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Snow on evergreens, Christmas cactus bud drop, rabbit damage

In today's "Fielding Questions, columnist Don Kinzler shares the safest way to remove heavy snow from evergreens.

Don Kinzler
Don Kinzler, Growing Together and Fielding Questions columnist. The Forum
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Q: We have a row of junipers in our back yard, and in previous years we’ve wrapped them for winter protection, but now they’re too big. This year we started shaking them to clear the snow as they really bend outward when the limbs get heavy and I want to prevent them from breaking. But when we shake them gently, they still lose little pieces. Am I doing more harm than good? - Sara V.

A: Thanks for asking a question that’s on the mind of many evergreen owners. Evergreen branches can easily break under the weight of snow, especially if it's a heavy layer that accumulates instead of blowing off.

But evergreen branches and foliage are extremely brittle in cold weather, and attempting to remove snow can be difficult without breaking the branches you’re intending to protect. Deciding whether to remove snow isn’t always easy or clear cut.

Evergreen in snow Jan. 2022.jpg
To remove snow from evergreens with less chance of damaging them, support each branch from below with one hand, while gently removing snow with the other.
Contributed photo

Evergreen branches can withstand a fair amount of snow and regain their natural shape in spring, as they do in nature’s forests, but snow breakage does happen. In the past when I've felt evergreen branches seemed dangerously loaded, I've gently removed a little snow.

To remove snow with less chance of damaging them, support each branch from below with one hand, while gently removing snow with the other. It’s not necessary to remove all the snow, but to just lighten the load. Similar to removing snow from a shingled roof, damage easily occurs when unnecessarily trying to remove every last bit.

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Although a few little pieces of your juniper filtered off during the process, your junipers look fine after your snow removal.

Q: All the buds on my Christmas cactus dropped off when they were about a half inch long. The plant was covered with blossoms, but one by one all dropped off. The plant is in the south window and last year I had it in the east window and the same thing happened. I increased the watering a little when the flowers began forming, and the plant looks healthy. What did I do wrong? - Gloria W.

A: Dropping of flower buds is probably the most commonly reported ailment of Christmas cacti. Determining the exact reason can be tricky, because many factors cause the plant to react the same way.

Included in the causes of bud drop are drafts from a heat source, temperatures that stay too warm at night, moving the plant while in bud, too much water, too little water, or a humidity that's too low.

Christmas cacti seem to do best when root bound, so older plants often do better and retain their buds longer than younger plants, as the older plants fill the pots with roots. Fertilizing after buds have formed, or when flowering, has also been linked to flowers dropping.

With so many causes, deciding a remedy isn’t always easy, and experimenting with a few changes might be necessary. Because Christmas cacti are natives of tropical jungles, they react differently than desert-type succulents. Flower buds are more likely to remain intact if humidity is increased, location is free of hot or cold drafts, and nighttime temperatures are slightly lower than daytime.

Q: Rabbit tracks and remnants are all around our young arborvitae, and they’ve eaten away almost all the evergreen foliage, leaving only bare twigs. Will it recover in spring? - Roger N.

A: Fresh evergreen arborvitae make a fine salad for winter hungry rabbits. Large arborvitae whose foliage is decimated back to old, bare branches often don’t recover and the damaged areas remain bare. Old, inner evergreen wood often can’t regenerate fresh new sprouts.

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Young, small arborvitae have a better chance of recovery. Experience has shown that small tender branches stripped bare by rabbits have at least a chance of sprouting new growth in spring.

If possible, protect the young arborvitae now from continued twig munching with a circle of chicken wire. When spring arrives, give the arborvitae until mid-June or longer to see if green sprouts arise. Fertilize in early May, mulch with a circle of shredded bark, and keep your fingers crossed.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at  donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu . Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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