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Still Dealing With Winter Dieback

Winter DiebackHere it is well into July and we’re still dealing with winter dieback. This year, it has been the worst I’ve ever seen. Usually, we get calls for small evergreens that weren’t protected with an anti-desiccant and have some brown needles. This year, we’re seeing whole trees and shrubs that turned brown.

Taxus (yews) are usually indestructible, yet, we’ve received several calls from customers who have lost mature Taxus to winter dieback. One customer has a row of junipers about midway up the hill in back of the house. They’ve been growing fine for 12 years, but this spring, he noticed dieback, mostly from the bottom. There were also a few top branches that died. One branch began turning brown in May.

At a social event, I was asked why a large blue spruce was losing its blue color on the bottom branches while the upper branches were just fine. Checking the tree when leaving the event, I noticed that these branches had not just lost their blue color, they were turning brown.

Many hydrangeas leafed out beautifully at the bottom, but the tops were dead. The dead tissue began right about at the snow line. That’s because the bottom branches were protected while the branches that protruded above the snow weren’t protected. so they were unable to survive the bitter cold.

Pruning out the dead wood is the only remedy. If you prune shrubs yourself, remember to not leave stubs. Prune branches all the way back to a junction with live wood. Don’t be afraid to prune out extra wood if it will help the shrub to look more natural. This can be dirty, scratchy, unpleasant work, so you can call us to do it for you.

If you have trees that are winter burned, don’t even think about pruning them yourself. It’s too dangerous. Call our trained, insured, equipped arborists to do the job professionally and safely.

As for lawn damage, we haven’t seen as much fungal disease as we do in most spring seasons. I think that’s because we had below freezing temperatures and snow cover most of the winter, and this protected the turfgrass.

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Mow High & Other Summer Lawn Tips

At what height is your lawnmower set? As the temperature rises, so should the height of your lawnmower. If it is set lower than 3 inches, raise it up to at least 3 inches; 3.5 or 4 is even better.

Mowing high retains more leaf surface and results in less burning. The longer grass leaves and thicker turf also increase your lawn’s ability to resist weed infestations. Shorter leaves burn faster and the thinner turf leaves open up areas that weeds move into because weeds are more hardy than tender turfgrass.

Besides the horticultural reasons for mowing high, there are also aesthetic reasons. Higher, thicker turf just looks better than short, skived surfaces. Some people set their mowers low on the misguided belief that they won’t have to mow as often. When it’s set too low, the blade takes off all the grass when you come to high spots, and you are left with no grass at all.

I like to compare turfgrass length to men’s hairstyles. The guy with a crew cut or flat top has to go to the barber more often than the guy with longer hair. That’s because some clumps of hair grow faster than the rest. The same thing happens with turfgrass.

Here are some other tips for a lush, green lawn this summer:

  •  Be sure your lawn receives at least an inch of water per week. If that doesn’t come in the form of rain, it needs to come in the form of irrigation. The best way to irrigate is to put down the whole inch of water at once, or no more than two watering sessions. Just sprinkling a little bit each day encourages shallow, unhealthy roots. Besides, sprinkling is too time consuming.
  • If it get so hot that your lawn burns, refrain from mowing and try not to walk on the grass or you’ll break the blades of grass.
  • Summer browning is your lawn’s defense mechanism. Turfgrass hibernates by going dormant. When the rain returns, the grass will green up again.
  • If some patches of grass do not green up when the lawn breaks summer dormancy, rake out the dead grass. Small areas will fill in with rhizomes from the surrounding, healthy grass, but you may have to reseed larger areas.
  • Don’t fertilize or apply pesticides during summer dormancy. These can do more damage than goods during this period of time.

Follow these tips and you should have a nice green lawn while others may be looking at nothing but brown.

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Summer Storm Damage Heightens Need For Tree Inspections

This summer, we’re getting more than our normal share of heavy wind and rain storms, and it’s taking its toll on our trees. We’re called out after each storm to remove trees from power lines so that electricity can be restored. Over the past few weeks, however, we’ve also been very busy removing tree limbs and whole trees from house roofs. High winds can cause even healthy trees to lose leaves and small branches. While much of this is just natural shedding, it still needs to be cleaned up.

Invariably, people ask me if storm damage can be prevented. My answer never wavers, and it is not the old standby, “It depends.” Rather, it is always “Yes!” Whatever the trees’ health, storm damage prevention begins with a hazard tree inspection by one of our 10 Certified Arborist.

