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What Landscapes Will Look Like In 2016 – Hardscapes

Landscape designs are changing – evolving actually. Fewer homeowners are satisfied with a tree or two and some foundation planting. Rather, they want to live outside for as much of the year as possible, and this may mean having to be prepared for what Mother Nature has planned.

Garden Design magazine recently ran a story on its website about what several landscape designers are seeing as trends for this year, and many coincide with what we are seeing, even in conservative Rochester.

The humble gas grill and picnic table have given way to the outdoor room. I’ve written about outdoor rooms in the past, but designers are now kicking it up more notches and it’s time for another look.

The outdoor kitchen is the family gathering place, just as it is indoors, so they’re being designed to extend their useful life to three seasons. This includes rigid, transparent or retractable walls to deflect the prevailing wind.  The kitchen appliances may include a mega-grill, a brick pizza oven, refrigerator and even a microwave.

A fire pit will be needed to keep your outdoor room warm in the cooler shoulder seasons. The increased demand for fire pits is stimulating the creative juices for landscape designers. They aren’t just an old, cut-off 55 gallon drum, or even a portable fire pit from a home store anymore. Fire pits are now built-in and permanent, and are surrounded by furniture that would rival the nicest living room furniture, except that the structures and fabrics are designed to withstand the variability of three-season weather.

Here in our area, most of your outdoor living space will have to be winterized, unless it’s truly an indoor-outdoor space with sliding or folding walls that will protect it. Otherwise, you will need either on-premises storage or a rented storage unit. Instructions for winterizing the appliances should come with them.

Outdoor lighting has also changed. LED has taken over. While these lights may cost a bit more initially, they’ll save you money over the long haul. LED bulbs are very energy efficient and versatile. They can be found in traditional landscape lights, like path lights and in string lights or café lights. LED lights are also available with multiple colors in the same bulb so you can change color for different moods or themes. Best of all, some LED lighting systems can be set up to be controlled from your smartphone.

Other hardscape items like fences, arbors and even houses are being painted darker, primary colors rather than the neutral tones that have been traditional. This is a trend from Europe, where some houses and fences are even painted black to highlight the landscaping.

There you have it – the 2016 hardscape trends. Next week I’ll tell you about some exciting new trends in greenscaping. Oh, yes. Garden Gnomes are back in style.

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Winter Plant Ideas – Color & Texture

US_Growing_Zones_smallLast week, I presented some ideas for adding winter-interest plants to your landscape in such a way that they provide four-season beauty, and introduced you to some new evergreen varieties. This week, I’d like to introduce you to some new plants that can add color and texture to your landscape, even in winter.

Plants that add color include…

  • Impish Elf Lily of the Valley Shrub (Pieris japonica ‘Shy’) – This compact shrub, hardy to Zone 6, was just introduced in 2015. It has deep purple-pink buds that burst into bell-shaped blooms for late-winter color. The glossy, new, red foliage is good for foundation or mass plantings. It’s the first in the new Enchanted Forest series and grows 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.
  • Windcliff Double Pink Lenten Rose (Helleborus x. ‘Woodcliff Double Pink’) – This old-fashioned perennial, hardy to Zone 4, is becoming increasingly popular. A beautiful new variety with double pink flowers blooms in late winter. Mounding foliage clumps are 15 to 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide.
  • Arctic Fire Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera ‘Farrow’) – This native shrub, hardy to Zone 3, has gorgeous red stems, especially against a background of snow on sunny days. The Arctic Sun variety has yellow stems with red tips. Both work well in borders, in mass plantings or in container gardens.  They grow 36 to 60 inches high and wide.

Plants that add texture include…

  • Gold Bar Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinesis ‘Gold Bar’) – Gold stripes on bright green leaves with burgundy stalks add both texture and color to your winter landscape. This slow grower, hardy to Zone 5, grows 4 to 5 feet tall, 20 inches wide.
  • Little Quickfire Hardy Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘SMHPLQF’) – White summer flowers fade to pinkish-red and linger throughout cold-weather months. Hardy to Zone 3, this plant is ideal in mixed borders, as a foundation planting or as an accent. It actually blooms earlier than most hydrangeas. The dwarf form grows to 36 to 60 inches tall and wide.
  • Winter Berry Poppins (Ilex verticillata ‘FarrowBPop’) – Hardy to Zone 3, this cold-hardy native deciduous shrub has stunning red berries in fall through winter. The heavy fruiting dwarf variety fits in most landscapes. Use Mr. Poppins as a pollinator to yield fruit. Grows 36 to 48 inches high and wide.

