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Buying Firewood This Winter

WoodCordIf you have a wood burning fireplace or heat with a wood burning stove, how’s your firewood supply? If it’s low and you’re shopping for a firewood supplier, these tips are for you.

The first tip is to buy locally. Regular readers know that I firmly believe that buying locally is best, especially for plants. But, when it comes to firewood, I’m even more adamant. And, I’m backed up by the law on this one.

In New York State, it’s against the law to transport untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source or import it into the state. Also, firewood sellers are required to provide you with source documentation for the firewood they sell. This is to minimize the migration of deadly, invasive insects like the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle.

Even with the law in place, I’ve seen truck and trailer loads of ash wood going down the street. However, I urge you to obey the law, especially if you have ash trees in your yard.

Treated wood is defined as having been heated to 160ºF for 75 minutes. It can then be labeled as “New York Approved Treated Firewood/Pest-Free” by the producer. Even if you cut and transport your own firewood, you cannot legally transport it more than 50 miles or bring it into the state without a “Self Issued Certificate of Origin,” which can be downloaded at http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/selfisscert.pdf.

A second tip is to be sure you know how much wood you’re buying. While we usually see ads for face cords, that’s not a legal measure. Your receipt or bill of sale needs to list the fraction of a cord you bought. A cord, which is 8 feet wide by 4 feet high by 4 feet deep, is a legal measure. A face cord that is 12 inches deep is a quarter cord, and that’s the way it needs to be sold.

A third tip is to be sure the wood is seasoned and, preferably, hardwood. Green wood doesn’t burn well due to its high water content. Green wood is tan in color, while seasoned wood is more of a gray color. Hard wood is preferred because soft woods have more resins and impurities like creosote that can adhere to your chimney walls and start a fire.

That old rule of thumb that says if a deal looks too good to be true it probably is applies to firewood. Unlike many such deals, however, buying undocumented firewood can result in legal problems as well as an insect invasion of your valuable, standing trees.

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Getting Your Trees Ready For Winter May Take More Than Just Raking Leaves

We all know that leaf raking is an annual fall ritual. Some might consider leaf raking all that’s necessary to prepare trees for winter. That’s probably not the case, however.

When was the last time your trees had a hazard inspection? If it’s been a few years, this might be the year to have it done. Call to schedule an inspection before winter snow flies, ice forms and heavy rains pelt your trees.

Autumn is the best time to have this service done. Trees bare their bones, so our arborists can see their skeletal structure. This helps them identify weak, dead, dying, touching or scraping limbs, and remove them before a storm breaks them and causes additional damage. Branches hanging over roofs or power lines should also be removed.

During an inspection, our Certified Arborist will check the forks, or crotches, between limbs and branches. If they are “U” shaped, they should be strong enough to withstand anything Mother Nature can throw at them. If they are “V” shaped, they may be weak because the two branches are vying for the same space. As they grow, this space race gets more intense. The stronger limb is going to win and the weaker will break sooner or later, unless cables and braces are installed to take some of the weight off the weaker of these “co-dominant stems.”

We will check the trunk for cracks and rot, with special emphasis on the base and root area. We’ll also check for girdling root and other root problems. A girdling root, also called crossing or choking root by some arborists, occurs when a root grows side ways rather than downward. As it grows, it crosses other roots and, as they try to occupy the same space, the girdling root chokes off the absorption and transportation functions of the roots it crosses. If left unchecked, the tree will decline and, eventually, die. Removal of a girdling root is a simple surgical procedure. A leaning tree can also be a symptom of root problems.

A complete tree inspection before winter will give you the peace of mind that you have done everything possible to prevent personal injury or property damage during any wind or ice storm this winter.

While most of this blog describes what a Certified Arborist will do when conducting a hazard tree inspection, there’s one thing you can do. Take photos of all your trees and other landscape plants. A nice landscape can add up to 20 percent to the value of your home. If you suffer the loss of one or more trees, you may be able to claim a casualty loss on your income taxes.

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Time To Think About Snow Removal & Your Landscape

How do you remove snow from your driveway and sidewalks? Shovel? Plow? Blow? Under pavement heating? Every method has an effect on your landscape. None could be considered great for your plant material, but some take a greater toll than others.

Shoveling, of course, is the most strenuous. Blowing is time consuming, Under pavement heating is expensive. Plowing is costly, too, in more ways than one, which I’ll explain.

Shoveling is fine for young, fit people, but can be a health risk as we age. There’s no choice, however, for removing snow from steps, porches and other small areas. You should also shovel snow from around the base of trees to deter small rodents from burrowing under the snow and feasting on the your trees. I’ve seen mice actually girdle trees, compromising the tree’s vascular system and killing it.

