How to handle oversized branches and attract pollinators

For The Baltimore Sun

A branch of our white pine looks like it’s about to crack off. Since white pines have fairly soft wood, is this going to keep happening?

This branch has two problems unrelated to the tree species. First, it is too large for this trunk. Branch diameter should not be more than half the trunk size. When it became apparent that this branch was over-sized, it could have been pruned off or, at least, cut back to inhibit its growth.

At this time, removing it will create a huge wound for the tree to heal. An over-sized branch crotch like this doesn’t have the same chemicals as a normal branch collar, which help combat organisms and decay. Instead of removing an over-sized branch entirely, it’s usually a better practice to remove a third of the branch.

Now that it’s cracked, your branch may need to be removed entirely. Trees often react to traumatic pruning by sending out water sprouts. If so, don’t prune them off right away. Leave them there while the wound heals and remove them gradually, as they can help it heal. The branch’s second problem is that the crotch angle is too narrow. Branches with wide crotches are more stable.

My neighbor just purchased a vibrating pollinator machine, like an electric toothbrush, that comes with plastic spoon and stick, retail $50 — but on sale! It’s great for massaging his shoulder, we discovered. I’d rather just avoid killing pollinators with pesticides and encourage pollinators. I bought a mason bee house. How do I attract mason bees? We grow vegetables and flowers (mainly dahlias). We put the mason bee house in a clump of evergreens.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to hand pollinate vegetables when rain and harsh weather suppress pollinator activity. A small paintbrush can be used to move pollen from flower to flower.

There are over 500 species of native bees that pollinate for us, and the mason bee is important for its early spring contribution. The mason bee life cycle has one active period a year, six to eight weeks from April to June. Since your dahlias are late season bloomers, plant some early to late spring flowers for your bees. They also need a source of mud nearby for plugging their nests.

The type of flowers you plant can make a difference when attracting pollinators. The best flowering plants have small, relatively open blossoms. Plants in the aster, carrot, mint and buckwheat families are especially good choices — alyssum provides pollen and nectar throughout the summer.

Search ‘attracting pollinators’ on the University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center website for plant lists and more. You can also order mason bees online and refrigerate them until release time. Use a mid-Atlantic source. Penn State Extension has an informative web page. Search ‘orchard pollination solitary mason bees’.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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