Homegrown: Tree wraps, Christmas cactus

Why do I see some trees wrapped through the winter? Do I need to wrap mine?

— Jeremy

The tree wrap you’ve noticed is used to prevent what’s called winter sun scald on younger trees.

Younger or thin-barked trees (such as maple and ash), especially those planted with a southern exposure, suffer from the day-to-nighttime variations in temperature.

Tree wrap reduces the heating effect that leads to sun scald damage.

Begin at the base of the trunk and overlap the wrap, winding up to the first or second set of branches. I usually tell folks to wrap in November and leave it until April to provide maximum protection.

Do this for the first two or three winters you have the tree. After that, the bark is generally thick enough to not need the wrap.

How can I be sure my Christmas cactus will continue to bloom?

— Shirley

Christmas cactus is a relatively easy plant to care for if you follow a few simple rules of thumb.

These guys need bright, indirect sunlight to grow well, but keep in mind that they, like poinsettias, are light-dependent for their blossoms. They need a number of uninterrupted hours of darkness to trigger flowering.

Consequently, if your Christmas cactus is in the family room where you normally have several lights on throughout the evening, it may not be getting the “dark time” it needs in order to generate budding.

Though this is a member of the cactus family, its segments are more succulent-like and require more water than most cactuses.

That said, avoid overwatering. Give your plant a nice soaking and then allow it to dry slightly before watering it again.

Use a good houseplant fertilizer regularly, according to label directions.

If you’re having a problem with getting a consistent bloom year-to-year, check the lighting and overall care of the plant.

Sometimes, folks rush to repot their Christmas cactus, but most Christmas cactuses actually prefer to be more crowded than not. We suggest repotting more as a last resort if all else looks fine.

My neighbor told me that mice will eat my plants and kill them during the winter. Is that true?

— Barbara

That’s a good question. Folks don’t often think about it, but it’s surprising how common a problem this actually is.

Shrubs, bulbs and even perennials provide a good food source for these guys throughout the winter months.

They’ll dig up bulbs and eat the fleshy roots of perennials, but most often they like to eat the bark off of shrubs, especially junipers.

I don’t know why, but something in the junipers really appeals to them.

What happens is, in the spring, you’ll start to notice yellow or brown dried patches scattered throughout your plant that haven’t been there before.

Diagnosing the problem is simple. Go to the base of the plant near the ground and look carefully at the stems. If the mice have been at them, it’ll be obvious: The stems will be light tan or yellowish showing the exposed inner wood.

Unfortunately, the dried areas indicate the mice have managed to kill that particular branch. Once the damage is done, the only thing to do is to cut out that branch. Over time, it will fill in again.

Spreading Decon under your shrubs during the winter should eliminate the problem.

I have an older yucca that didn’t bloom this year. It bloomed last year, but not the year before. Before that, it bloomed every year. What’s wrong? How can I fix it?

— Karen

Sounds like you’ve had your yucca for quite a few years. With an older plant like that, it usually helps to divide them up and replant them.

You can treat it like a perennial that has gotten overgrown.

Dig it up, clean off a good part of the dirt and then divide it into smaller parts.

This invigorates the plants and promotes healthy new growth. Be sure to amend the soil and work it well before you replant your divided yucca to ensure the best results.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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