Even if you don’t select these specific plants, I hope reading about them will give you inspiration to add more winter interest to your landscape. Most of these plants are new varieties of species that have been around for a long time.

Here’s hoping you have a nice, peaceful, yet productive winter. Please don’t put your green thumb away. Keep it active this winter thumbing through gardening books and magazines, and meeting with one of our landscape designers to create a beautiful four-season landscape next year that you will want to sit by the window admiring and enjoying it.

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Winter Plant Ideas

Some gardeners’ green thumbs are already starting to get itchy. If you are one of those facing a long winter before you can start getting dirt under your fingernails again, there are a number of gardening things you can do in winter,

First, of course, is to give your houseplants tender loving care. Another is to check out your winter landscape, taking photos and jotting down notes in your journal. Be especially observant of places that appear empty or where plants may soften the starkness of winter.

Do some sketches to see where you would like to fill in this spring. Your goal should be for your landscape to be stunning regardless of the season. Some eye-catching plants may create winter interest with their textured bark, others with berries, colorful branches or even winter blooms. Some of these plants, like winterberry, put on their best show in winter.

I’m not suggesting that you plant only winter-interest plants but rather that you mix winter-interest plants into your total plant palette for four season beauty.

Total Landscape Care, a industry trade magazine, has suggested several plants that create winter interest. Here are a few evergreens on the list that are hardy in our region:

  • Gold Rider Leyland Cypress (Cupressus leylandii ‘Gold Rider’) – This lover of full sun maintains its color and is hardy to Zone 5. Horizontal branching has bright gold-tipped sprays with lime green interior foliage. It can be used as a focal point, planted en masse as a hedge, or sheared for a more formal appearance. It grows 35 feet tall and 15 feet wide.
  • Good Vibrations Gold Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Hegedus’) – This low-spreading, soft-tipped variety with bright gold color is hardy to Zone 4. It has orange hues in autumn, is deer resistant, and grows 12 to 18 inches high and 84 inches wide.
  • Sprinter Boxwood (Boxwood Buxus microphylla ‘Builthouse’) – This fast-growing new variety that is resistant to boxwood blight is hardy to Zone 5. Pruning is seldom necessary. It sports shiny foliage, has an upright habit that works for hedging, and is attractive in containers. It grows 24 to 48 inches high and wide.
  • Thuja Siena Sunset (Thuja occidentalis ‘Anniek’) – This beautiful dwarf that’s gold in summer and bronze in winter is hardy to Zone 4. A fast grower that maintains its round shape, this plant grows 12 to 24 inches high and 24 to 30 inches wide. For a tall, upright variety, try Thuja Forever Goldy, which boasts a gold color, resists winter burn and grows up 15 to 20 feet tall and 30 inches wide.

Next week, I’ll introduce you to some new plant varieties that provide winter color and texture.

If you’d like professional help, our designers are able to spend more time with you during the winter. They can look at your landscape and your sketches. You can share the notes from your journal and your photos, and look through our vast winter plant palette, including these new varieties. Together, we can develop a plan for 12 month beauty. Then first thing next spring, we can begin planting so you can enjoy your updated landscape for the full season.

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Make PHC Decisions Now While Bugs Are Dormant

Do you have a Plant Health Care (PHC) program in place for 2016? If not, this would be a good time to make the move. Going into the new year with a PHC program in place lets us attack your plants’ enemies while they are asleep. Most insects are dormant now, so, if you sign up for a PHC program now, we can take care of some pests before they wake up and others soon after they break dormancy.

More people are familiar with integrated pest management (IPM) than PHC. IPM is actually a part of PHC. A true PHC program is cradle to grave. It starts with planting the right plant in the right place. It includes cultural practices, such as pruning, and it includes IPM.

IPM simply means that we practice all control methods from picking bugs off plants by hand to applying the most sophisticated chemotherapy. When diagnosing a problem, we, and you, decide on the control regimen that will be most effective with the least environmental impact and best fits your ecological preferences.