Plowing is the only practical snow removal method for our business, but I prefer blowing my driveway. Driveway plowing can cut off edges of the grass if the operator doesn’t aim correctly, and it can be difficult to aim a plow and truck and keep it on course, especially if your driveway bends or curves.

Even if they aim properly and don’t cut sod from the edges of the driveway, they may cut it during another common move. Plow operators have to pile snow somewhere, so they often push it into the front yard. The snow pile is usually peppered with small pieces of sod from the edge of the driveway. Worse yet, if you have a tree in the front yard, the plow operator may pile snow up against the trunk, which is my greatest fear. It has all the downsides of a mulch volcano plus it’s usually piled only on one side of the trunk exerting pressure on that side of the tree, which can cause lean or even failure.

Blowing allows you to cut nicely defined edges, and you’ll know immediately if you are off the pavement. The pattern in which a blower throws snow is better for your landscape. It tends to scatter rather than pile. Rows formed by blown snow are not as high as piles and are much lighter and less dense.

I’ve tried to give you the pros and cons of each removal method. Now, you’ll have to weigh these pros and cons for yourself and decide which method best meets your needs. I’d like to hear your opinion. You can just send a comment below.

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What Will Winter Bring To Your Landscape?

Everything I’ve read or heard indicates that we’ll have a mild winter, thanks to El Nino. My humble prediction is that we won’t experience as much dieback as we did last winter. If we have a lot of freeze and thaw cycles, however, we may see more fungal lawn diseases.

What should you do to prepare your landscape plants? Take maximum precautions and you should be pleased in spring. If it is a difficult winter, you’ll be satisfied that you did all you could to protect your plants. If it’s a mild winter, you’ll be pleased that your valuable plants fared well.

Problems could arise, even if the winter is mild. If we have an extended warm spell, like we had several years ago, leaf or flower buds could break prematurely. While this isn’t dangerous, the plants will have wasted valuable, stored food to push a flush of leaves or flowers that won’t last. If we have frequent freezing and thawing, thin bark trees could suffer frost cracks. Most of these, also, do not present a health risk for the tree. In time, they’ll callus over.

Constantly wet grass is a good breeding ground for fungal diseases that attack turfgrass in winter. Winter lawn diseases include dollar spot, brown patch, gray snow mold and fairy rings. Besides the extreme temperatures, an extended warm spell followed by a cold snap with rain, snow or ice, can also promote diseases. Like trees and shrubs that break buds during a long warm spell, turfgrass could break dormancy, chlorophyll could return and photosynthesis begin for that short time. That would be like a four star restaurant for those little fungi.

There is nothing you can do to prevent the problems listed above. However, each is quite minor as landscape problems go. More important than fretting the small stuff is to be sure you’ve protected your trees from wind, ice and snow with a tree hazard inspection by a Certified Arborist. I covered this in another blog. If you’ve done everything you can, just enjoy the (hopefully) mild winter, unless you’re a winter sports enthusiast.

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Like Spring Flowers? Plant Bulbs Now

Although this winter is predicted to be milder than last year, I’ll still enjoy seeing the little crocus flowers poking their heads up through the snow, grass or wherever this spring. This is the signal that spring is on the way. These flowers are probably more reliable than groundhogs, too.

Following crocus’ debut, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths emerge to display their festive fare right on cue. That is, if you planted the bulbs from which these flowers now grow, the previous fall.

In the late summer, garden centers set up elaborate bulb displays. These are colorfully illustrated so you know what you are buying, including the height and the color of the flowers. Some come in packages containing a variety of bloom colors. They also sell individual bulbs so you can make your own color choices. Some people like a rainbow effect while others like a single color. You can definitely have it your way!

Planting bulbs is easy. All you really need is a trowel, although garden stores also have fancy bulb planting tools. Just thrust your trowel into the ground and pull it back toward you until you have a hole about the diameter of the bulb and twice as deep as the length of the bulb. If the bulb is three inches long, the hole should be six inches deep. Just drop the bulb into the hole and backfill.

Be sure to plant the bulb right side up. The root side (flat with small hair roots) goes in the bottom of the hole. After backfilling, tamp the area lightly to eliminate air pockets and then give the newly planted bulbs a nice drink of water.

Don’t put any fertilizer in the planting hole. The bulb itself is made up almost entirely of starch, enough to provide the new plant with sufficient food until it leafs out and begins photosynthesizing – making its own food.

I recommend buying your bulbs as soon as garden stores start advertising them. You can keep them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant. Bulbs can be planted right up until the ground freezes, so you can wait for a nice, fall day to plant them. Then you can enjoy the winter, confident that these harbingers of spring will delight you with beauty and color as winter begins to break its hold on us.

