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Time for a winter timber checkup

Tree Talk: After trees drop their leaves is a great time to assess your timber property and plan for 2020.

The winter months can be a good season to spend time in the woods. Bugs, heat and humidity are gone. It is usually quieter, and it can be a good time to enjoy nature from a different perspective. Winter is also a better time to get a clearer assessment of your woodlands from bottom to top.

First, take inventory. Winter is a great time to do this. With the leaves gone, you can get a more accurate assessment of timber volume and quality, and you can identify crop trees that match your property management objectives. You can also mark or map those trees.

Your property objectives may also include wildlife den and nest trees for future management. Keep an eye out for signs of wildlife, such as prints, droppings, feathers and feeding areas, to help you pick the best spots.

When looking up, check for crown damage or death of upper branches. Dead branches will usually have slipping or flaking bark to help you identify them. Trees with extensive crown damage will have slower growth, possible wood decay and overall poor tree health.

Look up, too, for damaging vines such as grape, which can entangle trunks and upper branches. They can weigh down trees, restrict growth and take over younger trees.

Winter is also a good time to do thinning, pruning and removal of aggressive vines, as well as exotic and invasive plants. If spring planting is on your future agenda, scout out areas for planting, and even do some early site preparation if the weather is agreeable.

As you plan and engage in these winter activities, be sure to consult your forester and your management plan to make sure you are taking the correct forest management measures and working toward your long-term objectives. Enjoy your time in the woods. You will be surprised at what you hear and see that otherwise might go unnoticed.

Miller is a horticulture professor at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill., and a senior research scientist in entomology at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. Email your tree questions to him at fmiller@jjc.edu.

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