It is  now the February landscape in Minnesota ….thank God, I have often remarked, February is a short month.

The big  Christmas snowfall  is still with us.  The normal January thaw was so brief it went by unnoticed.  This winter of 2009-2010 is so far a real winter, but so far without the minus 20-25 degrees F temperatures which used to be commonplace here during my childhood.

In the city, rabbits are chewing up many of our favorite shrubs….not at the ground level….there is no ground level this year……it’s all under a foot and a half of more of that Christmas snow.  Since the rabbits aren’t burrowers they won’t be chewing around the base of your shrubs yet….that will come later.  Bunnies, so warmly venerated in some gardens with cutsie reproductions the ladies  buy at the local boutiques, are hopping around the top of the snow eating and stripping buds and twigs off of deciduous and evergreen plant alike….making some almost disappear as the winter ages.

I admit it’s a guy thing, but I root for fox and owls, hawks and coyote, feral cats and more feral cats to visit my garden to help  clean out the unwanted…….the most unwanted being the varmints which ruin my garden’s beauty…..I prefer beautiful landscapes to ugly and dying ones.  Besides feeding varmints increases the varmint population.

I have a deer problem haunting my grounds.  I have opposed deer eating my beautiful plants for the past 25 years.  Before that there was no deer problem so I didn’t know what all the fuss was about….they weren’t displaced west of my residence where there were vast eating grounds not yet developed by suburban building.

Deer do not like to stroll over the snow crusted countryside when there are paths available.  Like humans they can figure out that the beaten path is more comfortable place to walk than over 30 inches of snow covered with a thin coat of icy crust.

I like to walk along my garden paths throughout the winter to see the  beauty of the garden I have created and sculpted.  So do the deer apparently……I lose…..I don’t eat the buds and stems along the way…but they do.

The rabbits munch on viburnum bark, viburnum stems, viburnum buds, azalea stems and buds, and most delicious of all apparently,  winged euonymus “flesh” whereever it can be found.  They will eat young Norway spruce cultivars to nothing…..those more expensive, quicker and more completely than the cheaper.    They seem to recognize a “good steak” when they smell one.

Many years ago I watched one fat rabbit tending my young Scotch pine.  I saw it was nibbling at the foliage, but I had confidence nothing bad would happen…for I had read from a university handout that such pine were exempt from this rodent’s menu.  I lost interest watching for it was February, and I was indoors observing Nature in action…..When I returned to the view the next day, the Scotch pine had been reduced to a single stick one foot tall….one quarter of its yesterday size, and sans foliage.    Important note:    The Scotch pine recovered sending out countless new shoots by June first.  The next winter I surrounded it with chicken wire.  It died 20 years later, a victim of the Halloween blizzard of the early 1990s.

Rabbit trimming is very easy to recognize.  Their  big teeth make very precise clean cuts if it is the stem that’s eaten….as if pruned with your pruning shears except at a slight angle.  This damage isn’t as life -threatening as rabbit chewing around the base trunk of the shrub or small tree  will be.

I have a temporary unattractive fence surrounding my entire landscape this winter. It keeps the rabbits in which is a disaster, and the deer for the most part, out.   It seems to be  a trade off, but not really if you compare the size between these two species.  Have you  had over a half dozen deer together browsing  your garden lately?

Those of you living in the central cities have fewer wild carnivores nearby.  Your rabbit population will be even greater  than mine and probably already is.  Deer damage is something else.

Dogs are also forbidden from my grounds.  They are supposed to be leashed.

Feral cats get into my garden.  So do owls and fox.  This past week from my kitchen window my son and I saw a large coyote  hunting, alas outside my fenced in grounds but clearly visible on the naked hill just beyond.  What a treat for the eye even without  a caught rabbit or squirrel.

In the spring and summer I do spray with Liquid Fence regularly…mostly around cherished perennials such as  hostas and stonecrops and rose shrubs, all  dessert for deer.   I let them eat the crab apples in the late fall.

By late February many of your ornamental trees may need pruning…..those susceptible to fire blight bacterial disease, such as crabapples, mountain ash, pears, plums and apples as well.

Home owners usually don’t prune leaving the trees to grow ugly on their own as most will.

Artistic pruning is an art form.  There is a definite skill to develop a beautiful tree sculpture.  Even if you are not interested in such a sculpture, your rose family tree will need pruning to maintain its health.

If you are going to attempt this needed  pruning, artistic or otherwise, you best call us at Masterpiece Landscaping. 952-933-5777 to schedule a time to join us when we prune your  trees.  If you cannot find time, call us anyway so we can keep these trees beautiful and healthy.  All pruning of rose family trees should ideally be done about a month before spring rains…….that is, before March 15….”the ides of March”.