By having a PHC program in place during the dormant season, we can begin a control program when insects are weakest (i.e. while pests are dormant, early in the season or at the beginning of a pest’s lifecycle, when they are small and vulnerable). At that time, less aggressive treatment methods can often be used. We can use treatments like horticultural oils and soaps rather than chemical pesticides.

This is a much better strategy than treating when you see the pests. When you see them, insects are usually well into their lifecycle and resistant to many of the natural controls. Our trained PHC professionals can see them, or the signs they leave, early in their lifecycle, or even when they’re dormant.

PHC can be compared to human wellness programs. Human wellness programs promote annual physicals and periodic check-ups to diagnose and treat any problems before they become serious. This often results in less aggressive treatment and more positive prognoses. Wellness care is so effective in humans that insurance companies encourage their subscribers to participate, and often waive the copay for wellness visits.

PHC is not a new concept. It has been a tool available to arborists for more than 20 years. IPM has been available to arborists and farmers even longer. Now that you know all about this wellness care for your plants, we look forward to hearing from you.

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Why Are Some Plants Winter Hardy And Others Not?

Ever wonder why some plants are hardy enough to grow in our climate and others aren’t? The biology would take much more space than I have and require many more words than you want to read. So, I’ll give you the simplified version.

Hardy plants have evolved methods for acclimating to the pending cold weather. It isn’t much different for us humans. Have you ever had friends or relatives visit from the south in the middle of winter and feel cold all during their visits? Meanwhile, you feel perfectly comfortable. That’s because your body spent autumn acclimating to the coming winter. Your visitors hadn’t acclimated. They stepped off the plane into a Western New York winter when their bodies were used to balmy temperatures.

If you go south in winter, you’ll notice that most trees and shrubs that are deciduous here still have their leaves in the subtropics. Our lower nighttime temperatures and shorter days triggered a series of changes in plants that began their preparation for winter. The changing foliage color was the most obvious. However, other changes were going on inside the plants even before they defoliated.

Deciduous trees and shrubs made lots of food through photosynthesis and stored it in the roots, trunk and branches. In addition to sugar, this food includes an amino acid that lowers the freezing point of the water inside the cells. Even though woody plants can grow tall and hold up buildings, their cells are mostly water and they have to keep that from freezing and bursting their cells. Some northern tree species actually produce a special protein, called “anti-freeze” protein, that prevents the water inside the cell from freezing. The tree pumps this protein into the space around the cells to protect them.

Evergreens, particularly conifers, are northern trees that have adapted to surviving our cold winters without losing their needles. Their bodily functions slow down considerably, but their biggest problem is desiccation, which is why I advocate applying an anti-desiccant when preparing for winter.

Nature prepares evergreens for their leaf retention role in several ways. Needles are actually tightly rolled leaves. The shape enables more water to be retained. Also, evergreens produce a thick, waxy coating – kind of like their own anti-desiccant – on their needles. This works fine, except when high winds blow the transpired water droplets off the leaves. This is when additional anti-desiccant is needed.

Besides reabsorbing transpired water, evergreens also depend on snow for some of the water they need for photosynthesis. Some also are protected by producing the anti-freeze protein mentioned above.

Broadleaf evergreens have their own survival mechanism. The leaves curl to protect them against damage from freeze-thaw cycles. Leaves also droop to protect them from cold damage and too much sun. If this sounds far fetched, check out your rhododendrons. The leaves look like they are unhealthy, but are really just doing their job.

Herbaceous plants have other survival mechanisms. Annuals produce seed before the end of the plants’ lifecycle. Seeds are better equipped to survive the winter than the plants. Herbaceous perennials are able to store food in their roots and extensions of their roots. The tulip bulb is a good example of this.

There you have the short course in why some plants can survive in our climate and others can’t. It fascinates me how they are able to begin their natural processes by climatic factors, factors that also subliminally influence our preparations for winter and those of wildlife. This synergy is the definition of the term that we use and misuse so much in society today – ecology.

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Are You Concerned About Road Salt Damage?

snowplowIn most winters, we would have had to wash salt off our cars several times by now. How many times have you had to so far this year?

Some areas of the country are experiencing major storms, and road salt consumption is probably comparable to or a bit ahead of previous years. This has led to some landscape industry conversations about protecting your trees against road salt damage. Considering that winter snow and the resulting use of road salt is inevitable, I’d like to address any concerns that you may have now, so you can take preventive action if necessary.

