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Will pine trees survive winter damage from deer?

"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also answers questions about taller clumps of grass and the best time to trim a maple tree.

Deer Damage May 14, 2022.jpg
A reader wonders if these pine trees will survive after deer ate some of the middle last winter.
Contributed / Special to The Forum
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Q: Is there any chance the pines in the photo will survive? Deer climbed on top of the snowbank this winter and ate away the middle parts of the trees. - Susan T.

A: The pines are going to live, and branches that currently have green needles should continue to grow. But the middle sections, where deer totally consumed all greenery, might not regenerate new needles and growth.

If the deer nibbled the twigs back into older wood, this older wood often cannot sprout new needles the way young twigs can. If so, the middle areas that are now bare will likely remain bare for the tree's life, while the rest of the tree will go on living.

There’s always a chance the areas that are now bare might develop new growth if the deer didn't eat too far inward. There’s nothing that can be done now, except wait and see what happens. If no new growth emerges in the bare sections by mid-June, it's likely the middles will remain bare. As branches grow above and below the bare spots, the damage might become less noticeable as years go by.

Q: When is the best time to trim branches from a young Autumn Blaze maple tree? I want to trim the lower branches without hurting the tree. Is it better before the leaves come out, or do I need to wait until fall? - Jack B.

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A: If maples are pruned in spring before they leaf out, sap flows generously from the pruning wounds, similar to tapping the trees for maple syrup. The flowing sap can cause quite a mess on tree trunks and attract ants and other insects. Birch trees react similarly.

That's why pruning of maples and birch, unlike most other deciduous trees, is best delayed until the new leaves are fully out and expanded in late spring or early summer.

Fall pruning of trees is more likely to result in drying and dieback of areas that have been pruned. There are really no good reasons in favor of fall pruning, and plenty of reasons against.

Q: Our lawn has clumps of a wider-bladed grass that have become more visible after last year. The clumps are already nice and green, but they make the lawn look bunchy. The clumps don’t cover the whole lawn, just here and there. What can I do to get rid of them? - Tom L.

A: One of the most common clumpy, wide-bladed weedy grasses in our region is a species called tall fescue. It’s a deep-rooted perennial grass that can remain green while other grasses go dormant from heat and drought. In many drought-stricken lawns last year, the clumps of tall fescue were the only thing green.

Tall fescue and other bunch-type grasses can be contaminants in grass seed, and they usually don’t blend well with Kentucky bluegrass and fescue, which are our predominant lawn grasses. There are no herbicides that will selectively remove these perennial grasses from lawns without harming the desired grass types.

Because tall fescue and other bunch-type grasses maintain themselves in a circular clump, it’s often easiest simply to dig out the clump, and reseed the spot if large. Kentucky bluegrass self-fills with its ability to grow laterally from rhizomes, so reseeding isn’t always necessary.

Vegetation killers like glyphosate can be spot-sprayed on grass clumps, but it will also damage desirable grasses that it contacts.

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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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