand of timber that remained.

In addition to the timber resource, several open areas were in the mix. Decades ago, the fields were carved out from the forest and were part of a small farm. The fields remain to this day along with a number of apple and pear trees. For years we took the fruit-bearing trees for granted. However, over time we realized the lifespan of the trees that annually produced fruit were nearing the end of their lifespan. The decision was made to develop a fruit bearing tree planning program.

To gain insight with regards to the availability and the “right” trees to reintroduce to the fields, we consulted a planning guide provided by the PA Game Commission through the Commission’s Howard Nursery.

The Howard Nursery grows tree and shrub seedlings for use on state game lands, Hunter Access properties, the Seedlings for Schools program, and in conjunction with the Game Commission’s conservation partners.

Any remaining surplus is available to Pennsylvania residents for purchase.

For decades the nursery has offered for sale a wide selection of seedings conducive to growing within the state, and in many cases, provides information recommending which of the products being offered are best to be planted within different areas of the state.

As part of our planning process, we consulted the guide, then decided on the types of trees that held the best potential to suit our needs.

Employing the nursery’s recommendations, to date we have successfully planted northern pear, a wide variety of apple stock, oak, and several varieties of evergreens.

The stock purchased were shipped in bundles containing 25 seedlings each.

When planted, all of our seedlings were provided several types of protection.

In our experience we found that a cylinder fashioned from hardware cloth would protect the seedlings from moles, voles, and rodents. When possible, a two- or four-foot section of Tube-X was set over the hardware cloth surrounded with chicken wire and staked in the ground for support.

The first planting was supplemented annually for a number of years. Annually the seedlings were checked, and as they began to “take hold” and grow, those that became well established received a new level of protection.

The chicken wire exclosures were removed, however the hardware cloth protectors remained as did a two-foot section of Tube-X. The chicken wire exclosure was replaced with a four or five-foot-high woven wire or welded wire exclosure. The exclosure, measuring about three feet across, was secured then attached to metal fence post(s) using zip ties. As the trees began to grow, the larger exclosures provided the tree with additional room to grow.

At this point many of our seedlings have grown to the point where many have reached the next phase of the project and need to be pruned.

With winter firmly established, trees are dormant now making this time of year the perfect time to begin pruning.

Removal of wayward limb growth will allow the tree to redirect energy to limb development. Since each tree will grow differently, I refer to a tree pruning guide in advance of every pruning session.

A basic guide I’ve found helpful to gain perspective on pruning young fruit trees is found via the internet at newgarden.com/learning-center/pruning-young-fruit-trees.

This guide is just one of many that offer pruning instructions for young trees and provides the basics of pruning and the beginning of my winter maintenance efforts.

With over 150 fruit bearing trees planted, this is one habitat project that will pay dividends for wildlife in the years to come.

(Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors email is GWOutdoors@comcast.net.)

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