The most beneficial study that I used to research this blog was published recently by Virginia Tech and its Cooperative Extension. But, isn’t Virginia down south where it’s warm, you ask? It’s down south but not so far south that they don’t get ice and snow. Maybe not as much or as often as we do, but they still get it. Some of the state is also along the Atlantic coast with its salty air and spray.

Most of the salt we receive is in the form of salt spray as the plows and salt trucks go past our houses. Where roads are at the top of a hill and your yard slopes down from there, you may have salty soil. The snow plow piles snow, mixed with salty brine, at the top of the hill to leach into the soil and then down the hill, accumulating at the bottom.

I already recommended wrapping particularly sensitive trees or shrubs sited near the road with burlap or building a wood structure to protect them from salt spray. Here are some other steps you can take to reduce salt spray damage:

  • Design planting areas to reduce exposure of trees and shrubs to salt spray. Establish windbreaks to prevent “wind tunnels” that can carry aerial salts farther and at higher wind speeds. Use salt-tolerant shrubs or herbaceous borders (especially denser evergreens) as windbreaks to help intercept aerial salt drift before it reaches sensitive plants.
  • Group tree and shrub species to shield them from wind and drift, with the most tolerant species in higher exposure areas to shield moderately tolerant species.
  • Maintain appropriate soil fertility and moisture conditions to reduce additional stresses and help combat desiccation. If feasible, rinse salt spray off trees and shrubs after storms and high winds. Rinse again in early spring to remove salt residue from tender buds and leaves.
  • Plant in spring when locating trees and shrubs near roads on which de-icing salts are used. This allows plants more time to become established prior to salt exposure. Trees and shrubs that are susceptible to salt damage should be located at least 50-60 feet from roads.
  • When practical, use cinders, fly ash or sand for de-icing.
  • Select and plant salt spray tolerant trees and shrubs. Avoid plants, such as azaleas, that are considered especially sensitive to salt spray.
  • Fertilize at rates recommended by soil analyses and fertilizer labels.
  • Keep plants healthy because healthy plants are more tolerant of salt damage.

If you aren’t into gardening and lawn care, we have a full staff of designers and horticulturists who would be happy to visit your property, analyze your current plants’ potential for salt damage and make recommendations for dealing with the problem. We have kits to test soil salinity if that’s a concern, and we know the signs of salt damage.

Over the years, we haven’t seen widespread de-icing salt damage. Most has been limited to young plants in the path of salt spray. This can be mitigated by wrapping the trees in burlap until they are able to tolerate salt spray. The other cause is that old nemesis – wrong plant in the wrong place.

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Prepare Your Trees For A Damaging Storm

We don’t know what kind of winter we have in store. Although the weather has been quite mild so far, we can’t be sure what 2016 will bring. Meteorologists don’t even agree on their long range forecasts. So, it behooves us to be prepared.

It has been some time since the whole Rochester area has been hit by a tree-breaking storm. I won’t go out on a limb (pun intended) and predict that we may have one this winter. But I always err on the side of caution. That’s why I’m suggesting that you prepare your trees just in case. You don’t have to reconcile yourself to the inevitable “if it’s meant to be.” Here are some protective actions you can take.

  • Survey your property for trees showing signs of instability. Look for cracks in trunks and major limbs, dead branches, and aged or decaying trees.
  • Take action before a storm to remedy potential hazards that could cause property damage. Pay particular attention to branches that hang over the roof or those close to power lines.
  • Prevent damage by being proactive. If a hazard is found, contact us to repair or remove damaged or decaying trees. If you have branches close to power lines that need to be pruned or removed, we can advise you on whether they are your responsibility or the utility’s. We can also advise you on whether leaning trees have root problems that our arborists should repair.
  • Document tree value. Properly maintained trees may increase property value by up to 20%. Our arborist can provide an estimated value by inspecting your trees. Then keep a good record, with photos, of the trees, and our evaluation, in a safe place.
  • We can develop a master plan for your tree and shrub care. We can also determine if broken trunks and limbs should be removed or if uprooted trees can besaved or replanted.

Remember, it usually costs more to remove and replace a tree than it does for preventive care. Protect your valuable investments (the trees, your house, cars, pool and lawn). Take the advice above and be sure your trees are able to withstand anything Mother Nature chooses to heap upon them this winter.


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