A Certified Arborist can determine if a tree is healthy or if it suffers from nutrient deficiency, rot, pest damage or other factors that can weaken branches, or even the whole tree.

The arborist will also check for dead, dying, weak, broken or hanging branches that are hazardous. Even if you didn’t suffer any tree damage in the last storm, it may have weakened your trees to the point that the next storm could result in damage.

As tree owners, we have a responsibility to be sure that they are healthy enough to withstand a storm. During a recent storm, two innocent people were driving on a public highway when a large, heavy tree branch broke, crashed through power lines and on to the top of their car, killing both of them.

In the event of a storm, the only clean up or repair you should ever think of doing is to clean up small branches on the ground and rake up any downed leaves. Even that should be approached with caution since you don’t know what danger is lurking overhead. My best advice is call now, before you need our services, to come out and conduct a hazard tree inspection. If any remedial work needs to be done, have it done right away before we have another storm. This is the key to preventing tree failures and the devastation such failures can create.

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Is Perfection In The Garden Natural?

Formal gardens like those in front of the mansion at Sonnenberg and other Victorian estates were created to be perfect, or as perfect as possible. While formal gardens are beautiful, even spectacular, they are not natural because nature isn’t that perfect. Rather, nature, while ordered, is really not formal or perfect.

When left unattended, landscapes ebb and flow with the seasons. This is what makes nature so comforting because that is the way most of us live. Today, more and more people are planning their landscapes to make the most of what nature provides. They are relaxing, and this is what the slow gardening that I’ve written about several times, is all about.

A formal garden is planned so that beds are perfectly cut and all plants are in bloom at the same time. When they finish blooming, plants may be swapped out for new varieties that are just coming into bloom. This assures continual blooms throughout the season. That’s not how nature works when left to her own devices.

Plants bloom at the appointed time. Depending on your design, one bed may be fully engulfed in color for a week or two in spring. Then the blooms fade and it’s back to green for the rest of the year. In other beds, you may have some color throughout the season, but that color is the result of different plants blooming in sequence.

Annual beds also have a finite blooming period. Many gardeners extend the blooming period by changing out annuals when they have finished blooming. These are expendable plants.

When all of the flowers have completed their annual shows, our desire for color is then satisfied with autumn leaves. Some people actually look forward to this colorful season, fully cognizant that the drab winter will follow. We relish the annual, leafy exhibition in our yards, knowing full well the price we’ll pay for this show – having to rake leaves. In fact, some of us can’t get enough fall color; we actually drive through mountain areas to see the colored leaves on the hillsides.

When winter comes, our outdoor color is limited to ornamental grasses. A few seedheads can also be seen poking their heads up to give us a brief respite from endless white.

Does this sound formal? Not to me. Rather, it sounds natural. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Our designers have the talent and experience to design a landscape for you that is just as natural…or formal…as you desire.

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Is There A Perfect Plant?

The simple answer is, “No.” However, the more complete answer isn’t so simple. Identifying a perfect plant is like defining beauty. Both are in the eye of the beholder. In the case of plants, however, they are living organisms, so a plant that may be perfect in one environment may be totally out of place in another.

All this leads back to the landscaping mantra: “Right plant, right place.” If your idea of a perfect plant is one that is low maintenance, don’t plant a shade tolerant plant in bright sun and vice versa. Or don’t plant a drought tolerant plant in a swamp. Today, low maintenance plants are the most sought after because property owners don’t have the time to spend on their landscapes or in the garden.

Among the sought after plants in the public’s quest for the perfect plant these days are dwarf and compact plants and reblooming and extended blooming plants. Endless summer hydrangea is an example of an extended blooming plant.

I thought about including my list of perfect plants, but that would be just that – my opinion. I realized that when I wrote the last paragraph. I would have included Endless Summer hydrangea on my list. But, hydrangea is one of only a few plants that an avid gardening friend of mine absolutely does not like. Many other readers could also find fault with my list, so I decided to leave that out.

Rather than trying to find an absolutely perfect plant species or variety, look for the best plant you can find when you go to the nursery. When buying flowering plants, look for healthy leaves and flower buds. If you buy plants in full bloom, they may be all done flowering when you get them in the ground.

