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Celebrate Arbor Day This Weekend

Arbor Day is this Friday, April 24. Few people can observe this day on Friday, however, due to work, school and other commitments. So, why not celebrate Arbor Weekend? Trees don’t care if they’re planted on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or any other day for that matter.

Make your Arbor Weekend a family affair. Look through books or on the Internet and get family consensus about what kind of tree to buy. It might be a good idea to agree on several choices because the planting area you select may not be suitable for your first choice.

Before you go to your garden center, do some homework. Take photos of the proposed planting area and take these with you to the garden center. Is the site in full sun all day? Full shade? Partial sun? Morning? Afternoon? Which way does the prevailing wind blow? Is it a high spot in the yard or a low spot? Is it close to structures? To walkways or the driveway? Or electric wires?

The reason you took that little test is to be sure you select the right plant for the right place. You don’t want to buy an expensive tree that likes full sun and then plant it in shade or partial sun. 0r a tree that needs lots of water on top of a hill or one that doesn’t like wet feet in the lowest spot in your yard.

These are all things that you need to check out before swiping your card. Many answers will be on the nursery tag attached to the tree. If any information you need is not on the tag, ask one of the horticulturists at the store. That’s one of the reasons why we recommend buying trees at local garden centers. They employ professional horticulturists who can answer your questions and help you select a good tree for your site.

Also, local garden centers buy from nurseries that grow plants for our climate. While a tree imported from the south or west may be hardy in our zone 5-6 climate, many are not acclimated to weather like we just experienced, and they may not survive.

When you get your tree home, follow the planting guidelines that we have shared several times. Dig the hole two to three times the diameter of the tree root but only as deep as the root. Place the tree in the hole and backfill, tapping down the backfill just enough to remove air pockets.

Take a break several time while backfilling and water the backfill. This will also help prevent air pockets. Don’t stake unless you absolutely must to keep the wind from blowing the tree over. For the first year, be sure the tree receives at least an inch of water either from rain or irrigation.

This will be a weekend well spent, and the tree you plant will keep growing year after year. Even when they’re grown up, your children will look up at that tree and remember the great time they had buying and planting it.

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Making Spring Gardening Easy

A good starting point for planning your 2015 gardening and landscape work is to consult your journal. Last May, I suggested that you manage your landscape by keeping a garden journal. If you did that, you’ve probably already consulted the journal to schedule this year’s activities.

If you didn’t start a journal last year, consider it this year. Referring back to last year’s blog will give you some pointers on how to start a journal, the form it should take and even how to do it electronically.

This would be a good year to start journaling after our long, hard winter. However, I suggest you include, prominently, information on the winter severity and any late start to the growing season. This will alert you to the reason why the growing season may appear to start early next year. It won’t actually be early, it will be at a more normal time.

While journaling is good for scheduling planting, fertilizing and other annual gardening tasks, it is the only way to conduct an environmentally sound Plant Health Care (PHC) program. If a certain pest invaded your plants last spring, you need to check this spring to be sure they aren’t back, or to take action if they have returned.

Our PHC professionals all keep electronic journals for each of our customers. They consult it before their monitoring visits so they know to pay particular attention to certain plants for specific pests.

If you’re a casual gardener who doesn’t want to be bothered journaling and would just rather enjoy your landscape, we have the professionals who can take as much, or as little work off your plate as you want.

Gardening should be fun. If it isn’t fun for you but you enjoy the results, that’s when it’s time to call in the pros.

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How To Apply Your Newfound Knowledge

If last week’s blog inspired you to expand your horticulture knowledge, I’d like to make some suggestions on how you can share that knowledge. There’s a real need for this knowledge beyond the confines of your own, private garden.

The Webster Arboretum and Rochester Civic Garden Center were two suggested sources for horticulture-related educational classes. Chances are you joined the organization you chose for your classes, and they’ll never be at a loss for ways to help. They would certainly appreciate your assistance.

As I explained last week, the Master Gardener program requires volunteer outreach work. Cooperative Extension hopes, however, that you won’t limit your volunteer service to the minimum number of hours. They would like you to continue volunteering for the task you undertook originally or a different task. The Master Gardener program couldn’t survive if everyone just worked the minimum. They depend on people continuing to volunteer and moving up the ranks in the organization. Much of the program is led by volunteers.

Sustainability is today’s buzzword and we have a number of cooperative, sustainable farms that practice “community supported agriculture.” These farms operate with minimal staff and many volunteers. If you enjoy fresh vegetables and don’t have the space for a sizeable garden, a CSA membership might be just right for you. Volunteering at a CSA might also be a way to apply the horticulture knowledge you acquired or are acquiring.