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Reminder: Fall Is For Planting

This is my annual reminder that fall is the best time for planting many varieties of trees and shrubs. I said “many” because evergreens are best planted in spring.

Trees and shrubs like fall’s warm days and cooler nights. Also, we get more moisture in the fall, although water hasn’t been a problem this summer. All of these factors combine to help your new plants adapt to their new environment.

By the time they defoliate and go dormant for winter, they’ll be nicely established and have a head start over trees and shrubs planted next spring.

The “right plant, right place” mantra applies in the fall as well as spring. Before going to the garden center, check on whether your planting site is in sun or shade and how much moisture and wind the site receives. Read the nursery tag on the plant and/or consult with a horticulturist at your garden store to be sure you’re buying a plant that will thrive with minimal maintenance. Also, be sure the plant will grow in our hardiness zone, which is zone 5 or 6, depending on where you live.

Finally, be sure the tree looks good. Before you go to the garden store, check the Internet for photos of the tree or shrub you want to buy. You may even want to print out a photo and take it with you. At the nursery, examine a number of trees or shrubs of that variety. Select the one that best resembles the photo. The branches should have good structure, not crossing or interfering with each other. They also should be attached to the trunk at an angle, not straight out. Those growing straight out are weakly attached water sprouts – not good. Check the roots, especially where the trunk begins to flare out to form the roots. This should be visible, not covered with soil. If you aren’t happy with any of the plants you see, go to another store. One personal rule that I have is to buy plants only from local garden centers, not big box stores.

Some garden centers may have sales to get rid of spring plants that have been in the nursery all season. Others may have ordered new stock for the fall planting season. Whether to save money or buy new is your choice.

The planting technique doesn’t change in fall. Dig the planting hole two to three times wider than the rootball, but only as deep. If potted, remove the plant from its pot. If balled and burlapped, remove the wire basket or rope but leave the burlap around the ball.

Set the plant in the hole and backfill, stopping occasionally to press the backfill to fill in any air pockets. Do not pile soil up against the trunk. Finally, water well and mulch. Spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch, but do not pile it up against the trunk in a mulch volcano. Before winter, add another inch of mulch, but be prepared to remove that extra inch in spring.

If your tree is a tender variety or you planted it in the direct path of the prevailing wind, you may have to build a wood or burlap shelter around it to protect it against winter winds. Stake it only if necessary, and be sure you don’t use wire or anything that will “bite” into the bark.

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It’s Lawn Grub Season

photo credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

photo credit: David Cappaert, Michigan State University, Bugwood.org

Grubs have plagued area lawns since long before I entered the tree and landscape business. However, they are now better controlled thanks to more people taking a keen interest in their lawns.

Like most bugs, grubs are adventitious creatures. They go for the easiest meal, and that’s usually the weakest lawns. Good, thick, healthy turfgrass is more than a single crop of grubs can devour. That being said, it’s still imperative that everyone check their lawns for grub larvae, beginning in late August. If one property owner in a neighborhood is lax, control for the whole neighborhood is compromised.

What are grubs? Remember those big, brown, beetle-like insects that were flying around in June and early July, hitting windows and screens? Those were adult European chafer and Japanese beetles. Grubs are the immature stage of those two pests.

After mating, the chafer or beetle lays its eggs in sod. When the grubs hatch, they start migrating down into the soil while feasting on tender turfgrass roots. Needless to say, this kills the turfgrass plants and they turn brown. This is the best time to control grubs. They are still small, living and feeding near the surface, and are more susceptible to control material.

To determine if you have grubs, and how many, cut several one square foot pieces of green sod and roll it back. Count the number of grubs. If there are six or fewer, they are not present in sufficient concentrations to really harm your lawn. If there are seven or more, you should either spread grub killer on the lawn or call us to do it.

As the temperatures fall, the white, crescent-shaped grubs burrow deeper into the soil until spring. When they return to just below the surface in spring, they’re about double the size and ready for one last feast before pupating and morphing into adults. We don’t recommend treating in spring, unless your yard is overrun by grubs.

If you have brown grass that doesn’t re-green after grub treatment, rake out the dead grass. If the area is small, the healthy grass will fill in the open space over time. If it’s larger, you’ll have to re-seed. Be judicious with fertilization, provide sufficient water and mow high.

It may not be possible to eradicate grubs, but you can win the battle in your own yard. If you have healthy turfgrass, you can keep them under control by following the steps presented above. Next season, you may want to consider a Birchcrest lawncare program and leave the diagnosis and treatment up to our professionals.

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