When shopping for plants, be sure they look as close to specimens (what the ideal plants look like) as possible. If they are balled and burlap, rootballs should be solid, firm and moist, not dried out or the twine too tight around the trunk. Rootballs should be 10-12 times larger than the trunk.

If the plants are in pots, be sure the roots are well established and in firm, moist soil. The roots should not protrude out of the pot nor should they be pot bound. Look for fat leaf or flower buds ready to burst. Also, look for living branches, and no skinned trunk or diseased leaves. In spring, new growth should be evident on conifers.

While we cannot identify a perfect plant, following these tips will help you come as close as possible to one.

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Why Are We Going Crazy Over Containers?

Avent PatioContainer gardening is all the rage now. They’re featured in many gardening magazines, blogs and gardening television programs. There are several reasons for this big interest in container gardening. Nationally, there is a migration back to city living. This means smaller yards and, for some, no yard at all. Those who live in apartments or condos may have nothing more than a balcony on which to garden. These factors limit one’s options and containers fill the bill rather well.

What about here in the suburbs? Does container gardening have a place? The answer is yes. We often design containers into customer landscapes. Containers supplement in-ground beds and provide added color to patios and decks. The photo shows nationally recognized nurseryman Tony Avent’s patio at his home in North Carolina. Tony’s in-ground landscape is large, extensive and diversified. However, his patio garden has a southwest theme and, even though he is in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, some desert plants are just too tender to overwinter in the ground. Potted plants can be taken indoors or into a greenhouse.

Decorative containers can add even more color to your landscape than the plants do. Garden centers have a wide variety of containers in every shape, size, material and decorative theme imaginable. You can go eclectic or you can follow a theme as Tony Avent did in the photo.

Another very real consideration when discussing the container craze is the graying of America. Locally, we are following the national trend and, as gardeners age, they may hire a landscape company to tend their in-ground planting. However, they still want to garden and turn to container gardening. The result is often a spectacular landscape of meticulous, professionally-maintained lawn, trees and planting beds punctuated by beautiful, colorful containers. This also applies to others who don’t have time to maintain their properties but still want to garden.

With the increased interest in container gardening, we are also experiencing a renewed interest in food and food preparation, Many foodies who also enjoy gardening are planting herbs in containers and either raising them on a kitchen window sill or in containers just outside the kitchen, placing herbs close at hand.

If the reason for the container craze could be summed up in a few words, they would be versatile, transportable, colorful, as well as easy and fun to work with.

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Be Crafty – Repurpose & Refocus

Repurposed Garden ArtThe prefix for this time in history is “re”. From it has come such words as recycled, repurposed and refocused. These are all things we can do with old stuff to make it interesting, attractive and useful. The “REs” are important components of today’s sustainability movement.

When we think of repurposed items in the garden, planters are often the first things that come to mind. Our imagination is the only limiting factor in determining what can be repurposed into a planter. Check them out as you drive around. Some repurposed planters that immediately come to mind are old car wheels, bathtubs, sawed-off barrels, chairs…the list is endless. Anything that strikes your fancy, or anything laying around the house, can be transformed into a repurposed planter. The nice part of doing this is that, if you don’t like the outcome, you were going to toss it out anyway. The only thing you are out is your labor to paint or make repairs to prepare the container for its new role.

Garden art is another area where repurposing or refocusing can result in inexpensive, unique pieces. What is garden art? It’s whatever you want it to be. It may be a planter, or it could be just art. Garden art that you repurpose yourself or buy at flea markets are much more reflective of your personality and creativity than the garden gnomes that everyone else has. The Internet is full of ideas. Just google “repurposed garden art” and the first item is an extensive photo gallery. The image that accompanies this blog is from our gallery. It was taken in Portland, Oregon and shows creative repurposing of industrial ventilation housings into yard art and a planter.

Bottle trees are relatively new repurposed garden art. It probably began with a creative person hanging an empty wine bottle on the dead branch of a tree. From there, the idea mushroomed to include bottles on all of the branches of a dead tree. Now bottle trees have even gone commercial, complete with steel rod trunks and branches. The idea is popular enough, especially in the south, that garden writer Felder Rushing wrote a whole book on bottle trees. He’s the garden writer who has also promoted the idea of slow gardening.

While bottle trees are most popular in the south, there is no reason why we can’t have them here in our area. Why not be the first in your neighborhood to have one? That would really show your gardening creativity.


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