The ideas above are just a few of the abounding opportunities to volunteer or to work professionally in the gardening or landscape field. Don’t forget the reason you sought to expand your horticulture and gardening knowledge – your own landscape garden. Budget enough time to be sure it receives the tender loving care that it deserves. And, don’t forget that we’re here to provide any assistance you want or need.

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Where To Learn More About Horticulture

Horticulture and gardening seem to be shrouded in some kind of a mystique. Too many people believe the proverbial “green thumb” is an actual indicator of whether or not a person can grow plants.

I believe that the green thumb myth is based on our agrarian forebears who could grow plants without any real knowledge of how they grew. This approach came about by trial and error and those said to inherit the green thumb simply observed what their parents and grandparents did, copied them and passed the information on to their descendants.

The fact is that knowledge of how plants grow and how to care for them can be acquired, and there are many sources of this knowledge available to people of all ages and socioeconomic status.

This knowledge can be acquired from the many books available at the library or local bookstore. You can also go online, but the information you’re seeking may not be as reliable as a published book that has been fact-checked, edited and, possibly, even peer reviewed.

Here in our area, we have excellent gardening education resources. In our hometown of Webster, we have the renowned Webster Arboretum that conducts classes on various gardening and horticulture subjects. In Rochester, the Rochester Civic Garden Center publishes a whole seasonal catalog of courses. This catalog is available online (www.rcgc.org) and in paper form. Both of these organizations are membership organizations so the discounted member fees for their educational programs can more than make up for the membership cost.

Each state has a cooperative extension service within its state agricultural college and each operates a Master Gardener program. There’s no charge for the excellent, comprehensive educational program that Master Gardeners receive. In exchange, however, you have to volunteer for at least a minimum number of service hours. This service may take the form of answering questions on the phone at the Cooperative Extension office, talking to garden clubs and other interested organizations, writing for the newsletter or a variety of other outreach activities.

While botany and horticulture are subjects that can be learned, good landscape design requires a certain amount of “God-given” talent in addition to sound horticulture knowledge. Also, the best horticulture knowledge cannot prepare you for the physical labor needed to install a new landscape or maintain large trees.

The most important lesson you can learn is to know what you can do well and identify your limitations. Do those tasks that you are able to do and want to do and hire the best people you know to do the other stuff. That’s why we’re here. We really like to work in partnership with knowledgeable property owners to create and maintain beautiful landscapes. Visit us at www.birchcrestlandscape.com.

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How Did Your Trees Fare The Winter?

The winter of 2014-15 was far from benign, but trees fared quite well. That’s because we didn’t have any really heavy wind or ice storms, which can wreak havoc with trees.

Also, we didn’t have constant temperature fluctuations. Rather it got cold and stayed that way, which is good for trees. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the extreme cold that causes tree damage. It’s the changes from cold to warm and back. Extended warm spells are especially bad for trees. They think that the warmth is here to stay and may begin to break dormancy. Then the weather turns cold again and they’re “confused.” The only way continual cold weather all through the winter will harm your trees is if they aren’t hardy in our zone 5-6 climate, or if you’ve planted them on the windward side of your house and they don’t like wind, of if they’re in the shade and they like full sun. In these cases, they were stressed before winter ever started.

Have you checked around the base of trees for girdling by rabbits, mice and other animals? This would’ve been the ideal winter for this to happen. Mice like to eat in private and the amount and duration of snow cover afforded them the opportunity to do just that. Rabbits, on the other hand, dine out in the open above the snow. As a result, trees can suffer from both of these varmints.

It’s bad any time animals feast on your valuable trees. When they eat all the way around a tree, however, the tree is usually doomed. The rodents eat the bark and the tender, tasty layers beneath the bark. These are also the layers that contain most of the tree’s vascular system for transporting water and nutrients up the tree and for transporting food back down to the roots. There is an expensive surgical procedure, called a bridge graft, in which small twigs are grafted all the way around the tree’s circumference to bridge the girdle. Your tree has to be extremely valuable to justify this investment.

Anything I tell you now is like closing the barn door after the horse escapes. But, you can tuck these ideas away for fall when you’re getting ready for next winter. First, be sure you don’t have mulch volcanoes or any mulch right up against the trunk. Be sure there’s no high grass growing close to the trunk. Finally, wrap the trunk in screening or hardware cloth from the base to about a foot above the typical high point of the snow. In summer, be sure to remove this protection to allow the trunk to grow.

Some other problems, which I’ve written about before, include frost cracks caused by temperature fluctuations, winter burn on evergreens caused by desiccation, and salt damage affecting trees planted too close to salt treated roadways, driveways and walkways. Another problem is sunscald, which is actually a canker caused by temperature fluctuations and affecting the trunk. Spring freezes can cause a similar problem that affects the new foliage, and freezing can also damage the roots of some species.

