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Originally published December 6, 2012 at 5:30 AM | Page modified December 6, 2012 at 6:57 AM

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Protecting conifers from the cold | Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris answers how to protect tall conifers from snow and ice and how to keep the red bark of a Japanese maple colorful.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Pick

Arboretum Foundation’s Annual Gifts & Greens Galore Holiday Sale

Friday, noon to 5 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The sale offers a unique selection of high-quality fresh-cut greens and handcrafted holiday gifts from local artisans. There are also do-it-yourself demonstrations. Information at www.arboretumfoundation.org or 206-325-4510.

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In the Garden

Q: Is there a way to keep snow and ice from bending the top branches of my tall, narrow conifers? Last year I tied twine around the branches at the top, but it didn’t do much good.

A: Winter snow and ice storms, even heavy rain, can cause columnar conifers such as arborvitae, Italian cypress and skyrocket juniper to splay out at the top. Prevent this by wrapping the top of the tree with black plastic deer netting. Snug it around the top branches, and tie the ends of the netting together to keep it in place. Don’t use bird netting; it’s not thick enough to hold up long. Deer netting is much stronger and should last for years. It’s also inexpensive, and practically unnoticeable when used for this purpose, especially after new spring growth grows through to hide it. Admittedly, climbing to the top of a tall columnar tree can seem like a suicide mission, but if you can figure out a way to reach the top safely, wrapping it with deer netting now will keep your tree looking great through most anything winter throws at it. Unfortunately, you’d best make sure your insurance is paid up. Depending on how fast the tree grows, it might be necessary to climb up and rewrap the top of the tree at least every three to five years to make sure it keeps an attractive figure.

Q: I was greatly disappointed when the red bark on the trunk of my Japanese coral bark maple dulled over time. Are there any Japanese maples with bark that stays colorful?

A: The bright-red trunk of the coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum Sango Kaku) is spectacular; however the bark turns gray as the tree matures. Fortunately, according to Barry Hoffer, owner of the mail-order nursery, Maples for All Seasons, there are Japanese maples available with picturesque trunks that become even more colorful as they age. The following trees should all be planted in full sun for best color. ‘Beni Kawa’ is an upright grower to around 15 feet tall whose trunk remains a gorgeous coral red. The green leaves turn golden yellow in fall. ‘Ukon’ is a similar-sized upright that stands out in the winter landscape with brilliant pea-green bark that takes on gold and red tints. Its green leaves morph to golden-yellow in fall. The celebrity when it comes to Japanese maples with colorful bark, however, is ‘Bihou’. It’s so new no one is sure how tall it will grow but it’s expected to remain under 15 feet tall. The golden yellow, tinted orange bark on this beauty glows like a beacon in the winter sunshine. The leaves emerge chartreuse in spring, then turn yellow green in summer, before bursting into glorious shades of yellow and orange in fall. If you can’t find these at your local nursery, order them online at www.maplesforallseasons.com.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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