Diggin’ in the Dirt: The Kindest Cuts

Oregon State University Extension Service 

Columbia County

Planting forests, big or small (and Small Woodlands Assn. tree sale)

Many landowners in Columbia County have a mix of forest and open ground. Often, there are small areas that need to be reforested. There are several ways to acquire the appropriate trees. You can order them from any of several nurseries. Generally, you have to order in bundles of 50-100 seedlings. Call us for contact information for these nurseries.

The Columbia County Small Woodlands Association has an annual tree sale in St. Helens. You can purchase a variety of trees in very small quantities. The sale this year will be on March 9th  at the Lawrence Oil parking lot (845 N. Columbia River Highway) in St. Helens from 8:00 am- 2:00 pm. They sell forest tree seedlings, some native shrubs, and some ornamental tree seedlings. Get there early for the best selection.

It is possible to transplant wild seedlings. Sometimes you can find them on a road right-of-way. It is always a good idea to contact the County Road Department to see that it is all right to remove the seedlings. Dig smaller trees that haven’t been growing in deep shade. Trees should come from an elevation similar to the one in which they will be grown. It is best not to dig trees on a cold day or from frozen ground. Don’t cause traffic problems or leave a mess.

Protect your seedlings from deer by either deer protecting tubes or by a repellent spray like Deer Away™. Protect from field mice girdling by wrapping the base of them stem with aluminum foil.

Finally, trees should be transplanted as soon as possible after digging or purchasing them. If you can’t, place them in a garden bed to grow one more year and transplant the following winter. Forest tree planting should be complete by the end of March.

The kindest cuts of all

Gardeners prune trees and shrubs to restrain growth, remove diseased or damaged limbs, to improve fruiting and flowering and to develop better air circulation within the plant. This year, snow damage may require that some renovation pruning be done.

A couple of concepts will help you prune more successfully. First, get a good book on the subject. Many shrubs are grown for their flowers and you have to know on what “age” of wood the flowers are produced. Spring flowering shrubs are not pruned now but right after they have bloomed. Some may need a good mix of two and three year old wood to produce fruit or flowers.

The best cut is one that ends just before another branch. This is called a thinning cut. It can result in fewer buds “breaking” and therefore less “sucker” pruning the following year. In contrast, a heading cut (which ends in the middle of a stem) tends to force a lot of suckers.

On large cuts, try to locate the branch collar. This is a slight swelling where the branch joins the main trunk. Cut just to the outside of the collar. The wound should heal much faster.

Most shade trees should only be pruned to accentuate their natural shape. Some trees, like dogwoods and hawthorns tend to get brushy inside. Thinning out excess foliage will contribute to the health of the tree. Fruit trees, however, are pruned for fruit and ease of picking. Their shape is not natural at all.

Finally, get some sharp tools and keep them sharp. We generally don’t worry about wound dressings on cuts less than 1” and larger cuts are best treated with exterior white latex paint if you feel the need to do something.

Looking toward spring gardens

Soon, it will be time to start vegetable plants in your greenhouse or cold frame.  Vegetable species are started at different times depending on their tolerance to cool conditions and light frosts. For example, cabbage family plants are generally tolerant of temperatures down to 28º F once they have gotten to a certain size and have been hardened off. They can be started now. For you new gardeners, hardening off means taking your transplant out of the greenhouse environment for several hours per day prior to transplanting. They are placed in indirect light and allowed to adjust to cooler conditions. Plants develop a thicker leaf cuticle and resistance to wind. A week of hardening is often enough.

After transplanting, vegetables can be protected by hot caps, floating row covers (a gauzy fabric that traps some heat) or plastic cloches. Cloches add more heat but must be opened and closed to avoid “cooking” the transplants.

Tomatoes and other sub-tropical vegetables require more care. They cannot stand frosts and need more heat. Peppers are very intolerant of cold soils. Tomatoes are usually started in mid-March for transplant out by mid-May. Peppers should be started two weeks later for early June transplanting.

It helps to preheat the soil before transplanting (or seeding for that matter) by putting clear plastic over the soil. This can raise the soil temperature from 45º to 65-70º in a matter of two or three days.

The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) written/edited by yours truly. All you need to do is ask for it and it will be mailed to you. Call 503 397-3462 to be put on the list. Alternatively, you can find it on the web at:  http://extension.oregonstate.edu/columbia/ and click on newsletters.

Contact information for the Extension office

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County

505 N. Columbia River Highway (across from the Legacy clinic)

St. Helens, OR 97051

503 397-3462

Email: chip.bubl@oregonstate.edu