As winter wanes and spring returns, inspecting your woody plants can be one of your first “green thumb” tasks for the new season. If you find any of the problems described above, or any not described above, please call us for a professional evaluation with recommendations for remedying the situation.

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Color Should Appear Soon

Spring will soon wake up from its winter slumber, and with it will come the rainbow of color that we all look forward to. Some call it a rebirth, but it is really a reawakening.

This color arrives relatively quietly. First the crocus peeks its colorful petals out of the ground, even if it’s covered with snow. Satisfied with its surroundings and that spring is on its way, more crocus appear. Depending on how many crocus you’ve planted, you may be swimming in a sea of color.

As the crocus begins to fade, it’s replaced by daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, but these early bloomers are just the leaders of a whole parade of spring color. Trees and shrubs (woody plants), as well as herbaceous plants, bloom in spring.

Forsythia is the first shrub to bloom, showing off its bright yellow flowers. Azaleas and rhododendrons follow. Here in our area, all of this is just a prelude to Rochester’s favorite flower, the lilac.

Unlike annuals and perennials, there’s no need to pinch off spent flowers from woody plants. They set their flower buds way back in the fall, so enjoy them while they’re here because, when they’re gone, they’re gone until next year.

If your flowering trees and shrubs need pruning, resist the temptation to prune them now. These plants should be pruned after they bloom. Otherwise, you may cut off the flower buds. It’s difficult to distinguish between flower buds and leaf buds. Our professionals learn the difference in their horticulture classes, but for the untrained eye, the two buds can be indistinguishable.

Following the initial burst of color, the rainbow will begin fading to green. Flowers and their stems will turn brown on your spring bulb plants. Go ahead and cut off the spent flowers right at the base of the stem. However, don’t cut off the green leaves. They’re hard at work making food through photosynthesis and storing it in the bulb to give them the energy to flower and leaf out next year. Many herbaceous perennials will continue to bloom if you pinch off spent flowers once they’ve withered but before they drop their seeds.

After woody plants have finished flowering and leafed out, they can be pruned. Remember to cut branches back to a branch big enough to be able to take over the removed branches’ function. Also, never climb a tree or even a ladder. It’s dangerous. Instead, give us a call and let our well trained, equipped, insured professional arborists do your pruning.

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Spring Lawn Care

As you plan your spring cleanup chores, be sure to include your lawn in those plans. Lawns take a real beating in winter, yet they spring back with very little assistance. But, that’s not to say that you can just leave your lawn to its own devices.

When the snow melts and the ground firms up, it’s time to take a walk in the grass. Look for anything that’s different from when you put your lawn to bed last fall.

The first thing you’ll spot is debris. The wind may have blown twigs and even tree branches from your yard or the neighbors’. You may also find trash the wind has blown into your yard. It needs to be picked up or raked up and thrown back in the trash or recycling.

While big items like jars and cans can be picked up easily, it’s best to rake the other debris, like fallen twigs and branches. A rake will move more of the small debris. You’ll even be surprised to see litter in the pile that you didn’t see in the lawn. This includes such things as dead grass and small items that were down in the thatch so you missed them during your walk through.

If winter descended on us before you were able to rake all of your fall leaves, go ahead and rake them up and dispose of them now.

During your walk through, look for diseases and bare spots. Look for this also while raking leaves. There are several fungal diseases that attack turfgrass in winter. Fungus thrives in damp, dark, wet conditions. Some diseases cause the grass to turn brown or gray in patches. Others leave circles of dead grass.

These diseases are caused by freezing and thawing during the winter. Snow falls and stays on the ground. As the temperature rises, the snow melts from the bottom, depositing water on the lawn. This water is still covered by snow, providing ideal conditions for fungus. By the time all the snow has melted, the disease has done visible damage.

To repair your lawn, rake out all the dead grass and throw it away. Don’t compost it since it’s probably loaded with fungal spores. Use an iron rake for this task. That will rough up the soil as you rake out the dead grass, saving you an operation.

If you have only small bare spots, they’ll probably fill in through the spread of adjacent grass. For larger spots, you’ll have to overseed. It’s best to do that before adventitious weed seeds germinate in that space.

Before overseeding, add organic matter or compost to the bare areas. Then spread the seed and, using your iron rake, rake the seed and compost into the soil. Be sure your new seeds receive at least an inch of water a week either from rain or irrigation. Remember, it’s best to apply the whole inch at once rather than just sprinkling the surface. Sprinkling encourages weak, shallow roots. You want deep, strong roots.

As always, call us if you’d rather have our professionals do this job than tackling it yourself.

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